In his first public turn as HS2 chairman, Sir David Higgins has said he wants to see HS2 taken to Crewe six years earlier than planned.
Although the hybrid bill governing HS2 has still to clear parliament, rail chiefs are pushing ahead with the project in a bid to stabilise costs. Under Sir David’s proposals, the Manchester leg of the new railway as far as Crewe will transfer to Phase One of the project and be built at the same time as the initial London- Birmingham link by 2027.
Patrick McLoughlin, Secretary of State for Transport, has given official backing to the Higgins plans and endorsed the HS2 Growth Taskforce recommendations.
Crewe, which once saw over 1,000 trains a day in the 1890s, now looks set to regain its historic significance. High-speed trains will connect with the conventional network at a new transport hub at Crewe, creating connections to Liverpool, Stoke, North Wales and South Wales.
Euston station will be redeveloped and expanded using significant private sector investment. However, a £700 million direct rail link between HS1 and HS2 has been shelved. The idea of an HS1-HS2 link line will be re-examined later and is still on the agenda as Britain seeks to maximise the advantages of its emerging high speed rail network.
Presenting the HS2 PLUS report, Sir David Higgins said that new stations at Crewe and Euston should be complemented by a major interchange at Old Oak Common.
Stability and assured support is now key to keeping costs down and delivering the new railway, says Sir David. ‘The simple truth at the heart of this, as any, project is that there is a direct connection between certainty, time and cost. The more certainty there is about the timescale, the more possible it is to control cost through economies of scale.’
Responding with equal enthusiasm to Lord Deighton’s HS2 Growth Taskforce report, Patrick McLoughlin said, ‘We need HS2 and we need to act now to squeeze the most from it in terms of jobs, skills and growth. The taskforce’s recommendations are plain common sense.’ He urged local leaders and businesses to start working together now on regeneration, planning and skills training to take full advantage of the high-speed network.
It is a message being echoed right round the industry as efforts to increase skills and staff levels ramp up. ‘It is up to all of us in the government, local authorities, HS2 Ltd and UK businesses to make the most of this unique opportunity,’ says Lord Deighton, former chief executive of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games.
Network Rail welcomed the Higgins report. Says Paul Plummer, Network Rail group strategy director, ‘HS2 will sit at the heart of Britain’s transport network, allowing us to reshape the railway in a way that incremental improvements simply cannot. That’s why we welcome the report’s recommendations and its call for an integrated approach to planning and operating the railway.
‘We can deliver the biggest benefit for passengers, communities and freight if we plan for the high speed and existing lines to operate seamlessly together. This will also ensure we build upon investments we are making today, such as the Northern Hub, to improve connectivity between major towns and cities.’