The Government has begun a ‘rigorous’ review of the proposed HS2 high-speed rail link amid concerns it cannot be built within its £56billion budget.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps today said a report would be delivered to him ‘by the autumn’ and a decision would be made ‘with oversight from the Prime Minister and Chancellor’.
The review will be led by former HS2 Ltd boss Douglas Oakervee and will consider if it is ‘go or no-go’, with £7billion already spent on the project.
Lord Berkeley – a long-term critic of the high-speed railway scheme – will be his deputy and the Department for Transport said the review will look at factors including benefits, impact, affordability, efficiency, deliverability, scope and phasing.
Boris Johnson has previously voiced concerns about HS2 and the launch of the review comes just weeks into his new role as Prime Minister.
HS2 may have to run slower and less frequent trains to slash costs, its chief executive previously admitted. The graphic pictured details how much the new HS2 line is costing
Pictured is the HS2rail route, showing phase one (dark blue line), two A (light blue line) and two B (orange line) as well as existing services that will use the network (yellow line)
The proposed journey times for the HS2 (in red) verses the current times (blue)
Mr Shapps said: ‘The Prime Minister has been clear that transport infrastructure has the potential to drive economic growth, redistribute opportunity and support towns and cities across the UK, but that investments must be subject to continuous assessment of their costs and benefits.
‘That’s why we are undertaking this independent and rigorous review of HS2.
‘Douglas Oakervee and his expert panel will consider all the evidence available, and provide the department with clear advice on the future of the project.’
The first part of the rail line is due to open between London and Birmingham by the end of 2026, with a second phase between Leeds and Manchester scheduled to be finished by 2033.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, pictured, said a report on HS2 would be completed by the autumn
Despite warnings that HS2 could cost up to £100billion, the Transport Secretary has previously insisted the scheme was on time and on budget.
HS2 bosses have previously said they are considering running fewer services and slower trains in order to save cash and ensure the 225mph rail link between London, Birmingham and up to the North can be delivered.
When asked about the £7billion already spent, Mr Shapps told the BBC: ‘Just because you’ve spent a lot of money on something does not mean you should plough more and more money into it.’
In June previous transport secretary Chris Grayling first revealed plans for a review to see if the scheme was ‘deliverable’.
He also indicated that parts of the high-speed rail link could be scaled back in the wake of the Crossrail debacle, which is due to open two years later in December 2020 and as much as £2.8billion over budget.
Allan Cook was appointed as HS2 chief in December following the resignation of his predecessor Sir Terry Morgan in the wake of the Crossrail delay.
It was previously claimed Mr Cook had written to the Department for Transport last month to warn the final cost of HS2 could end up being between £70billion and £85billion.
Mr Johnson has already faced pressure on HS2 amid the growing controversy and was asked to scrap it by MPs on the 1922 Committee shortly before taking office, which he refused to do.
According to polls taken earlier this year, many of his party voters oppose the scheme.
According to polls carried out earlier this year, two thirds of Tory voters oppose the scheme, which will cut through traditional Conservative heartlands in London, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire
An American pollster put together a memo in April stating two thirds of Tory voters see the rail line as an ‘expensive extravagance’.
A YouGov poll in May of the general public found 40 per cent of the population opposed its introduction compared to 32 per cent in favour.
The research was carried out by American political consultant, Frank Luntz, who is also said to be friends with Mr Johnson.
Grassroots party opposition to the multi-billion pound project to connect London to Birmingham and then Leeds and Manchester is mainly focused on the route it is planned to take through swathes of Tory heartlands such as parts of north west London, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.
Mr Johnson’s own Uxbridge constituency is one of these areas that will see the controversial line cut through the countryside.
A report by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee in May warned it was ‘far from convinced’ it would be built for the original planned cost, and former HS2 chairman Sir Terry Morgan has claimed the project cannot be built to its current specification on budget.
Meanwhile, a separate report by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) think tank argued earlier this year that the project will widen the north-south divide and should be scrapped in favour of significant investment in rail services outside London.
Campaigners have called for a police investigation into the handling of the project, to check if anyone has been misled about its true costs.
These are the new Crossrail trains which ware standing idle at Old Oak Common in west London where they are being stored until they can be used on the £17.6bn project
Each of the stations have 30 miles of communications cabling, 200 CCTV cameras, 66 information displays, 200 radio antennas, 750 loudspeakers and 50 help points
A map of the new Elizabeth line which will take commuters from Reading and Heathrow Airport in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east
Meanwhile chartered engineer Colin Elliff, who worked for construction giant Atkins for 18 years, claimed tunnels being built under central London to facilitate HS2 ‘could collapse and cause the deaths of hundreds of people’.
Mr Elliff warned rail bosses that they are risking a horrific disaster because ploughing three tunnels under the approach to Euston Station could bring down a huge 120-year-old brick wall above them.
Earlier this year a formal ‘notice to proceed’ on major construction work for the first phase of the high-speed railway was put back until December.
The delay means the government-owned firm in charge of the project cannot sign major contracts for the construction of phase one lines, stretching from London to Birmingham.
WHAT IS HS2 AND HOW MUCH WILL IT COST?
HS2 (High Speed 2) is a plan to construct a a new high-speed rail linking London, West Midlands, Leeds and Manchester.
The line is to be built in a ‘Y’ configuration. London will be on the bottom of the ‘Y’, Birmingham at the centre, Leeds at the top right and Manchester at the top left.
Work on Phase One began in 2017 and the government plans envisage the line being operational by 2026.
The HS2 project is being developed by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd.
The project has a projected cost of £56 billion ($77 billion), up from the initial cost of £32.7 billion ($45 billion) in 2010.
Last year’s annual report showed that the company established by the government to build the railway spent £500 million in the year to March 31 – up almost 30 per cent from £352.9 million the year before.
It takes the total amount spent by HS2 so far to more than £1.9billion since 2009.
Separate accounts published by the Department for Transport also showed it had spent another £366 million on HS2.
The bulk of this was on compensating individuals and businesses who own property and land near the planned line.
Meanwhile in January, HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston admitted trains may have to be ‘slower and less frequent’ to slash costs, with bosses considering reducing speed by 30mph.
Officials were also considering reducing the number of services per hour by a fifth, from 18 to 14 each way, which would cut the capacity of the line by the equivalent of around 8,800 passengers per hour during peak times.
Fears over the viability of HS2 come after a series of issues with the Crossrail Project in London.
The new line is supposed to run from Reading, under central London and out to Abbey Wood in south-east London and Shenfield in Essex.
It was meant to be opened in December last year but the complete project may not be ready until 2021.
Crossrail hopes to have the central section of the Elizabeth line between Paddington and Abbey Wood open by 2020, It would link the West End, the City of London, Canary Wharf and southeast London with 12 trains per hour during peak times.
In June, dozens of the line’s new high-tech trains were pictured sitting idle in a depot in London still waiting to be used.
The trains are part of a £1 billion fleet commissioned for the flagship rail project, which is believed to be costing around £17.6 billion.
Mark Wild, Chief Executive, Crossrail Ltd, said in a statement last month: ‘Crossrail is an immensely complex project and there will be challenges ahead particularly with the testing of the train and signalling systems but the Elizabeth line is going to be incredible for London and really will be worth the wait.
‘This new plan will get us there and allow this fantastic new railway to open around the end of next year.’
Crossrail has also come under fire after it was revealed that it has employed 479 train drivers at a £25million-a-year cost to the taxpayer despite the project not being fully open for another two years.
Hundreds of them are on annual salaries of more than £59,000 and most of the drivers were employed before the decision was made in August 2018 to delay the project, The Sunday Times reported.
A damning report by public spending watchdog the National Audit Office released in April said management exerted ‘little pressure on key contractors to deliver the programme efficiently’, which led to costs spiralling by up to 500 per cent.
Delays in engineering works at the start of the project meant contracts for the building of stations, tunnels and installing of signalling systems were also delayed.
Last October, the Government was forced to give the project a £350million bailout.