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HS2 poised for start of construction

HS2 poised for start of construction

Preliminary works are now underway for the first phase of Britain’s HS2 project to build a 338km high-speed network linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. David Briginshaw reviews progress on the £55.7bn scheme.

THE first phase of Britain’s High-Speed 2 (HS2) cleared its final hurdle in February when the Hybrid Bill to authorise construction was granted royal assent, allowing enabling works to start on the 220km line linking London with Britain’s second city Birmingham and a connection to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Lichfield.Curzon Street“The bill was the biggest Hybrid Bill in British history,” Prof Andrew McNaughton, technical director with HS2 Ltd, the state-owned company charged with implementing the project, told delegates at the Railtex exhibition in Birmingham in May. “This was partly because of the 50,000-page environmental statement for phase 1 – the statement for phase 2 will be nearly as big. The HS2 Bill received 3406 petitions, compared with just over 300 for Crossrail, and we got through them in parliament in three years.

“Some of the most contentious topics were the impact of construction and construction lorry movements, and habitat replacement. We set out with the view that we should be do the right thing for the country. We are now working the commitments we made into the contracts we will let.”

As McNaughton put it: “in the early stages, this is more like an environmental programme than a railway project.” For example, a contract has been let to grow 7 million trees which will be planted along the route. “We have taken the baton on from HS1 regarding environmental standards, and from Crossrail in terms of skills,” McNaughton said.

“We are about to start the same process for phase 2A, but as this only involves building 69km of new railway, it should be quicker. We will submit the Hybrid Bill for phase 2A when the new government authorises it.” Phase 2A will extend phase 1 north from Lichfield to Crewe.

In November 2016, the government finalised most of the route for phase 2B, which will extend HS2 82km north from Crewe to Manchester and a junction with the WCML south of Wigan, it also includes a 198km eastern branch from Birmingham via the East Midlands and Sheffield to Leeds and a junction with the East Coast Main Line south of York.

The original plan was for the eastern branch to serve Sheffield with a station located northeast of the city at Meadowhall shopping centre. However, the project’s developer, HS2 Ltd, has recommended an amendment to the alignment to route the line further east, drop plans for the Meadowhall interchange and build a link from HS2 to the Midland Main Line south of Chesterfield to enable HS2 trains to serve both Chesterfield and the existing main station at Sheffield Midland. Not only would this change enable HS2 to serve Sheffield better but the alignment further east would be cheaper to build. There would also be provision for a connection north of Sheffield back onto HS2. The government is expected to make a decision in the summer.

McNaughton says the phase 2B Hybrid Bill will be “just as big an activity” as phase 1. “We have let the development partner contract for phase 2 to Bechtel,” he revealed.

“The phase 1 Hybrid Bill enables us to take land, alter highways and modify utilities; it also gives us the power to operate the railway,” McNaughton explained. “Early works, utility diversion and land acquisition are happening now.”

A strict timetable and budget have been set for HS2. Phase 1 will open in 2026 at a cost of £22.2bn. “We are committed to bringing it in at that price,” McNaughton said. Phase 2A will follow a year later and phase 2B will open in 2033 completing the entire project for a total investment of £55.7bn. “We will design HS2 to cost, time and quality – there is no other way,” he says.

The first significant contracts for phase 1 have already been let. These comprise three contracts for the enabling works worth around £900m which were placed in November 2016 and the appointment of an engineering delivery partner. The latter contract was awarded in March 2016 to a joint venture of CH2M, Atkins and Sener, Spain. “We want the best of British experience combined with the best knowledge from around the world, and we have achieved that with our engineering delivery partner,” McNaughton explained….Read more