hs2 train

HS2 costs ‘rose by £1.7bn in past year’

The cost of HS2 has reportedly jumped by another £1.7bn in the past year as the coronavirus pandemic piled further pressure on the controversial high-speed railway project.

The suspension of work at most sites at the start of the coronavirus crisis, combined with social distancing measures causing delays and reduced productivity, has meant that the costs for phase one of HS2 between London and Birmingham have risen by up to £800m, sources close to the scheme told the Financial Times.

This follows the previous £800m price hike announced by HS2 Ltd in October 2020, which was partly driven by problems redeveloping Euston station; the month-long operation to remove activists from a network of tunnels at Euston Square Gardens, and pandemic pressures.

It emerged earlier this month that the contract for building Birmingham Interchange station is worth up to £370m; this is some £100m more than an estimate in March 2020, which excluded money for contingency and options to maximise the site.

A £1.7bn overall increase in costs would be covered by £5.6bn of contingency funds included in the £44.6bn budget for phase one.

A Department for Transport spokesman said, somewhat blandly: “Our focus remains on controlling costs, to ensure this ambitious new railway delivers its wealth of benefits at value for money for the taxpayer. The response to Covid-19 remains ongoing and final assessments of its effect have not been made.”

The Government-commissioned Oakervee Review warned in 2018 that the final bill for HS2’s entire Y-shaped network could reach £106bn. This figure appears in danger of being made to appear an overly cautious estimate. Despite it running tens of billions of pounds over its initial budget, and already several years behind schedule, prime minister Boris Johnson gave HS2 the green light to go ahead in February 2020.

The controversy surrounding HS2, and its unpoularity with vast swathes of the UK population, was deemed to have been a significant issue in last week’s shock by-election defeat for the Tories in Chesham and Amersham, in which the LibDems overturned a 16,000-vote Tory majority to take the constituency.

Development of the high-speed rail line is on track to plough through the Buckinghamshire constituency and surrounding ancient countryside.

In the same month that Johnson officially approved the project, academics published research identifying why megaprojects such as HS2 and Crossrail often fail or have budgets that spiral out of control. Key factors at play include their sheer scale; high levels of complexity, and substantial impact on communities and the environment, according to the researchers from University College London.

Construction on HS2 finally began in September 2020, with the government claiming that the railway line would be “still going strong” in 150 years. For the boring job of creating the tunnels, two 170m-long, 2,000-tonne tunnel-boring machines (TBMs) – nicknamed Cecilia and Florence – were unveiled in August 2020. Controlled by the ‘Krokodyl’ robot, these mechanical monsters will initially dig as deep as 90m below the Chilterns, boring through 16m of chalk and flint every day and lining the tunnels with a concrete ring.

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