Moving on with HS2

Materials World magazine
1 Sep 2017

Khai Trung Le looks at the latest news around HS2 as Phase 2b starts to take shape.

On 23 February 2017, High Speed 2 (HS2), a planned high-speed railway connecting London, Birmingham, the East Midlands, Leeds and Manchester, was granted Royal Assent after three years of scrutiny. At the time, the UK Government announced construction would begin ‘in the spring’ and although no construction has happened as yet, construction firms are set to bid on Phase 2a contracts as details around Phase 2b begin to solidify. 

Looking for £3.2bln

Firms will soon begin competing for more than £3.2bln of work when Phase 2a – between Birmingham Curzon Street and Crewe – begins construction. A total of £2.9bln has been earmarked for railway works, including earthworks, permanent ways and station improvements, with £288m reserved for land purchases. Design work for Phase 2a is expected to begin in 2019, with construction scheduled for 2021. 

Phase 2a was initially scheduled for completion in 2033, but was brought forward to 2027 by former chancellor and current editor of the London Evening Standard George Osborne in 2015. 

This train is being redirected

Around 110 documents were published on the Department of Transport website in July, most detailing budgetary and route changes. One of the most notable concerns the Phase 2b M18/Eastern route around Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. Initially planned to run between Sheffield and Rotherham, with a new station around the Meadowhall Shopping Centre, the Eastern route will instead take the line around the opposite site of Rotherham to construct a spur off HS2 at Stonebroom.

This will allow high-speed trains to travel on the Midland main line through Chesterfield and into Sheffield City Centre, and is said to cost £858m less to build. The change relied on the Midland main line being electrified in a programme cancelled in July, but HS2 promised further investment to ensure Sheffield is ready.

The M18/Eastern route changes also means a significant reduction in the number of homes demolished – 51 compared with more than 100, although four Grade II listed buildings will be demolished, rather than two.

Writing in the Financial Times, Osborne has called for a redesign of Phase 2 of HS2 to facilitate a potential HS3 between Liverpool and Hull. ‘This new railway would transform the northern economy,’ he said. ‘Specifically, ministers should include the planning for the future connections when they set out the design for Phase 2b of HS2 later this year, remodelling four junctions to ensure they are complementary with the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposals, start the detailed planning work on the line itself and allocate a long-term capital budget.’


Steely protests

The demolition of homes has been the focus of media attention, but opposition groups have begun to bare teeth. Despite commitments from transport secretary Chris Grayling that British firms would be awarded HS2 contracts, the Government has been criticised by the Labour Party for a lack of enthusiasm towards the UK steel industry as it pushes for guarantees that 95% of steel used for HS2 will be British made. The Government has stated that it ‘expects’ this target to be met, but fell short of making further commitments. Rail minister Paul Maynard said a ‘fair procurement process’ will help UK steel companies ‘compete on a level playing field’.

Gill Furniss, shadow minister for steel, said this was ‘further evidence of the Government’s lukewarm commitment to the UK steel industry. The Government’s response shows its reluctance to offer much needed backing to the steel sector, which has faced a series of challenges in the last couple of years.’ 

Others have protested awarding construction group Carillion contracts as the company fights against plummeting share prices and demotion from the FTSE 250. Carillion was one of 11 companies to secure first major building work on HS2 in July, a decision Rudi Klein, Chief Executive of the Specialist Engineering Conractors Group, described as ‘odd’.

Klein added, ‘If I was a member of Carillion’s supply chain, I would be extremely nervous. Especially given the company has said it is going to be trying to cut costs. Carillion may well try and obtain those savings from the supply chain.’

Grayling defended the decision on Sky News, stating, ‘They’re part of a consortium – they’re not alone in the contracts, and we’ve had secure undertakings from all the members of the consortium that will deliver the contract […] my wish is that Carillion get through their current problems, but we’ve made sure that it’s not an issue for these contracts.’

This is not the first time HS2 procurement decisions have come under scrutiny. CH2M was forced to hand back a £170m contract for Phase 2 design work. UK engineering company Mace threatened legal action, pointing out that HS2’s current and former chief executives, Mark Thurston and Roy Hill, respectively, were former employees of CH2M.