Sir David Higgins has said he wants to accelerate the construction of HS2 and see Britain be more ambitious with its high-speed rail plans. In his first public outing as HS2 Ltd’s new chairman, Higgins outlined a handful of recommendations for the £42.6 billion project – the most substantial of which was to take the line up to Crewe by 2027 and complete Phase Two by 2030.
As well as arriving in Crewe six years earlier than originally planned, the HS2 PLUS report recommended building a new hub interchange in the city as opposed to the current plan to connect it via a branch line off the main route. By building the 43-mile section north of Birmingham earlier, Higgins believes he can deliver the benefits of the line to the region sooner and start to set right the country’s economic imbalance.
Possible changes at Euston
The report also waded into the Euston debate, suggesting that the best option would be to lower the entire terminal, rebuild the Euston Arch and redevelop the station into something that could rival St Pancras and King’s Cross.
Addressing a meeting in Manchester recently, Higgins discussed the feasibility of the so-called Euston Cross concept which envisages a new sub- surface HS2 line constructed with an east-west platform connecting the terminal with St Pancras and King’s Cross.
Higgins said that new stations at Crewe and Euston should also be backed up by having a major interchange at Old Oak Common – a project that could be a catalyst for regeneration, doing what Stratford did for East London.
Presenting the report, Higgins said: “Phase One of High Speed Two needs to address the capacity challenge. Phase Two must address connectivity and therefore must be integrated with existing and future transport services and also looking to maximise the value added to the local and national economy. HS2 has the potential to transform the North – not just individual cities, but the region as a whole, but only if we have the ambition to think of the big picture. So far the focus has tended to be on individual places and individual stations. I think we need to think broader than that.”
How HS2 should connect with HS1 and the rest of the European high-speed rail network was also covered in the report. Higgins recommended the government scrap the current £700 million link, describing it as too much of a compromise because of the impact it would have on freight capacity on the West Coast main line, the future growth of the North London line and the people of Camden.
Another central aim of the report was to address questions about how HS2 will benefit the UK as a whole. Higgins said the project needed to work with the Government, Network Rail and
local transport authorities to better integrate high-speed rail with the conventional rail network, creating better transport links not just north-south but east-west from Hull to Liverpool and between Manchester and Leeds.
Speaking to The Rail Engineer about how this could be done without losing the benefits of the high-speed system, Higgins said: “Well that’s a real challenge and we’ve got to look at how that works.
“Much of that is how the big interchanges work, so you have an interchange that connects conventional rail and tram into high speed rather than having everything going onto the high-speed line.”
Talking about the need for HS2 overall, he added: “What we have done is give the alternative to upgrading the West Coast if you don’t do High Speed Two. The figures show you never get anywhere near 18 train paths, you have about 20 years of disruption and it will cost £20 billion plus.”
In November 2013, Higgins was asked to produce a report that would look at ways to not only deliver HS2 quicker than planned but also cheaper.
Currently, the Phase One budget stands at £21.4 billion, with an additional £21.2 billion set aside for Phase Two and a further £3 billion for rolling stock. The report supported the current cost estimates and suggested that it would be “irresponsible” to reduce the contingency that has been built into the budget. However, the former Network Rail chief executive sent a clear message to the government – the earlier a decision is made, the cheaper it will be.
“The simple truth at the heart of this, as any project, is that there is a direct connection between certainty, time and cost,” said Higgins. “The more certainty there is about the timescale, the more possible it is to control cost through economies of scale.”
Following the official launch event in Manchester on 17 March, Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin issued a statement backing the recommendations. Comments also flooded in from the industry, with the majority supporting the principles underlining the recommendations.
Dr Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), said: “HS2 is a vital project for increasing transport capacity and improving connectivity in the North. A properly integrated and efficient transport system is critical to creating a balanced economy and accelerating the construction of the northern section of the project, as Higgins suggests, would mean we could help bridge the North South economic divide more quickly.
“Engineering risks are not the cost drivers for the project, confidence and forward planning are key to keeping the costs down and it is down to Government to ensure we get the legislation right to make the HS2 project happen.”
Paul Plummer, Network Rail group strategy director, commented: “The step-change in capacity that HS2 enables across the network as a whole will transform the service on existing lines, creating the space we need to meet growing demand and deliver new and better connections.
“The timetables that might operate are by no means fixed and we will soon announce a programme of engagement with passengers and stakeholders, both inside and outside the industry, to seek their views on what should be prioritised as we start to plan future services.”