Discussions are afoot regarding the potential cessation of the HS2, a high-speed rail link intended to connect Birmingham and Manchester. Previously, another sector of the route, the link between the East Midlands and Leeds, met a similar fate.
Envisioned to construct high-speed rail links between London and notable cities in the Midlands and North of England, HS2 aims to reduce travel times, increase railway capacity and stimulate employment opportunities outside London. However, the project has been marred by numerous delays, burgeoning expenses and reductions.
HS2 had been designed with the objective of connecting London with Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds. Significant efforts have been invested into the section bridging London and Birmingham. HS2 trains will utilise an upgraded version of existing routes, as opposed to entirely new constructions.
Despite apparent setbacks, the government declared intentions in June to continue with HS2 from London Euston to Manchester and the East Midlands. However, rumours have been circulating about a possible cancellation of the already delayed Birmingham to Manchester stretch. Doubts are also emerging about HS2’s capability to extend to Euston in central London, as demolition work is being held up due to escalating costs. Without Euston, trains would be halted at Old Oak Common in West London.
The notion of speedy, efficient travel is at the heart of the HS2 project. Promising a nearly 30-minute reduction in travel time from Birmingham to London, HS2 also pledges to shave an hour off the journey between Manchester and London. However, new proposals indicate the travel time from London to Leeds will be slightly less than two hours, significantly more than the initial plans.
The HS2 project is arguably the largest of its kind on the continent, and consequently, its costs have surged. What was initially estimated to cost £33bn in 2010 has grown to an estimated £71bn. This figure does not include the remaining Eastern leg, from Birmingham to the East Midlands, with estimates for this stretch alone ranging up to £7bn for Birmingham to Crewe, and up to £19bn for Crewe to Manchester.
HS2’s projected opening date was 2026. Present plans now suggest that the first HS2 passengers will travel between Old Oak Common and Birmingham somewhere between 2029 to 2033. Later extensions suggest completion dates of 2036 for Crewe and 2041 for Manchester respectively.
HS2’s proposed changes have the potential to considerably impact the North of England. Plans for the Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) remain uncertain if HS2’s Manchester line is terminated. The Mayor of Greater Manchester has already expressed concerns that scrapping the Manchester link would critically hamper the NPR.
In the absence of the Euston route, passengers could utilise the Elizabeth Line to reach central London from Old Oak Common. However, Old Oak Common is only built to accommodate six HS2 trains per hour, significantly less than the 18 trains per hour Euston was intended to host.
While environmental advocates argue against HS2, stating it will obliterate a vast expanse of irreplaceable natural habitats and protected wildlife areas, the HS2 project maintains that it can provide “zero carbon rail travel” and create new wildlife habitats along its route.