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HS2 under the microscope

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On a single day in July, more than 100 documents relating to HS2 were published on the Department for Transport’s website – not so surprising when you realise that parliament’s summer recess was looming.

Some of the papers were more extensive than others but it still amounted to something like 115 separate items. This month, RailStaff is looking at some of the detail you may have missed in the flurry of high-speed announcements.

The majority were connected with Phase 2a and 2b, supporting the submission of the 2a hybrid bill and the formal announcement for the proposed route north of Birmingham. The documents included environmental impact assessments, engineering reports and commercial case policy papers.

Some interesting details emerged, including a breakdown of the bill for Phase 2a. The route between the West Midlands and Crewe is expected to cost a little less than £3.5 billion.

There were also detailed engineering reports for both the Birmingham-Leeds and Crewe-Manchester legs of the route which showed the current working designs for the Toton and Leeds stations and the Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Airport stations.

Here’s what else we learned…


The announcement last month crystallised the route for Phase 2a and 2b of HS2 but provided few surprises. It did, however, give a clearer picture of how Britain’s high-speed corridor will look when it opens in 2033.

On the same day as the Phase 2b preferred route was confirmed, HS2 deposited the hybrid bill to parliament for Phase 2a. The hybrid bill for Phase 2b will be submitted in 2019.

Of seven route refinements included in a consultation last year, six have been adopted. The only proposed alteration not to be applied was in the East Midlands, where HS2 had considered rerouting the railway to the east of the village of Measham instead of cutting through it slightly to the west. The updated alignment means it will now follow the A42 more closely than the original plans showed.

Details of the six accepted changes are described below:

M18/Eastern route

The most significant change to the Phase 2b route is around Derbyshire and South Yorkshire. HS2 had originally proposed running the eastern leg of Phase 2b between Sheffield and Rotherham, and building a station close to the Meadowhall shopping centre. It had later looked at the possibility of diverting HS2 trains through Sheffield.

Instead, the M18/Eastern route will take the line around the opposite side of Rotherham and construct a spur off HS2 at Stonebroom, which will allow high-speed trains to travel on the Midland main line through Chesterfield and into Sheffield city centre.

HS2 says this alignment will cost £858 million less to build – £1.2 billion when you factor in contingency. However, this option was based on the Midland main line (MML) being electrified between Clay Cross and Sheffield as part of the wider MML electrification programme – a project which is now not going ahead, although that announcement did promise further investment to come to ensure Sheffield is HS2- ready.

A consequence of this change to the route is the demolition of 16 homes on the Shimmer estate in Mexborough. Although HS2 says the M18/Eastern route will result in fewer demolitions overall – 51 compared to more than 100 expected with previous alignments, it has been the focus of media attention and again raised the issue of how HS2 deals with those impacted by the line’s construction.

The new alignment would also mean four Grade II listed properties would have to be demolished, compared to two on the Meadowhall route.

Image: DfT/ Crown Copyright.

Location of Western Leg Rolling Stock Depot

Original proposals had included locating the rolling stock depot for the western leg (Birmingham to Crewe and Manchester) in Golborne near Wigan, but in

2016 another site north of Crewe was suggested that would have less of an impact on several important historical sites and the environment. HS2 said a site south of Crewe at Basford Sidings had been considered before the Crewe site was confirmed.

Middlewich-Northwich alignment

This part of the route through Cheshire was highlighted because of concerns about the impact it could have on brining and gas storage operations in the area. The route has now been moved west to avoid the Cheshire salt caverns and gas storage cavities and elevated by a series of raised embankments and viaducts.

Manchester Piccadilly approach

The approach to Piccadilly had required a tunnel portal in West Gorton but the consultation identified that there would be issues with existing railway viaducts, its proximity to a school and a floodplain.

The amended route takes the line around the other side of Longsight depot and will move the portal up to 370 metres to the east.

East Midlands Airport tunnel

The original route from 2013 notably included tunnelling beneath East Midlands Airport on the way to the East Midlands station in Toton. This has now been dropped in favour of taking the route east and around the airport, avoiding the complexities of tunnelling beneath an operating airport runway. The government has said it believes the ‘significant’ cost reductions outweigh the extra 55 seconds it will add to journey times.

Long Eaton viaduct

HS2 has changed the line through Long Eaton from a ground level route to a high level route. As a result, the entire route through Long Eaton will be carried on a viaduct. The length of the original viaduct proposed for over the River Soar and River Trent will be extended to 4.7 kilometres, taking it though Long Eaton on the approach to the Toton station.

Photo: HS2 Ltd.


HS2 believes Crewe station needs to undergo its first major overhaul since the 1980s to make the most of its ‘360-degree connectivity’ for HS2.

A public consultation is currently asking for views on the future of Crewe station, focussing specifically on what work needs to be done to best integrate HS2 services.

Specifically, the consultation talks about building 400-metre platforms that would allow HS2 services formed of two separate trains to split at Crewe and serve other locations. For example, a longer train from London Euston could split at Crewe with one train going to Liverpool and the other to Preston. It could also allow HS2 services to call at Stoke.

Research undertaken to inform the consultation shows that passenger numbers at Crewe grew from 3.9 million in 2014/15 to more than 4.2 million in 2015/16.

Image: DfT/Crown Copyright.

The document describes Crewe’s current layout as a constraint on the network. Few services terminate at Crewe yet the station has four bay platforms (2,7,8 and 10).

The consultation highlights two other things that would be needed to create a Crewe hub station. The current Phase 2a route allows for high- speed services from London to leave HS2 and serve Crewe, Runcorn and Liverpool, but having a junction north of Crewe station connecting the West Coast main line (WCML) with HS2 would enable northbound high- speed connectivity from Crewe as well.

HS2 said it was also working with Network Rail to try to identify a ‘combined scheme’ at Crewe to deliver the signalling renewal work that would be required to simplify the track layout at the station.

Cost could prove to be the biggest hurdle for the Crewe hub approach. Resignalling around Crewe may not be included in Network Rail’s CP6 plans and the hub proposals aren’t included in the £55.7 billion HS2 budget.

Councillor Rachel Bailey, leader of Cheshire East Council, said, ‘We welcome the hybrid bill for Phase 2a of HS2, from Birmingham to Crewe, being put before Parliament. This is a key milestone for this ‘once in a generation’ rail project, which will see a Crewe hub station opening in 2027.

‘This council also welcomes further recognition of the overwhelming case for a HS2 hub station in Crewe. We are pleased to see that the Department for Transport has launched a consultation on the Crewe HS2 hub station and related components.

‘The council will consider the consultation proposals in detail to ensure our consultation responses reflect the best possible outcomes for Cheshire East residents.’

Crewe station today. Photo: tornadoflight/ Shutterstock.com.


HS2 has awarded construction contracts worth £6.6 billion for the first phase of the high-speed line between London and Birmingham.

Four of the nine contractors and joint ventures which bid for the seven construction packages came away with something. Below is a breakdown of who won what:

Area South

• Euston Tunnels and Approaches – SCS JV (Skanska Construction UK Ltd, Costain Ltd, STRABAG AG)

• Northolt Tunnels – SCS JV (Skanska Construction UK Ltd, Costain Ltd, STRABAG AG)

Area Central

• Chiltern Tunnels and Colne Valley Viaduct – Align JV (Bouygues Travaux Publics, VolkerFitzpatrick, Sir Robert McAlpine)

• North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley – CEK JV (Carillion Construction Ltd, Eiffage Genie Civil SA, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Ltd)

• Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel – CEK JV (Carillion Construction Ltd, Eiffage Genie Civil SA, Kier Infrastructure and Overseas Ltd)

Area North

• Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel to Delta Junction and Birmingham Spur – BBV JV (Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, VINCI Construction Grands Projets, VINCI Construction UK Ltd, VINCI Construction Terrassement)

• Delta Junction to WCML Tie-In – BBV JV (Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, VINCI Construction Grands Projets, VINCI Construction UK Ltd, VINCI Construction Terrassement)

Here’s what representatives of each of the winning consortia had to say:

Peter Jones, executive director and SCS JV board member, said, ‘We are delighted to have been awarded these major contracts by HS2 which follow on from the South Enabling Works Contract awarded last year.

‘The awards are further testimony to the SCS collaborative approach and our strong track record in applying technology-based innovative solutions in the delivery of large-scale projects.’

Jérôme Furgé, Align project director, said, ‘I have worked on many major projects around the world, and find it a special privilege to be working on HS2. This project will require a unique level of collaboration between all of us and the highest industry standards, expected by HS2, will be implemented in order to obtain the very best outcome. My Align colleagues and I are delighted to be part of the challenge to deliver a world-class asset to the UK.’

Sean Jeffery, executive director and chairman of CEK JV board, said, ‘We are delighted to have been selected to help deliver this major infrastructure project and look forward to working in partnership with HS2. Our involvement in this project will enable us to create many new jobs and training opportunities as well as working with a diverse range of supply chain businesses from across the UK.’

Photo: HS2 Ltd.

Mark Cutler, Balfour Beatty VINCI HS2 managing director, said, ‘I am proud that our long-standing joint venture has been chosen to deliver these two important and complex sections of HS2.

‘This iconic rail infrastructure project will create significant opportunities for the UK construction industry and enable long term benefits in skills, jobs and regional prosperity. We look forward to building on our successful track record of major infrastructure projects, and playing our part in the delivery of HS2.’

The contracts awarded last month are design/build. Over the next 16 months detailed designs will be drawn up before the first spade hits the ground towards the end of next year.

Exactly how those works will be staggered will be decided during this design stage although HS2 has said it is likely that work will initially centre around key structures, such as tunnels, viaducts and stations.

It doesn’t mean, however, that everything will stand still for 16 months. Preliminary works, including geological surveys and demolitions around Euston, have already started and, in the autumn, archaeological investigations will get underway.

Featured image: HS2/Grimshaw-Architects.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0


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