ALL CHANGE ON HS2?

CHANCELLOR of the Exchequer George Osborne’s surprise call, while visiting Hong Kong, for a full-scale rebuilding of Euston station – including a shopping centre, offices and apartments – is not only an about-turn on earlier plans but, more importantly, could well presage major changes to the current plans for High Speed 2.

HS2 Ltd’s new chairman, David Higgins, is due to report next month on how the project might be achieved both more quickly – and more cheaply.

Already, there are hints and rumours that the link across Camden Town between HS2 and HS1 may be dropped, while David Higgins – who gained his knighthood for services to regeneration – has been seen at Old Oak Common, in west London, where major development is planned around the site of a new station that will provide an interchange with the Great Western Main Line and with Crossrail. 

The Old Oak Common project has also recently received a major boost with Queen Park Rangers’ plans for a new 40,000-seat soccer stadium to act as a catalyst for a regeneration project that could match in west London what has already happened at Canary Wharf, east of the City.

Now George Osborne, in an interview with the Evening Standard while visiting a new high speed railway terminus under construction in Hong Kong, has said Euston station should be replaced completely ahead of the arrival of HS2.

“I’m thinking that maybe we should go for a really big redevelopment of Euston,” he explained. “There is a really big opportunity for jobs and for housing in the area. Let’s face it — Euston is not one of the prettiest of the London stations.”

I think there are many who would agree with that sentiment. Euston is fast becoming the ugly sister of the principal London termini after major redevelopment and renovation of most others, including just along Euston Road at both St Pancras and King’s Cross.

Couple George Osborne’s comments with David Higgins’ focus on Old Oak Common, together with suggestions that the HS2-HS1 link through Camden Town will be dropped – or at least deferred – and I think we might discern the basis of changes to HS2 phase 1 . . . perhaps with Old Oak Common becoming a temporary terminus for an initial, limited high speed train service to, maybe, Birmingham Interchange and Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, starting possibly in 2023, three years ahead of the current target date for completion of phase 1.

Maybe, too – in line with suggestions put forward by the Greenguage 21 pro-high speed rail group – there could be a temporary connection east of Lichfield to link to an electrified Birmingham-Derby route at Wychnor Junction, allowing some services running over phase 1 of HS2 to reach the East Midlands and Yorkshire.

The original scheme for HS2 envisaged a major reconstruction of Euston station, but this was dropped in the face of protests and because of the forecast cost.

But, as the Standard has just reported, last year’s alternative plan for an extra 11 platforms was derided by Camden council leader Sarah Hayward as ‘a shed being bolted on to an existing lean-to’. London Mayor Boris Johnson said it was a missed opportunity for regeneration and jobs.

Now it seems George Osborne has been impressed by the £3 billion West Kowloon Terminus, currently under construction, of the Hong Kong section of the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link, which will connect the former British colony with mainland China through a dedicated tunnel. It is being developed by MTR, the part owners of the London Overground concession.

According to the Standard, the Chancellor’s words in Hong Kong herald a dramatic change in the fate of Euston, which was opened by HM The Queen in 1968.

Laura Kydd, Head of Architecture at HS2 Ltd, has spoken previously of the West Kowloon Terminus, which is due to open in 2016 and to be handling around 100,000 passengers a day by 2020, as an exemplar for new HS2 stations – which is perhaps why the Chancellor stopped off to see it on his way to a G20 meeting in Australia.

A temporary terminus at Old Oak Common?

The Guardian reported that George Osborne’s comments on Euston redevelopment suggested that attempts by north London opponents of HS2 to have the line terminate at Old Oak Common are not being seriously considered.

I believe that to be true – but if a full-scale redevelopment of Euston station is now to take place it could make sense to use Old Oak Common as a temporary terminus for some trains, using its interchange with Crossrail, while freeing space at Euston while it is being rebuilt.

Moreover, opening up the new station at Old Oak Common ahead of the original phase 1 completion date of 2026, and operating an interim service south of Lichfield on HS2, could give some relief to the southern section of the West Coast Main Line and allow Network Rail to undertake catch-up maintenance and enhancements on the existing route before replacement services are introduced.

As chief executive of Network Rail, David Higgins told the House of Commons Transport Select Committee last year: “What we really should be doing when we finish the first stage of High Speed 2 is take the old West Coast route out and spend a year fixing it up, and doing it properly. Because by then I reckon it will be really trashed.”

And a report in 2012 by Virgin Trains’ then chief operating officer Chris Gibb – now a non-executive director of Network Rail – highlighted long-outstanding work necessary on the WCML, especially between Euston and Watford Junction.  This could be undertaken while Euston undergoes massive redevelopment and with some services transferred to HS2, terminating temporarily at Old Oak Common until Euston is completely rebuilt.  Other inter-city services would continue to use Euston – to maintain passenger connections with Underground routes such as the Northern and Victoria lines, and partly to avoid overloading Crossrail and because of Old Oak Common’s limited capacity (it is planned to have six platforms).

Bridget Rosewell – one of the founders of the Volterra transport consultancy, who is credited with making the case for Crossrail by identifying the wider economic benefits not captured by the Department of Transport’s conventional business plan appraisals – has argued that passenger services should be started as soon as possible on HS2 to earn some contributory revenue to the project. Ms Rosewell’s initial preference was for a service between Old Oak Common (with its quick and frequent Crossrail link to Heathrow Airport), the Birmingham Interchange (with its link to Birmingham Airport) and to the proposed Manchester Airport Interchange.

The north west section of HS2, including Manchester Airport, is included in phase 2 plans, which will require a separate hybrid Bill, but for the time being services could continue to run from Lichfield to Manchester on the ‘classic’ tracks. Even better, the Lichfield-Crewe section of HS2 phase 2 might be brought forward, overcoming concerns of the Rail Freight Group about lack of capacity over this section of the West Coast Main Line if phase 1 ends at Lichfield.

And the planned extra platforms for 400m HS2 trains at Manchester Piccadilly could be authorized by Transport & Works Act procedures and local planning consent, not waiting for the phase 2 hybrid Bill. This would enable Manchester to start on its bold regeneration plans for the area east of Piccadilly station much sooner than 20 years hence.

Early introduction of high speed services at the Birmingham Interchange could also hasten development of Solihull Borough Council’s proposed UK Central project in the area around the new station, the NEC, Birmingham Airport and the M42/A45 corridors.  I expect to see a significant announcement about that project within the next month.

Once the spur into Birmingham City Centre and its new station there is completed – facilitating further regeneration in Birmingham’s East Side – some existing Euston-New Street services could also be transferred to use HS2 and start and finish at Old Oak Common.

And Euston-Glasgow services, which are currently non-stop between London and Warrington, and Euston-Liverpool services, which are non-stop between London and Stafford, could also transfer to Old Oak Common and HS2 without worsening inter-city services at stations south of Lichfield.

With these and, say, a Manchester and a Birmingham service each hour switched to HS2, four train paths an hour in and out of Euston could be saved – releasing platform space at Euston to help with phased reconstruction work, as well as enabling engineering work to be undertaken on sections of the conventional route during off-peak periods, which is not currently possible due to the intensity of daytime services.

The determining factor in all this will be the time needed to construct the new line, much of which will be in tunnels, through the London outskirts and under the Chilterns. Of course, work cannot begin until the hybrid Bill is enacted, and at the current rate of progress this may well be after next year’s general election. Nevertheless work could start in 2016/17 and could be completed to Lichfield by, say, 2023.

International connections

If Old Oak Common becomes the temporary London terminus while massive redevelopment of Euston continues, it could also make sense not to proceed in phase 1 with a link between HS2 and HS1 (hence the recent rumours and speculation). The current proposal is highly controversial from several perspectives. Among these are concerns that it is only a single line with limited capacity and a top speed of only 60km/h; the use of part of the already congested North London Line; and its impact on Camden Town. A deferment to phase 2 could give time to look for a better solution.

Meanwhile, concern remains about the lack of a link from HS2 to Heathrow airport. The Airports Commission is not due to report finally until after next year’s general election, but it has already made clear it likely preference for expansion at Heathrow. So the HS2 spur – currently deferred to phase 2 – could instead be brought forward to provide a link into a new rail station beneath Terminal 5.  This station is due to be developed, anyway, as part of the Heathrow Western Rail Link that will join T5 to the Great Western Main Line between West Drayton and Slough, with services to/from Reading.

With the HS2 Heathrow spur, it would be possible to introduce an hourly service from and to North West England, and even Scotland, as provisionally planned for phase 2. And if a connection between HS2 and the Birmingham-Derby line were to be provided, there could also be an hourly service between Heathrow and the East Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East, as also allowed for in phase 2.

Earlier provision of direct services on HS2 to and from Heathrow to connect with world-wide flights may be advantageous to far more international travellers than some occasional trains services to the near Continent via a controversial link through Camden Town between HS2 and HS1.

With such changes as outlined here, phase 1 of HS2 would not only be about improving capacity and connectivity, including with Heathrow, but about facilitating major regeneration – in West London, around Birmingham Airport and in Birmingham, city centre, and near Manchester Piccadlly. This would be very much in keeping with David Higgins’ support for regeneration projects.

Reducing costs

David Higgins will also report next month on scope for reducing the costs of the HS2 project.

Already he has announced the appointment of Network Rail’s managing director infrastructure projects, Simon Kirby, as HS2’s new chief executive – construction.

At Network Rail, Simon Kirby has driven forward adoption of ‘New Rules of Measurement’ for project costs, developed by specialist quantity surveyor Michael Byng (described exclusively in the September 2013 print edition of Railnews, page 19).

For this, the industry has developed a cost database to predict future costs which has been tested under trial conditions on several major projects – including the Chiltern/Network Rail Evergreen 3 enhancement scheme, phase 1 of the East-West Rail link between Oxford and Bedford, electrification in the north west triangle, and also some projects in Australia and China. With Simon Kirby moving to HS2 Ltd, the ‘New Rules of Measurement’ are now being adopted for HS2.

As Michael Byng has explained: “When the costs of major projects are examined, around 65 per cent tend to be ‘hard’ construction costs, which leaves the remaining ‘soft’ 35 per cent out in the cold, financially speaking, neither regularly monitored nor analysed on a consistent basis.”

Michael Byng says that some ‘soft’ costs, such as professional fees and management charges, are continuing to grow – while in other countries the hard/soft ratio is more like 80/20, rather than 65/35 in Britain.

The key question now is whether ‘New Rules of Management’ will result in more realistic – and lower – cost estimates for construction of HS2. A first indication is likely to come in David Higgins’ report next month.

Regeneration schemes incorporating the new HS2 stations could also attract private investment and reduce the taxpayers’ total contribution.

With a significant reduction in overall costs, an accelerated construction timetable, a link into Heathrow Airport, and the prospect of major regeneration projects in London, the West Midlands and Manchester, public perceptions of the HS2 project may finally become more supportive.

4 thoughts on “ALL CHANGE ON HS2?

  1. Hidden in here is another value of HS2. You can close the WCML for a complete upgrade. That is a bit of a nail in the coffin for HS2AA and other objectors who want to upgrade all the WCML to quadruple track. To do a decent upgrade, you need to close it to re-engineer huge sections. Nobody could consider closing the WCML for a year for an upgrade without HS2, it would cause chaos on a similar scale that we have at Dawlish and beyond in SW England. Except it would go on for a year or so. Most of us have had enough after a few weeks.

  2. I am deeply disturbed by the rumours circulating about the HS2-HS1 link. I’m all for improving the efficacy of HS2 investment but this notion is tantamount to plunging a dagger into HS2’s heart. If Mr. Osborne is thinking big for HS2 stations, he should be insisting that David Higgins revisits the Euston Cross proposal, which whilst costing more overall, would actually have two major beneficial effects
    1. Massively reduce land take/disruption on the Camden area
    2. Provide massively improved through connectivity for provincial UK city services direct to mainland Europe

    Without the HS2-HS1 link the rest of the UK is condemned to a second rate, indirect service to the continent and that outcome will seriously undermine the present political consensus underpinning HS2, particularly in the North of England!

  3. There will not be enough continental traffic to justify the HS1/2 link until HS2 reaches the North in phase 2. By then it should be possible to plan a 140 mph Heathrow-Old Oak-Stratford-Stansted/Ebbsfleet link that can take all of High Speed, IEP and javelin trains to hugely improve airport and continental connectivity.

  4. Surely no HS2 north of Birmingham would benefit the North of England. The North needs to concentrate on rapid rail connectivity between Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, York and Newcastle. Let Brum become a commuter town for London, and let the North’s great cities combine to rival London. Journey times from 90 minutes to 140 minutes from the North to London are quick enough.

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