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HS2 explained: What is it and why are parts being delayed? | Business News

HS2 is the largest infrastructure project in the UK, aimed at transforming public transport between London, the Midlands, and the North. However, it has become associated with political conflicts, disappointment, delays, and escalating costs. Although it has received support from multiple governments and political parties over the years, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has refused to fully back the project, raising concerns that the Manchester portion of the line may be scrapped. This setback comes after the March announcement of delays, leading to doubts about the UK’s ability to deliver major infrastructure projects. Despite these challenges, five regional Labour mayors and numerous northern businesses have made efforts to preserve the current plans.

HS2 is a planned high-speed rail network spanning 330 miles, initially designed to connect London and the West Midlands with future extensions to Crewe, Manchester, and Leeds. However, due to cost concerns in 2021, the Leeds stretch has been shelved. The project was first proposed by the Labour government in 2009 and has faced delays and rising costs, with current estimates exceeding £180 billion, significantly higher than the £100 billion estimated in 2019.

The original cost of HS2 at 2009 prices was projected to be £37.5 billion, but it has since increased significantly. By 2015, the cost had reached £55.7 billion, and the Department for Transport’s latest estimate in 2021 ranges from £72 billion to £98 billion. Lord Berkeley, former deputy chairman of the government’s independent review into the project, believes that the final cost could climb to £107 billion. The full network may not be operational until the 2040s.

HS2 aims to have 18 trains running in each direction to and from London, with speeds of up to 224mph. The project involves the construction of over 300 bridges and 70 viaducts for the London-West Midlands phase alone. It will also include new stations such as Birmingham Curzon Street and extensions for London Euston and Manchester Piccadilly. The goal is to meet the growing demand for rail services, improve network reliability, enhance connectivity, and stimulate economic growth across the UK.

The route of HS2 includes stations in London Euston, Old Oak Common, Birmingham Interchange, and Birmingham Curzon Street for the first phase. However, there are concerns that London Euston station may be removed due to rising costs, and the line will instead terminate at Old Oak Common. This would require passengers to use the Elizabeth Line to reach central London, resulting in a delay of over a decade before high-speed services stop at Euston. The second phase would extend to Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, as well as routes via Wigan, Crewe, and Stafford. The proposed route to the East Midlands Hub at Toton and then to Leeds has been canceled, and the Crewe-northwest section has been delayed for two years.

The HS2 project began in 2009 when HS2 Ltd, a company established by the Labour government, examined proposals for a new high-speed line. Under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, it was confirmed that the line would be built in two phases, with Phase 1 commencing in 2026 (later revised to between 2029 and 2033) and Phase 2 starting in 2032-33 (now expected between 2034 and 2041).

The project has faced numerous delays, with reasons including the need for revised cost and schedule estimates for Phase 1 and additional construction time. An independent review was conducted in 2019 to assess whether the project should proceed. The COVID-19 pandemic also likely contributed to delays. Rising costs can be attributed to inflation, inadequate risk management, unexpected factors such as asbestos and archaeological remains, and the need to acquire properties for the rail line. The budget for building bridges, tunnels, and stations was underestimated, and the cost of extending London’s Euston station remains uncertain.