HS2: What is the troubled rail project and will it be scrapped?

Fears for future of planned high-speed train line as costs balloon to $122m

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is reportedly considering axing part of the HS2 rail link between Birmingham and Manchester due to the soaring cost of the project.

The high-speed project has long been touted as a significant new commercial link between the north and south of England, and a major upgrade to the UK's ageing rail network.

However, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has suggested the scheme's costs are “out of control”, leading to speculation that much of the line will be scrapped in the coming days.

Leading political figures, including former prime ministers, Boris Johnson and David Cameron, and the Labour mayors of Greater Manchester and London, Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan, have criticised any move to scrap the project.

What is HS2?

A project for a high-speed rail line linking some of the country’s largest cities, intended to connect London, the Midlands and the north of England, with construction split into three phases.

Gordon Brown’s Labour government set up HS2 Ltd in 2009 and the project has been backed by successive Conservative governments since 2010.

In 2020, then-prime minister Mr Johnson recommitted his government to the scheme following a review.

What has it cost so far?

In 2013, HS2 was estimated to cost £37.5 billion ($45.88 billion) according to 2009 prices but the sums have continued to rise.

A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015 but some reports suggest costs have now surpassed £100 billion, having been driven up by recent inflation rises.

Why was it created?

Many supporters of HS2 say the main benefit will be increased capacity.

It will enable intercity trains currently operated by Avanti West Coast to be taken off the West Coast Main Line, creating more space for stopping services and freight trains.

Another improvement will be reduced journey times.

What were the original plans?

Phase 1: London Euston to Birmingham Curzon Street, with intermediate stations at Old Oak Common in the western suburbs and at Birmingham Airport.

Phase 2A: To extend the line from Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe in Cheshire.

Phase 2B: Comprising an eastern leg from the West Midlands to the East Midlands and a western leg from Crewe to Manchester.

How have the ambitions shrunk?

Ministers have already moved to pause parts of the project and even axed sections in the north.

The eastern leg between Birmingham and Leeds was reduced to a spur line that is due to end in the East Midlands.

It was confirmed in March that construction between Birmingham and Crewe would be delayed by two years and that services may not enter central London until the 2040s.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced that work at Euston would be paused for two years as costs were forecast to almost double to £4.8 billion.

The hiatus means Old Oak Common, in the capital’s western suburbs, will be the railway’s only London station when services to and from Birmingham Curzon Street begin between 2029 and 2033.

The Prime Minister is reportedly now considering scrapping the route from Birmingham to Manchester, with a decision on the fate of the leg north from Birmingham expected within days.

Updated: September 25, 2023, 12:32 PM