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What is HS2, where will it go and when will it be completed?

After years of setbacks, controversy and mounting costs, the second phase of the long-awaited HS2 rail project appears under threat.

The Independent has exclusively revealed that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is considering abandoning plans for the Birmingham to Manchester route.

Britain’s biggest infrastructure project was initially due to open in 2026, but the date for the London-Birmingham section alone was pushed back from 2029 to 2033 due to technical difficulties and mounting bills.

Working at Curzon Street Station, Birmingham

(Getty Images)

The total cost, estimated at around £33 billion in 2010, is now expected to reach £71 billion.

Below we take a look at everything you need to know about this troubled project, as questions about its future persist.

What is HS2 (and for that matter, what is HS1)?

High Speed ​​1 is the 68-mile fast rail line from London St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone in Kent, opened in 2008.

High Speed ​​2 is a much more ambitious rail project, involving 345 miles of new high-speed track.

The first phase of this high-speed line will include London Euston, Old Oak Common in west London, Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham Curzon Street stations. Work on this section, which will join the West Coast main line, is already underway.

Phase two takes place in two parts, 2a and 2b. In March the government announced that work at Euston station in central London, as well as construction of the Birmingham-Crewe section, would be delayed by two years in order to save money amid increasing costs.

With services not stopping at Euston in future years, passengers will instead have to travel half an hour on the Elizabeth line.

Latest HS2 project map shows proposed phases 2a and 2b, which would be under threat


Why is this necessary?

HS2 was designed to relieve pressure on the West Coast line and reduce journey times.

When the plan was unveiled, arguments focused on reducing travel times. But the real reason is to provide much-needed additional capacity.

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The existing West Coast Main Line is Europe’s busiest intercity route, running a mix of Avanti express, commuter and freight services. There is no room for expansion and the system has little resilience.

How much faster will travel be?

Target times for HS2, compared to the fastest times for current journeys, include:

London-Birmingham: 45 minutes (81 minutes)

London-Manchester: 67 minutes (125 minutes)

Birmingham-Manchester: 40 minutes (87 minutes)

What should happen with phase 2 of HS2?

Protesters say the entire project is a ‘white elephant’

(Getty Images)

Phase 2a has long been planned to involve a line running from Lichfield in the West Midlands to Crewe, before services join the existing network so passengers can travel to Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow.

The law for phase 2a received royal assent but the opening date for phase 2a was pushed back from 2033 to between 2035 and 2041.

In May this year, a large sinkhole appeared above a tunnel being built for the line in Buckinghamshire. An HS2 spokesperson said the sinkhole was linked to “existing ground conditions”.

Phase 2b, the western part from Crewe to Manchester, is intended to serve new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, with a link to the West Coast Main Line at Crewe for trains to Scotland.

A planned section from Birmingham to Leeds was abandoned in November 2021 as part of the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, and will now stop at East Midlands Parkway. From then on, services to Sheffield will operate on existing routes only.

Phase 2b is awaiting parliamentary approval.

What are the concerns raised by this project?

Construction work near Lichfield

(Getty Images)

The overhaul follows HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston’s announcement last month that he was stepping down due to significant delays and cost pressures on the project. Two weeks later, an official watchdog deemed HS2 “unworkable” for a variety of reasons.

The first two phases received a ‘red’ warning from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which falls under the Cabinet Office and HM Treasury.

“The success of the project seems unachievable,” warned the authority. “There are major issues regarding project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or delivery of benefits, which at this stage do not appear manageable or resolved. The project may need to be refocused and/or its overall viability reassessed.

At the time, a Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The shovels are already in the ground on HS2, with 350 construction sites, over £20 billion invested to date and supporting over 28,500 jobs .

“We remain committed to delivering HS2 in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers. »


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