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Higgins ditches High Speed 2 link to HS1 and Continent

New High Speed 2 boss re-engineers scheme to speed delivery.

New High Speed 2 (HS2) boss Sir David Higgins has scrapped plans to link HS2 to High Speed 1 (HS1) and the Continent via the North London Line railway.

“The current proposed HS2-HS1 link is, I believe, sub-optimal and should be reconsidered,” says Higgins in a report on the HS2 project published on Monday.

Soon after Higgins presented his report transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin confirmed that the £700M link to HS1 would be removed from the phase one hybrid bill for the London to Birmingham line as would the safeguarding of this section of the route.

He has also taken up Higgins’ suggestion for a new study to establish all available options for improving the link.

“Our proposals must stand the test of time and we must put our money where it will do the most good,” said McLoughlin in a statement.

“[Higgins] is clear that he does not think the existing proposals for the HS2-HS1 link meet those tests.

“His report concludes that the link proposed in the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill has not secured a consensus.

“The link requires too many compromises in terms of impacts on freight, passengers and the community in Camden [north London].

“I, therefore, intend to take the necessary steps to remove the link from the Bill and withdraw the safeguarding of this section of the route as soon as possible,” said McLoughlin. “I will also commission a study into ways to improve connections to the Continent that could be implemented once the initial stages of HS2 are complete.”

HS2 Ltd chairman Higgins began an eight week review of the scheme when he took up the post in January.

Higgins recognised that the current proposal for the HS2 to HS2 link, which would deliver three trains per hour in each direction, was apparently cost effective, but he questioned its suitability.

At the launch of his report in Manchester on Monday, Higgins said: “In terms of a cost effective solution, it is the best. The problem is that it impacts on existing passenger and freight services, and the local community.

“It is an imperfect compromise. I recommend that the government should reconsider and think about an alternative. In the short term the train paths, I believe, could be used to better effect for connections to places such as North Wales and, given the short distance involved between Euston and St Pancras, the impact on passengers of cancelling the link would be minimal.”

His findings levelled criticism at the existing plan over the length of time it will take to deliver benefits to the North, as well as the inadequacy of the design at Euston station - the London hub of HS2 (See right).

Higgins added that phase two of the £42.6bn scheme beyond Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds must be fast-tracked to enable the benefits to be felt earlier in the north of England, which would help bring a much needed balance to the economy.

This fast-tracking would be achieved via the creation of a new interchange station at Crewe south of the existing Network Rail station that would create links with the West Coast Main Line and services to north Wales and Liverpool.

Higgins is pushing for ministers to bring forward delivery of a 69km section of line from Birmingham needed to connect to the new Crewe station by six years. It could be completed by 2027 and would act as a transfer station - a concept more familiar in the rest of Europe, he said. Overall delivery of phase two could be sped up from its 2033 deadline to 2030.

“It is the right strategic answer, and not just for the area around Crewe: it would also deliver the benefits of HS2 - in terms of better services to the North - much sooner,” said Higgins in his report.

McLoughlin agreed: “Our priority must be to get the benefits to the Midlands and the North as soon as possible.”

Connectivity in the North with the existing railway network, the future rail network and roads is also vital to ensuring the success of the HS2 plan, according to Higgins.

HS2 has the potential to transform the north region and not just individual cities, he said. “So far the focus has tended to be on individual places, and individual stations,” he said on Monday.

“I think we need to think broader than that and properly co-ordinate HS2 not just with the existing network but also the plans for its improvement during the time HS2 will take to be built.”

He called on the government to consider how better to align HS2 with the requirements of Network Rail and northern civic leaders, and laid down the gauntlet for them to devise a “co-ordinated, prioritised plan”.

“That would create the real possibility of improving journey times not just north/south but also east/west from Liverpool to Hull,” said Higgins.

The report highlights the fact that the Northern Hub scheme - a £400M rail improvement centred around Manchester and connected cities - was an incremental scheme that would improve connectivity, but said “an incremental approach can only make for marginal improvements”.

He called for HS2 to be integrated with Network Rail’s plans for its control period 6, the spending period for rail that will run from 2019 to 2024 - a key period in HS2’s construction.

Higgins played down suggestions that he was directly criticising the work to date of HS2 Ltd and his predecessors.

He stressed that the work had been undertaken at an incredible pace to date and had been done well.

However, his report questions whether some aspects of the work had been ambitious enough.

Higgins was keen to point out that it was the government and not he who would take the final decision on the route and on proposals to speed up delivery. He added that costswould be controllable only up to a point, given uncertainties of the planning process.

“The simple truth at the heart of this, as any project, is that there is a direct connection between certainty, time and cost.

“The more certainty there is about the timescale, the more possible it is to control cost through economies of scale,” he said.

“That is why getting clarity over the duration of the parliamentary process is key.”

“The key is political will, not just at a national, but also a regional level,” he added.

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