What might be lost if HS2 is cancelled

by Business Travel iQ | 22 August 2019

PM Boris Johnson’s call for a review of the HS2 project will please middle England but business travellers and climate protestors will be less happy

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shown he is not only interested in working on the thorny issue of Brexit but also Britain’s transport infrastructure.

The PM, who as an MP proposed plans for an island airport in the Thames Estuary as an alternative to expansion of Heathrow, has called for a review of “whether and how [to] proceed with” the HS2 rail project.

HS2 is a plan to build 345 miles of new high-speed track connecting the city centres of London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. At present, the forecast cost of the scheme is £56 billion.

The HS2 route was approved in 2013 and Royal Asset granted in 2017. Major construction work has already started and the first passengers are expected to travel on the route in 2026. Work is currently planned in phases, with the section from London to the West Midlands expected to open first.

The independent review, chaired by ex-HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee and supported by Lord Berkeley, will use all existing evidence on the project and consider its:

  • benefits and impacts
  • affordability and efficiency
  • deliverability
  • scope and phasing, including its relationship with Northern Powerhouse Rail

The review will look at cancellation of the whole HS2 project as well as reprioritising or de-scoping the project. Specifically, the review will look at potential cost savings by reducing the planned speed of services, changing the current phased approach of construction and potentially making Old Oak Common in north west London the terminus “at least for a period” instead of Euston station.

Our chart this week looks at one of the major proposed benefits of the HS2 project – reductions in journey times.

rail journey times

While the reduced journey times promised by HS2 are impressive on some routes – such as Manchester Airport to London Euston – others are less impressive.

HS2 argues that its plans will release capacity on other important rail routes, notably the West Coast Main Line. It says its plans will add 13,000 peak hour seats on the existing route.

The question is whether PM Johnson will have the appetite to cancel the project if the review – due to report by this autumn – proposes cancelling the project.

Cancellation would make many Conservative voters in Middle England whose properties will potentially be blighted by the project very happy. Those worried about climate change – particularly in a post-Greta Thunberg world – will be less so.

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