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All aboard the HS2 express

14 February 2020
As HS2 gets the sign off from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ICE President Paul Sheffield looks at what it will mean for the industry moving forward.
All aboard the HS2 express

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has finally given the go-ahead for the controversial HS2 rail link between London to Birmingham, with a second phase reaching Manchester and Leeds.

Based on ICE Past President Douglas Oakervee’s review, it appears that the Prime Minister has taken most of the review’s recommendations on board. Obviously, the decision has led to both approval and consternation, both with those whose homes will be affected by the route and inside the Conservative party itself. And the Prime Minister and Transport Secretary Grant Schapps both criticised HS2 Ltd’s governance and promised a review of processes.

If you read up on your history of the new era of railways through the 1800’s, I think you will find that there were huge objections to those new lines at the time. From a historical perspective - they turned out to be a vital part of our modern infrastructure - and I am sure that HS2 will greatly assist in connecting the North and South and creating capacity on an otherwise overcrowded route today.

I am sure that the long term benefits of HS2 will outweigh the concerns. As ICE Director General, Nick Baveystock has said: “We must have a rail network that can meet the demands of commuters, now and in the future, by addressing overcrowding, resilience and reliability.”

As Douglas Oakervee stated in his report: “The original rationale for HS2 still holds” – more capacity and greater reliability."

The line will be built in full but as Oakervee recommends, the second phase should be reviewed to make sure it chimes with the objectives of building the so-called ‘northern powerhouse.’

Boris Johnson has described it to be “truly transformational for the whole country”. The industry of which we are so proud now needs to step up to the plate and deliver - not only a quality product, but in an efficient way that will eliminate waste and un-necessary bureaucracy and to work as a collaborative team to keep the programme on track and the delivery and commissioning of the entire system a success. This applies equally to clients, consultants, contractors, suppliers and specialists around the project.

HS2 trains are estimated to be able to carry 300,000 passengers a day at up to speeds of 225mph with around 14 trains an hour (every 4 mins 30 secs). This will cut journeys from London to Birmingham down to 45 mins from 82 mins and cut an hour off trips from London to Manchester.

Businesses will undoubtedly feel the boost and transport as a whole should benefit with the PM pledging £5bn over the next five years on improving bus and cycling routes. Johnson has promised no less than a “transport revolution.” And all eyes will be on the government to deliver.

Re-connecting rural towns that have been cut off by the removal of subsidy from bus routes over a long period of time needs to be a priority - enabling people to get to and from work in neighbouring towns. HS2 isn’t the only rail news story around with confirmation that the Oxford to Cambridge line is making progress with construction of the line to Bedford soon to start and the route from Bedford to Cambridge in final stages of planning. The Trans Pennine Express upgrade is also under way to improve capacity, shorten journey times and lengthen trains - a much needed investment as any one of us who have used that line will testify.

With all of this work coming our way - we need to be able to gain the trust of Ministers and the public that we can deliver efficiently - get our basics right - every time - as I have said on many occasions.