Massive challenges facing HS2

DESPITE Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin’s pledge to “fast track” legislation to get HS2 built, the project is facing massive challenges to meet Parliamentary requirements.

For the first 140 miles (225km) of the new railway — from London to Lichfield, including a branch-line connection into Birmingham city centre — Mr McLoughlin must introduce a Hybrid Bill into Parliament by December next year.

If everything goes to plan, this Bill will then be approved by both MPs and the House of Lords before the next general election in May 2015.

But the Hybrid Bill will need to be supported by masses of documentation — especially the Environmental Statement, which is expected to run to 50,000 pages when it is published for public consultation in Spring 2013.

This will set out in detail any likely significant effects of the new line, coving aspects such as biodiversity, water resources, geology and visual impact; archaeology and historic sites; townscapes, traffic and other transport, waste and resources; and noise, air quality, community, property and agriculture.

“This reflects the complexity of building a new railway through some of the most beautiful parts of England,” according to Clinton Leeks, Director of External and Parliamentary Affairs for HS2 Ltd — the government agency now tasked with developing the detailed plans for the first stage of HS2.

To develop all the details for the Hybrid Bill, as well as plan the second stages of HS2 to the North West and North East, HS2 Ltd is now employing some 1,400 staff and has set up — just for the first phase alone — 26 community forums “for local representatives to discuss local issues.”

Six planning forums, involving local authorities, have also been set up — but only five of them are functioning as the councils in Buckinghamshire have refused so far to cooperate, such is their opposition to HS2.

Buckinghamshire County Council leads the opposition and heads the 51M group of councils opposed to the project between London and Lichfield.

Despite the enormous complications of progressing a Hybrid Bill through Parliament, it will be far from sufficient to achieve all that HS2’s proponents want to see achieved.

A Hybrid Bill is actually very limited in what it allows. It principally gives outline planning permission for a major project and authority to acquire the necessary land.  But when it comes to the detail of what is to be implemented, such as a new bridge, a cutting or a new station, detailed planning permission must still be obtained from local planning authorities along the route.

External Affairs Director Clinton Leeks, who also worked on the Crossrail project which is now under way and is Europe’s largest civil engineering project, added: “HS2 will transform the United Kingdom, but it will have to be done though a long and complicated process.”

And associated projects, which are seen as essential to maximising the benefits of HS2, such as major commercial developments around the new stations proposed for Old Oak Common and near Birmingham Airport and the National Exhibition Centre, cannot be included in the Hybrid Bill and other mechanisms to bring them about must be created.

According to Douglas Oakervee, chairman of HS2 Ltd: “There can be no provision in the Hybrid Bill for land beyond the requirements of HS2 — yet there are huge surrounding development opportunities.”

Mr Oakervee, who previously headed Crossrail and steered its Hybrid Bill through Parliament, said the Greater London Assembly and the four London boroughs surrounding Old Oak Common believed there is potential to develop “another Canary Wharf in West London.”  This could be dealt with by the Government creating an Enterprise Zone or by the development of a Mayoral Development Corporation, he said.

• HS2 Ltd has been using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters to undertake aerial surveys. The “true scale vertical imagery” that these are producing will be used to create detailed maps at a scale of 1:500 for inclusion in the Hybrid Bill.

19 thoughts on “Massive challenges facing HS2

  1. This is why we are stuck in the 20th century. I was recently browsing the planning application for a new housing estate. There was more paperwork than would be generated by one million monkeys typing for one million years. Things should be a lot simpler and politicians should be brave enough to just plough ahead with infrastructure that is needed.
    I’m sure HS2 will be caught up in the planning stage for 20 years with multiple judicial reviews and appeals. This country is going nowhere, fast.

    • Skip the planning process and you end up with financial messes like the Edinburgh Trams which are literally going nowhere. Big schemes need lots of planning. One problem such as old mines or an old ordnance dump and you ruin the scheme completely.

  2. A few questions :-

    Do we have to choose between two extremes of either a completely new, very expensive 250 mph railway, or “beefing up” existing infrastructure ?

    Can we not have a judicious mix of improved existing lines( mainly in built-up areas ) together with new lines( mainly in open country, with lower building costs ) ? The French TGV uses this approach, particularly in the Paris suburbs ).

    Is there need for new lines to be built to 250mph standards ? in this country with relatively short intercity ditances.. The only route that might justify 250mph is London-Scotland. Are the benefits of this sufficient to justify costs ?

    Can the most pressing need ( for more capacity ) be realised with a max. speed of 155mph ( 250kph () ?

    • Unfortunately when our forefathers built the railways in this country they were based around the dimensions of a horse drawn stage coach. This means that unlike our foreign cousins who built their railways around a much more generous set of dimensions (loading gauge) it would very difficult to accomodate a modern high speed line into the existing infrastruture of almost all UK railways. Part of the idea for HS2 is to integrate our network into the European high-speed network, so that no only can British High Speed trains continue on to the channel tunnel and beyond, but also standard european trains can enter this country. European trains cannot traverse our railways without major costly alterations to the British railway network which in places would be almost impossible. HS2 would be the only way of achieving the above, adapting our rail system is really a non-starter, we need a new railway.

    • “Do we have to choose between two extremes of either a completely new, very expensive 250 mph railway, or “beefing up” existing infrastructure ?”

      The answer is YES, because the different gauges between the UK and the continent oblige us to build anew if we want high speed, ie, speeds in excess of 250km/h, so it really is all or nothing

      “Can we not have a judicious mix of improved existing lines( mainly in built-up areas ) together with new lines( mainly in open country, with lower building costs ) ? The French TGV uses this approach, particularly in the Paris suburbs ).”

      NO, that approach won’t work here due to the aforementioned the gauge differential

      “Is there need for new lines to be built to 250mph standards?”

      There is nothing wrong (and everything right) with incorporating anti-obsolesence features like this – technology will improve over time, enabling higher speeds for the same or less energy input but no amount of technology can buck the laws of physics!

      Reduce the speed threshold and the business case evaporates, which is precisely why the anti-brigade are calling for this change of strategy – it’s a thinly veiled trojan horse tactic to get the whole project cancelled. The business case approach itself is fatally flawed because it can only evaluate measurable features – there is no methodology available to place a value on the improved long term sustainability of rail over short haul air and private car transport as mass transport mediums. Fifty years from now future generations will thanks us for having the foresight to implement HS2 (and hopefully HS3, 4 and 5 thereafter)!

  3. Many thanks for this informative article, which does indeed summarise many of the obstacles barring progress to any major infrastructure project

    The Hybrid Bill is scheduled to begin its legislative progress during October 2013, with the aim being for it to receive Royal Assent sometime during late Jan/early Feb 2015

    I’ve seen dialogue, from people who seem to know what they are talking about, claiming that the Hybrid Bill will in fact include a huge and complex web of detail about the works it enables.

    It’s easy to criticise this apparent need to place barriers in the way of development but perhaps that the price we pay for a civilised society whereby there is a balance to be struck between the wider interests of the many and obvious impact upon the few – those individuals and businesses who will be negatively impacted by the construction of HS2.

    Don’t get me wrong – I am massively in favour of HS2 – it is long overdue – and I find nothing more vexatious than the disingenuous actions of a few affluent, well connected and articulate individuals who subvert the necessary checks and balances required by a well ordered society, to pursue their own narrow self interest driven agenda, ie. anywhere but near me!

    It is easy to become depressed and pessimistic about the likely chances of success for HS2 but the scheme does boast consensus across the political spectrum so even if the anti-brigades do succeed in throwing a few spanners in the works, a Hybrid Bill (unlike normal Govt sponsored Bills) can be parked temporarily between General Elections to resume its legislative progress, post election, even under a new administration.

    Construction of HS2 is not scheduled to start until late 2016 at the earliest so a minor delay in receiving Royal Assent, say during the summer of 2015, would not be fatal to the planned timetable.

    There will be no multiple Judicial Reviews – all five of them are being heard concurrently during December of this year. I don’t expect any delay to come from that quarter but you can bet your bottom dollar that the anti-brigade won’t be giving up until the Hybrid Bill receives Royal Assent and even then we might see some last ditch appeal to the European Court of Human Rights – that strategy will also fail.

    HS2 will go through but I agree that progress does seem glacial at times.

  4. Just out of interest we are having many of our bridges around Reading knocked down and rebuilt for the electrification. Each bridge is taking 6 months and causing huge disruption to local businesses, bus routes, schools and villages. Some businesses have lost 90 per cent of their business. That is going to be repeated for every road that crosses the path of HS2.

    • @Anthony
      You seem to be confused – a new line avoids most of the problems you are describing precisely because it is a new line – the pathway is built to the correct (Contiental GC) guage from the outset.

      The massive disruption you describe is caused by trying to amend existing infrastructure – the very valid point you have raised is an argument in favour of HS2 and against the alternative of updgrading the existing network, advocated by anti-HS2 campaign groups!

  5. No, I’m not anti-HS2; I just question whether the 250mph completely-new-build version is the most cost-effective option.

    As far as London-Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds is concerned, rail already has the “lion’s share” of the market and further journeytime reductions probably wouldn’t increase this much.

    There may be a case for ultra-high-speed for London- Scotland, but as a recently retired railway civil engineer pointed out to me, a 250mph line from the Manchester area to Glasgow / Edinburgh through the topography of northern Britain would be horrendously expensive to build.

    As for loading guage, that’s only a problem for any future international services – any trains from the Continent going further north than London would incur all sorts of customs / immigration complications.

    So yes, let’s have new-build infrstructure, but mainly to relieve capacity, without the extra costs of ultra-high-speed.

    • “As for loading guage, that’s only a problem for any future international services – any trains from the Continent going further north than London would incur all sorts of customs / immigration complications.”

      So what you are saying is “because the UK wants to maintain its bunker mentality, ie. remaining stubbornly outside the Schengen Free Movement Area, it’s inconvenient for anywhere else except London and the South East to have direct services to/from mainland Europe!

      All I can say is don’t ever stand on a street corner in Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham and try to repeat that argument – unless of course you like hospital food!

      Your stance is outrageous London/South East elitism at its most obnoxious!

      “So yes, let’s have new-build infrstructure, but mainly to relieve capacity, without the extra costs of ultra-high-speed.”

      What extra cost – you’ve been visiting too many anti-HS2 websites – the cost differential between building a new high speed and new conventional speed line is relatively small

      You need to stop banging on about the 250mph top speed – the new line is designed to accommodate those speeds, physically, yes – but from day one of operation the speeds on the line will be in approx 320km/h (200mph) – the same as those capable using the new rolling stock on order for Eurostar, due for delivery in about 18 months time? The 400km/h upper threshold is merely a built-in anti-obsolesence feature, nothing wrong (and everything right) with that – after all it’s UK taxpayer money underwriting the project?

  6. It might be cost-effective to have ultra-high-speed access from the Nidlands / North to Continental cities if this country ever did join the Schengen free movement area but that currently seems politically pretty unlikely ( I’m a politically non-partisan “floating voter”,by the wayy and I don’t live on the proposed HS2 line)

    Examples of extra cost of ultra-high-speed over more modest options arise from a new line under the Chiltern hills and ploughing a new route through the Northwest London suburbs ( however much in compulsory purchase comprensation ?)

    The sentance”after all it’s UK taxpayer money underwriting the project” as justification for the more expensive option seems to be saying that costs don’t really matter as the taxpayer will pay up anyway(?).

    • When making decisions on railway infrastructure that will be with us for decades if not centuries to come, I hope HMG will look further ahead than what “currently seems politically pretty unlikely”.

      Anyone afflicted by paranoia re influx of Polish electricians and so forth, should be aware that this is not all one-way. My son for one, now works in Poland.

    • @David C Smith
      Please stop sidestepping the issue. The stations planned for HS2; Birmingham International, Birmingham Curzon Street (phase 1) and Manchester International Airport, Manchester Mayfield [City Centre], East Midlands, South Yorks and Leeds City Centre (phase 2) WILL include international transit facilities, so questions about Schengen are irrelevant anyway.

      During the Transport Select Committee hearings into HS2 strategy, the question of High Speed vs Conventional Speed was raised (more than once – unsurprisingly by an MP with some self interest in the matter, Mr Steve Baker – he represents a constituency impacted by phase 1). The expert witnesses called testified that the additional costs involved were somewhere in the order of 10-15% – they also indicated that the measurable additional benefits accruing from High Speed over Conventional Speed threshold capability more than compensated for this differential. So unfortunately you’ll have to accept the expert opinion in this matter.

      Any new line built (of more than a certain size) built in Europe (and last time I looked that included the UK) is mandated to comply with Interoperability Technical Standards – that fact alone means that the differential costs between High Speed and Conventional Speed are relatively minimal.

      In short, you are flogging a dead horse with your advocacy of what amounts to a patch and mend strategy – it isn’t going to happen!

  7. The fact that objectors describe this route as ‘going through some of the most beautiful countryside in England’ shows their parochialism – have they never been to the Lake District, Pennines, Cornwall, or any of the other rural areas more than 50m from London? The Cotswolds aren’t anything special, there are far prettier parts of the nation. Perhaps a faster railway would let them see other parts of the country more easily and gain a bit of perspective.

  8. Let me say, Peter I’m not specifically anti-HS2,– I’m keen to see rail investment, but I also want it to be of maximum cost-effectiveness. So ,I hope any new infrastructure will give maximum benefit for the cost.

    You quote high speed lines as only 10-15% more expensive than conventional lines. Does this figure apply on a cost-per-mile in open country basis? If so, what about all the extra costs involved in building new high speed infrastrucyure through built-up areas such as the suburbs of London and other conurbations and tunneling under the Chilterns ?

    Does it make sense to have trains from London to Leeds amd Newcastle going a “long way round ” via Birmingham? I understand the projected time saving over existing service London to Newcastle would be 8 minutes. Allied to tis, is it sensible to expect the projected 18 trains per hour from London not to be hit by problems from time-to-time, throwing the whole HS2 service into chaos ?

    Yes, let’s have some new build and if you insist ( although as in previous emails, I can’t see a great benefit in it), built to 250mph standards, but the current proposals to plough through all sorts of terrain and degrees of urbanisation just wouldn’t seem to give the best Benefit / Cost Ratio result.

    Perhaps the available money would be better spent bringing improved service to a wider number of centres than just to four or five conurbational hearts ?

    • @David C Smith

      You seem obsessed with the business case element of rail investment – I’ll state from the outset; I’m not!

      In fact my opinion of the entire business case approach – ie. Let’s measure this, that or the other element of any individual project, dissect it into a million pieces and examine each part in minute detail and if that particular bit doesn’t pass muster, scrap it (and by default when it comes to HS2 the entire scheme) and start all over again – which is precisely what you are advocating – is, how can I put this politely, less than complimentary – in fact I couldn’t give the proverbial monkeys about the BCR for HS2 and whether it’s , 3> or even more – comparative BCR measurements are a red herring persued relentlessly in order to justify wholly unachievable goals and create straw-man arguments deliberately designed to sabotage the debate and drive it down a blind alley leading to a desired conclusion – cancellation of the project so it never poses a threat to certain localised environments!

      I don’t recall any such microscopic analysis, and/or use of this methodology to justify other infrastructure investment strategies; for example, the Motorway network largely constructed during the 60s, 70s and 80s, all funded by the UK taxpayer (bar the M6 Toll Road of course) and yet where would UK plc be now without them – I can think of a few choice descriptive terms, none of them very flattering!

      Having made this impassioned argument against paying any regard whatsoever to BCR measurements and their ilk, it just so happens that if you’re seeking examples of why HS2 might represent a good deal for the UK taxpayer and why the alternatives promoted by opponents don’t, you need not look too far to find them!

      HS2 was underwritten by the UK taxpayer to the tune of £6bn; so far HS1 has paid back £2.1bn in hard cash for the sale of a 30 year renewable lease + a bare minimum of £10bn in measurable economic benefits – and the UK got a world class rail line connecting London/SE.England into a burgeoning pan-European High Speed Rail (HSR) network, to boot – looks like a pretty good return to me! Compare and contrast that outcome with the WCML upgrade debacle, which started out at approx £1.8bn, eventually ended up at a total cost of £8.9bn and years late, having inflicted untold damage (never adequately costed?) to both the wider UK economy and the reputation of rail borne transport in the process. We should recall that once the false starts for HS1 – involving private finance – had been dispensed with, the new line came in on time and just £0.3bn over the original £5.8bn contract price!

      Now I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll turn to what really matters for the long term and that is the creation of a sustainable mass passenger transport, inter-city network for 21st Century Europe – that’s right, I’ve never seen HS1, or HS2 (and hopefully HS3, 4 & 5 thereafter) as exclusively domestic projects, linking UK cities together and thereby providing enhanced connectivity and consequent increased economic activity, even though it may well do just that! The last city I’ll ever travel to/from on any service utilising HS2 IS LONDON; just another place to bypass as I journey somewhere far more interesting and whilst I acknowledge that intermodal shift from short haul air to HSR does not figure largely in the HS2 prospectus, I happen to think they’ve got that part of their forecast modelling wrong, big time! I believe that over time (perhaps a decade from the opening of phase 2?), demand for direct services to/from mainland European locations from UK provincial cities will grow inexorably to the point where it becomes a huge factory in justifying the investment in HS2? However, my personal travel habits hardly detract from the massive captive audience available to HS2 bound services – the millions (a figure that is relentlessly growing year on year) travelling on the busiest mixed traffic rail artery in Western Europe, bar none – AKA the West Coast Mainline, are sufficient testament to the hard commercial arguments justifying HS2!

      In summary if we are going to use bogus measures of investment payback as the governing criteria for HSR in the UK, we might as well forget HS2 right now. In fact it will always be possible to find relatively small schemes that improve, incrementally, the UK rail infrastructure whilst providing seemingly more attractive payback ratios, certainly over medium term timescales – 10-25 years. So it depends on what you believe the new line will deliver. HS2 will certainly never fit into the profile of instant high ratio return investment; a fact understood only too well amongst anti-HS2 campaign groups, which is why they constantly promote this form of rail investment strategy!

  9. Technology is improving very fast. 20 years ago we did not have mobile phones or the Internet. Now our lives are dominated by them. And many other products are in rapid decline eg Newspapers national and local. What will the railways, roads and air transport look like in 20 years ? I’ve no idea and neither has anyone else. The British Government recently agreed to spend £20 billion on Aircraft Carriers. By the time they are ready it looks as if all Military Aircraft will all be pilotless drones. What will happen in 5 years time ? Maybe the UK and European Economy may have recovered – but would you bet on it ? So lets look ahead for the next 5 years rather than 20.

    • @Tony Pearce: “The British Government recently agreed to spend £20 billion on Aircraft Carriers. By the time they are ready it looks as if all Military Aircraft will all be pilotless drones”

      Actually those contracts were signed 5 years ago, not “recently” and what’s more breaking those contracts would actually end up costing the taxpayer more than proceeding with them. A more effective strategy would be to develop pan-European defence policies and share the huge costs of defence infrastructure across our continent – of course that idea might be deemed beyond the pale for some but still entirely logical?

      You can see a reasoned explanation of the decision to proceed with the aircraft carrier contracts at the following URL

      @Tony Pearce “So lets look ahead for the next 5 years rather than 20″

      NO, sorry but I vehemently disagree – when it comes to transport, the relatively short term (5 year periods) culture characterising the post war era patch and mend strategiy has proved disastrous – witness the WCML upgrade debacle, which ended up 400% over budget and years late, inflicting untold damage on the reputation of rail as a mass passenger transport medium in the process!

      What is needed now, more than ever, is a different mindset, viewing large scale rail infrastructure projects in the long term (25 year min. timescales) and from a pan-European perspective – High Speed Rail (HSR) doesn’t make sense if it’s seen as an exclusively domestic orientated plan – HS2 is one element fitting into a burgeoning pan-European HSR network for the 21st century, creating a credible and sustainable alternative to short-haul intra-European airborne links.

  10. HS2 phase 1 is mainly about capacity. It provides capacity for an extra 20,000 passengers an hour into and out of London. Re-engineering the existing WCML to provide this sort of capacity would cost much more than HS2, because of the huge complexities and costs involved in modifying an existing railway. Phase 1 not only solves the overcrowding on the WCML, it saves the M1 and M40 from gridlock.
    Subsequent phases need to get many road and air passengers from Scotland, Manchester, the East Midlands and Leeds to use trains instead of cars and planes. That means HS2 has to be a 200 mph plus railway. Even at 200 mph the speed improvements are insufficient for North East England. HS2 is being buit as a two track railway rather than 4 because HS3 (the next two high speed tracks) will run up the East side of the country – bringing North East England into the network and providing additional capacity to Scotland.

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