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HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail should be combined, say Lords

Words: Laura Edgar
HS2 train concept art / HS2

The Economic Affairs Committee has recommended that the northern section of HS2 be combined with Northern Powerhouse Rail, the two rail programmes being treated as one.

The suggestion is the principal finding oif its latest report, Rethinking High Speed 2.

The select committee’s 2015 inquiry found there to be a strong case for improving regional links in the North, but that the government had failed to consider whether such a scheme was a better investment than HS2.

In its second inquiry, the Lords’ Economic Affairs Committee heard that Northern Powerhouse Rail would deliver “greater benefits” to Northern cities.

Funding, the Lords say, should be ring-fenced and brought forward where possible.

Chairman Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said: “As the committee suggested in its 2015 report, rail infrastructure in the North should be the government’s priority for investment, rather than improving north-south links which are already good. The North is being short-changed by the government’s present plans, especially as construction on HS2 is starting in the South. Any overcrowding relief from HS2 will mainly benefit London commuters.”

Evidence suggests that the cost of HS2 is “out of control”, Rethinking High Speed 2 notes, as HS2 chairman Terry Morgan, also Crossrail chairman, told the committee that “nobody knows” what the final cost of HS2 will be.

The committee said it is concerned that should the cost of phase 1 (London to Birmingham) overrun, the northern sections of the high-speed line might never be built.

In 2015 the committee recommended that a full cost assessment should be carried out to see what could be saved by terminating HS2 at Old Oak Common in West London, rather than continuing to Euston Station, which requires expensive tunnelling. Old Oak would still be connected to central London through the Crossrail line. Rethinking High Speed 2 states that it is “disappointing” that the government ignored this recommendation.

The Lords acknowledge that the government and HS2 cite a 2011 report from civil engineering consultant Atkins as the evidence base for rejecting the proposal, but that this report assessed only the reduction in benefits and made no estimate of the possible cost saving.

The government wants the HS2 line to terminate in central London, but the committee argues that what matters is “not the single point of the terminus, but the connections that enable passengers to get to their final destination”.

“Onward journey times to final destinations using the Elizabeth line from Old Oak Common appear in most cases to be comparable, or better than, continuing from Old Oak Common on High Speed 2 to Euston,” the report states. The committee recommends the redevelopment of Euston Station should be removed from the scope of phase one of HS2 and that Old Oak Common should operate as the London terminus for phase one and phase 2a.

Postponing the redevelopment of Euston Station to phase 2b would allow time for a full assessment of the modifications required to allow Old Oak Common to operate as the London terminus for the full HS2 line, as well as the cost saving this could achieve instead of having a terminus at Euston.

“If costs overrun on the first phase of the project, there could be insufficient funding for the rest of the new railway. The northern sections of High Speed 2 must not be sacrificed to make up for overspending on the railway’s southern sections,” said Lord Forsyth.

Rethinking High Speed 2 can be found on the UK Parliament website (pdf).