HS2 may have to run slower and less frequent trains to slash costs, its chief executive has admitted.
The state-backed firm overseeing the high-speed line is mulling over plans to limit the speed of trains by 30mph.
It is 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.
Last night one campaigner warned that it is ‘quite conceivable’ that some journeys to Birmingham on the high-speed line may be slower than at the moment.
HS2 may have to run slower and less frequent trains to slash costs, its chief executive has admitted. The graphic pictured details how much the new HS2 line is costing
The plans were revealed by HS2 Ltd’s chief executive, Mark Thurston, at a meeting with MPs towards the end of last year. Trains were due to hit a maximum speed of 225mph, but he warned that they may have to be slowed down, at times, by around 30mph in order to have any chance of sticking to its £56billion budget. This would have to be done, in particular, when going through some tunnels because otherwise extra, and more expensive, engineering work would be needed on the tunnels to cope with the high speed.
Tunnels for high-speed trains usually have to be wider than those for slower trains and extra measures have to be taken to deal with the greater air pressure and extra noise.
Phase One of the rail link, between London and Birmingham, is scheduled to open in December 2026 before it is extended to Crewe, Manchester and Leeds.
High-speed trains were planned to reduce the journey time from London to Birmingham from one hour, 21 minutes to 49 minutes, and to cut the journey time from London to Manchester by an hour, from two hours, eight minutes to one hour, eight minutes.
Details of the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Rail Group in November were revealed in a letter from Leader of the Commons Andrea Leadsom to Mr Thurston, reported in The Sunday Telegraph.
Mrs Leadsom, the MP for South Northamptonshire, through which the HS2 route would run, wrote: ‘Given the business case for HS2 was first predicated upon speed, then on capacity, then finally on improving connectivity with the North, can I ask how these changes would impact on the viability of the project?
‘My constituents are concerned that changes to the project could undermine the business case… and reduce the value for taxpayers’ money.’
HS2 trains from London Euston will not travel to Birmingham New Street Station, in the heart of the city, or to Birmingham International, near the airport. Instead, they will travel to the newly built HS2 Curzon Street station, about 15 minutes walk from New Street.
This means that – when combining the slower speed and the extra transfer time from Curzon Street station – it may actually take the same time as it does at present to get from London to the heart of Birmingham.
Trains were due to hit a maximum speed of 225mph, but Mark Thurston (pictured) warned that they may have to be slowed down, at times, by around 30mph in order to have any chance of sticking to its £56billion budget
HS2 has said that by the time it is completed, passengers will be able to take a new tram to connect to New Street and Birmingham International.
But Joe Rukin, campaign manager of Stop HS2, said: ‘It is quite conceivable that if HS2 trains are slowed down some passengers could face longer journeys on HS2 than they do today. HS2’s business case has been based on superfast trains and 18 services an hour. If this does not happen, its entire business case is being destroyed.’
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has emphasised that HS2 is as much about easing congestion on overcrowded trains as it is about speed.
But the Government’s claim that HS2 would provide up to 59,400 seats from London to Birmingham during the three-hour afternoon peak was based on the assumption that the service could operate up to 18 trains an hour in each direction between London and Birmingham.
A string of reports have warned that Britain’s biggest ever infrastructure project will blow its £56billion budget, with experts estimating it could cost as much as £104billion.
In September, the National Audit Office revealed that the estimated cost of buying land on the HS2 route between London and Birmingham alone has tripled in six years to £3billion.
Responding to Mrs Leadsom, Mr Thurston said it is HS2’s ‘intention… to ensure the project is delivered on time and within budget’. He said he had been responding to questions ‘about what could be done to change scope in an effort to reduce cost’.