The informed view on HS2: get it done!

6 February, 2020

After six years of design work and preparing environmental and other assessments, the Bill to proceed with HS2 was first debated in Parliament four years ago. Abandoning it now with no conceivable replacement in sight means nothing will happen for 10 years soonest.

The leaked Oakervee Review firmly recommends proceeding with HS2 and points out that suggested ‘alternatives’ would not just take longer, but also be very disruptive and bring fewer benefits. Government would be right to take Oakervee’s advice and proceed.

But the Review’s more detailed points may encourage the project’s detractors. It says that train throughput on the Phase1 railway should be planned at a maximum of 14 trains per hour (tph) rather than 18tph, retaining an option to increase this out to 16tph.

Some might assume that 4/18 (22%) of the project’s benefits would be lost. This would be wrong. In our work of 2018 ‘Beyond HS2’, we anticipated this issue. We pointed out that if it was decided to drop back from 18tph, there could be major capital costs savings (a much simpler station at Old Oak Common where it would no longer be necessary for all trains to stop) and enhanced benefits (most HS2 trains to/from Euston and Great Western trains to/from Paddington quicker by about 5 minutes). This is one of those cases where less really can be more.

Prudently, the Oakervee Review says that, to avoid delay, any changes to Phase 1 should be made within the limits and scope set by the Phase 1 Act. It wants to see better integration of the HS2 part of Euston station with existing facilities within this constraint. But it doesn’t point out that, if 18 tph is dropped, the need for a ‘second bite of the cherry’ at Euston, to provide capacity for the Phase 2b uplift in train numbers might not be needed at all – offering another capital cost saving.

We conclude that if Government accepts this part of the Oakervee Review conclusion, it should do so confident that there are ways of protecting – and indeed improving – the business case of the project.