UK set to decide on ‘£106 billion’ high-speed railway

LONDON, Jan 20, 2020 (AFP) :  Britain’s government on Monday said it would shortly decide on whether to proceed with its HS2 high-speed railway project, whose cost is reportedly set to soar to more than £100 billion.

HS2, which will quicken rail journeys between London in southeast England and cities to the north of the capital, has been dogged by controversy owing to projected spiralling costs and damage to wildlife.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has however pledged huge improvements to rail infrastructure across northern England as part of the government’s bid to rebalance Britain’s London-centric economy.

Johnson is seen also as wanting to keep on board voters in the north who contributed heavily to his Conservative party securing a convincing general election victory last month.

It has meanwhile been suggested that some Tory MPs would prefer the billions set aside for HS2 to be used instead on improving existing rail connections across the north.

Indeed, a report Monday that the build cost could surge by another 20 percent to up to £106 billion ($138 billion, 124 billion euros), possibly threatening the entire project. At more than £100 billion, HS2 would cost almost double its 2015 forecast.

The Financial Times on Monday published what it said was the new estimated cost given by Douglas Oakervee, tasked by the government to reassess the viability of the project that has so far cost £8.0 billion.

– Delayed start –
The Department of Transport would not confirm the business daily’s story, but said that Oakervee had submitted a draft report and that ministers including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid would soon rule on the new railway’s future.

“A draft of the Oakervee Report was delivered shortly before Christmas,” the department said in a statement.

“The transport secretary, chancellor and prime minister will take a final decision on HS2 shortly,” it added.

It was revealed only in September that the cost of HS2 had soared to £81-88 billion, in an update provided by the project’s chairman Allan Cook.
Oakervee had also served as HS2 chairman.

The government last year noted that costs had soared owing to the complexity of building in densely populated cities and challenging ground conditions.

It was revealed also in September that rather than opening in 2026, the first phase of HS2 would not operate until between 2028 and 2031.

The first phase of HS2 plans to connect London with the country’s second biggest city Birmingham in the Midlands.

As well as quickening journey times, HS2 aims to ease congestion on existing railway lines linking major UK cities.

The second phase is for trains to travel further north to cities Manchester and Leeds.

Originally planned to open in 2033, this section of track now risks being delayed until between 2035 and 2040, according to September’s update.