HS2 railway is set to be delayed by up to five years

HS2 image

The first phase of the HS2 high-speed railway between London and Birmingham will be delayed by up to five years, Transport Minister Grant Shapps says.

That section of the line was due to open at the end of 2026, but it could now be between 2028 and 2031 before the first trains run on the route.

HS2’s total cost has also risen from £62bn to between £81bn and £88bn, but Mr Shapps said he was keeping an “open mind” about the project’s future.

The second phase has also been delayed.

The route – from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds – was due to open in 2032-33, but that has been pushed back to 2035-2040.

Mr Shapps’ statement was based on a report from the chairman of HS2, Allan Cook, which concluded that the new railway could not be delivered within the current budget.

“I want the House to have the full picture. There is no future in obscuring the true costs of a large infrastructure project – as well as the potential benefits,” said Mr Shapps.

Mr Cook said the delay had occurred because the original plans did not account for the effect of building through densely-populated areas with difficult geographical features.

His report comes ahead of a government decision on whether HS2 will go ahead at all.

Last month, the government said it planned to review the costs and benefits of the rail project, with a “go or no-go” decision by the end of the year.

The government has said that construction work will continue while the review is ongoing.

‘Unrealistic’ target

Originally expected to cost £56bn in 2015 prices, Mr Cook said the new cost estimate was adjusted for inflation, and based on today’s prices.

Mr Cook, who started his role in December, had already warned about the overspend while preparing a review of the project’s cost and schedule.

He told the Department for Transport last month that the scheme could not be delivered within its budget.

“The budget and target schedule for the programme have proved unrealistic, while at the same time the benefits have been understated,” Mr Cook said.

Concerns that rising costs and delays could threaten the viability of HS2 are not new. Documents seen by the BBC last month, showed that both the government and HS2 knew the new high speed railway was over budget and probably behind schedule years ago.

In July, Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, cast doubts on the 2026 opening target, calling it “unrealistic”.