HS2 Review – A Brief Summary of the High Speed 2 Project

With the first phase contracts already awarded, there’s no better time to take another look at the HS2 project and answer some of the key questions around its development. This review from CCL gives you a quick summary of HS2, including the benefits, estimated costs and completion dates.

Mercury High Speed Train

Images courtesy of PriestmanGoode.

What exactly is HS2?

High Speed 2 (HS2) is a planned high-speed railway that links London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.

It will be the second high-speed railway line in Britain. The first, (HS1) already connects London to the Channel Tunnel. The HS2 line is to be built in a "Y" shape, with London at the bottom, Birmingham at the centre, Manchester at the top left and Leeds at the top right.

Map of HS2 Routes

Although Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London are part of the main high-speed line, other major UK cities including Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle, Liverpool and York will be linked to the network by HS2 trains running over existing slower tracks and edge-of-town HS2 stations.

An infrastructure update of this scale, perhaps the largest we’ll see this century, has already created a number of opportunities for engineering and construction specialists across the UK. CCL, along with many others, is keeping a keen eye on the project as it progresses.

What are the advantages of HS2?

HS2 is essentially an attempt to boost the UK economy and at the same time redress the balance between the North and the South. A high-speed link between northern cities and London will make commuting much quicker and provide more opportunities to work in London without having to necessarily live there or within the traditional commuter belt for the capital.

Shorter journey times are at the heart of the project. The Department for Transport says HS2 will reduce Birmingham to London journey times from 1hr 21min to 49min.

Once the second phase is complete, Manchester to London journeys will take 1hr 8min (down from 2hrs 8min), and Birmingham to Leeds will take just 57min (down from 2hrs).

Peak hour capacity arriving and leaving Euston will more than triple, increasing from 11,300 to 34,900 each way.

It is hoped that HS2 will encourage more people to travel by train, therefore reducing congestion on motorways and in major cities. The rationale from the Department of Transport is that we will all benefit from HS2 and not just public transport users.

In addition to easing congestion on the roads, the aim is to also reduce the volume of short-distance air travel to and from the capital - cutting carbon emissions in the process.

It is estimated that HS2 will provide 22,000 construction jobs over the next 5 years, encouraging a new generation to take up professional roles in engineering and construction.

Although hugely expensive, the estimated £56billion cost of the project will be spread out over the next 15 to 20 years. The government is optimistic that the £1bn to £2bn of annual investment will help stimulate economic activity.

Empirical evidence has shown that increased train use can have significant positive effects on lowering pollution levels, plus, trains have a much better safety record than broad vehicles.

Time Saved for HS2 Passengers

When will HS2 be complete?

HS2 is to be built in two phases. Phase 1 is between London and Birmingham. Preparatory work has already begun and major construction work is due to start in 2018-19 with the first trains estimated to be running by 2026.

Phase 2 is between the West Midlands and Leeds and Manchester and is split into two sub-phases, phase 2a and phase 2b. Phase 2a is from the West Midlands to Crewe. Phase 2b will extend the project from Crewe to Manchester and from the West Midlands to Leeds. Phase Two is scheduled to begin in 2022 with an estimated completion date of 2032.

How the high-speed trains could look inside and out. Courtesy of PriestmanGoode.

How much will it cost?

The projected cost for HS2 is £56billion. A recently published study by quantity surveyor Michael Byng, however, estimated that the cost of HS2 could escalate to more than £100bn, making it the most expensive railway in the world. The study has been dismissed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

Who has won the first contracts?

The winners of £6.6bn worth of contracts to build the first phase of HS2 between London and Birmingham have now been announced by the government. UK firms Kier, Carillion, Costain and Balfour Beatty are among the consortiums who will be constructing the tunnels, bridges and embankments on the first stretch of the new high-speed rail line.

These initial contracts alone will support 16,000 jobs.

Opportunities for UK firms

Due to the sheer scale and high-profile nature of the project, HS2 represents some of the biggest opportunities we’re likely to see in our industry over the next decade. CCL, along with many others, is following the project closely as it progresses.

About CCL

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