Mounting Concerns Over Government Efforts to Roll Back HS2

London’s Commissioner for Transport, Andy Byford, has issued his latest report, to be discussed at Transport for London’s next board meeting on 3 February 2021.

In the report’s section on HS2 there is a reference to cutting back on HS2’s Euston scope, which would significantly impair the purpose and capacity release of the entire line. The worry is that is move is being done in response to the recently released National Infrastructure Commission report, which suggested HS2’s eastern leg could terminate at East Midlands Parkway. The NIC report recommended scaling back this leg in favour of regional rail link development.

Responding to the report at the time, the leaders of Leeds City Council and Nottinghamshire County Council as well as the Metro Mayor of the Sheffield City Region said:

“We are hugely disappointed by the publication of the Rail Needs Assessment today. Let us be clear: the alternative options to delivering HS2 in full put forward by the National Infrastructure Commission would be deeply damaging to the North and the Midlands, and would seriously damage attempts to close the divide between London and the South East and the rest of England.”

So what does the Commissioner’s Report say?

“We continue to provide input into the DfT-led study on proposals for Euston following publication of the Oakervee Review in 2020. The DfT has recently instructed HS2 to proceed with further design development for one of the options, which provides a solution based around 10 HS2 platforms, a single stage build and increased oversite development. However, the impact on our infrastructure, operations and passengers needs further consideration. We are therefore working alongside other key stakeholders, including HS2 Ltd, Network Rail, London Borough of Camden and Lendlease, under the umbrella of the newly formed Euston Partnership, to assess the proposals and refine early scheme designs, and to assist with work on affordability to ensure investment delivers best value.”

HS2’s Euston Station, built in full, would have 11 platforms. Losing one might not sound like a big deal, however, this would firstly reduce the number of trains per hour from 18 to 16. The Euston terminus also currently features a grade-separated design, which keeps the HS2 trains fully separate from all other services running into and out of Euston. If this grade separation were lost, the trains per hour on HS2 would decrease further to 14. So far the report has not indicated this grade separation could be on the chopping block. The worry is the reduction in platform numbers could be just the first of many cuts to the vital high-speed line.

Independent rail planning consultant William Barter said on Twitter:

“But dropping two trains isn't like slightly extending the intervals on a metro a tad. HS2 trains run on a network of routes, and it means that a route will be dropped. Whoever wants a 10-platform station needs to come clean and tell us which. Newcastle? Liverpool? Sheffield?

“An alternative to dropping a route would be to cut the 3 tph Birmingham and Manchester trains to 2 tph. But that is simply storing up capacity problems for the future. Remember, this is for ever, not a stage. And the loss of modelled benefits would be massive.”

In addition to the potential platform removal, the Commissioner’s report references a “single stage build”. So far the build was to proceed in two stages. The first would see the construction of six platforms that would be new to Euston station, while the remaining five within the existing Euston complex would be built afterwards.

William Barter again:

“Doing it in one stage delays any HS2 services reaching Euston, so passengers will be tipped out at Old Oak for a period of years. That has no more value than the present direct service to Euston, so frustrates released capacity as it's no more attractive to passengers.”

If the Euston terminal is not built as planned, it won’t be able to run trains to an HS2 Eastern Leg, even if it does get built.

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