HS2 route map, cost and are speed and services being cut on high-speed London-Manchester rail line?

The East Midlands-Leeds HS2 high-speed line will not be built, under new government plans

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The rail minister has insisted that the government is commited to the HS2 rail route between London and Manchester but refused to rule out cuts to the troubled project.

Huw Merriman told MPs the government was “absolutely committed to delivering HS2 trains from London to Manchester” after being challenged on rumours “pouring” out of the Department for Transport. However, he said that “cost pressures” must be examined.

Recent weeks have seen rumours that services and speeds could be reduced in an effort to save money, and that the service might not reach central London - a claim denied by the government.

The ambitous project has also come under significant criticism on matters ranging from the route and its environmental impact to spiralling costs, delayed works and changing promises on what will eventually be delivered.

Here is everything you need to know.

What is HS2?

HS2 is a planned high-speed rail link between London, the Midlands and the north of England.

The route, which could eventually connect eight of Britain’s 10 largest cities, would also join with existing routes into the north-east and Scotland.

Those behind the scheme say it will connect more than 30 million Britons via fast public transport, allowing “rebalancing” of the country’s economy beyond London and creating 22,000 jobs during the construction phase. According to the scheme, the route could cut travel time between London and Birmingham by 37 minutes, completing the journey from Euston to the new Birmingham Curzon Street station in 45 minutes, and take almost an hour off journey times between London and Manchester.

Six new stations will be built along with 330 miles of new track laid in three phases.

Are HS2 speeds and services being cut?

Under the current plans for HS2, 18 trains an hour will run along the route at up to 224mph, making it the fastest service in Europe. However, those speeds are already lower than the 248mph quoted when the project was first announced and new speculation is that they could be cut further.

According to the Telegraph, speeds could be reduced further, possibly to less than 200mph, in order to save money on the over-budget scheme. A 2020 report by former HS2 and Crossrail chairman Sir Doug Oakervee estimated that up to 10% of the project’s building costs could be saved if a requirement for such “super high speeds” was abandoned. It has also been suggested that reducing HS2 train speeds could allow the services to better integrate with the rest of the country’s infrastructure.

Construction of HS2 is expected to create 22,000 jobs(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)Construction of HS2 is expected to create 22,000 jobs(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
Construction of HS2 is expected to create 22,000 jobs(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The Telegraph also reports that officials are looking into cutting the number of services from 18 per hour to just 10. This would mean fewer platforms would have to be built at HS2 stations. It could also mean that higher-specification building methods designed to accommodate the high number of trains could be scaled back, cutting costs further.

In the House of Commons Labour’s shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh called for certainty over the project, pointing to: “Briefings, leaks and rumours about the future of HS... pouring out of this department.”

She asked Merriman: “Will the minister categorically deny that his department is working on any plans that would slash what is left of the eastern leg and leave Yorkshire and the North East permanently cut off altogether by cutting high-speed platforms at Euston?”

Merriman replied: “We are absolutely committed to delivering HS2 trains from London to Manchester and, of course, going over to the east as well. But of course we have to look at cost pressures, it’s absolutely right that HS2 focuses on costs, that should be expected of the Government and the taxpayer, we’ll continue to do so.”

What is the HS2 route?

The proposed route is being developed in three phases.

Construction on phase 1 began in 2020 and will link London with the West Midlands.

The 140-mile route will run from an extended London Euston station to the new Curzon Street Station in Birmingham and also see the creation of Interchange Station in Solihull and Old Oak Common Station.

Phase 2a of HS2 will extend the route from Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe in Cheshire. From there, services will join the existing rail network to create direct services to places including Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow.

Phase 2b will then take the high-speed line from Crewe north to Manchester Airport and Manchester Picadilly. Initially it was also intended to add a second spur from Birmingham to Leeds via a new East Midlands Hub but this has now been abandoned in an effort to cut costs on the massive project.

(Image: PA Graphics)(Image: PA Graphics)
(Image: PA Graphics)

How much will HS2 cost?

One of the biggest controversies around HS2 is the final cost of the project.

When it was first mooted in 2010, estimates put the cost of the whole route at upwards of £20 billion. In 2015 when costs were set out in the Budget, the bill was put at just under £56bn.

However, in 2020 the Oakervee Review warned that the final bill could reach £106bn at 2019 prices, and the latest target cost of Phase One between London and Birmingham is £40.3 billion at 2019 prices.

When will HS2 be completed?

Phase 1 of HS2 was originally due to be completed by the end of 2026, however the latest estimates from those behind the construction is that trains will begin running on the route between London and Birmingham some time between 2029 and 2033.

Work on phase 2a is set to run in parallel with construction of phase 1 and trains should also begin to run along the route as far north as Crewe by 2033.

However, no start date for phase 2b has been given and, in the wake of Mr Shapps’s comments, there is no indication when, or if, the northernmost sections of the route could be completed.