Coffee House

Five things you need to know about David Higgins’s HS2 report

17 March 2014

HS2 needs to happen, and faster. That’s the conclusion of David Higgins’s report on High Speed 2 out today. As well as backing up the government’s key arguments for the project on capacity grounds — not speed, which he says is a ‘by-product’ — the chairman of HS2 Ltd has made some recommendations for improving the project. Here are the key things you need to know about the Higgins report:

1. Extension to Crewe should happen in Phase One

Higgins suggests that the first phase of HS2 should include another 43 miles of track from Birmingham to Crewe. This would be brought forward from Phase Two and built by 2027, providing better connections to Stoke, Shrewsbury and Chester among others. Higgins said on the Today programme this morning the Crewe extension would be ‘relatively straightforward to build at relatively low cost’. Although money isn’t included in the Phase One budget, it has already been set aside for Phase Two.

2. Euston should be rebuilt on a grander scale

Claim your gift

Describing the current station as a ‘mess’, Higgins has said the government should ‘aspire to do Euston properly’ when it is rebuilt as part of HS2 – echoing comments made by George Osborne last month. The report outlines a ‘level deck design’ similar to St Pancras, which would ‘enable access from one side of the station to the other, better connecting the station to the local area and community’. Higgins believes this would ‘maximise the aesthetic and jobs impact of the rebuilt station.’

3. HS2 shouldn’t necessarily be linked to HS1

For another £700 million, plans are afoot to connect HS2 to the High Speed 1 line running to Dover and mainland Europe. Higgins claims this wouldn’t be the best use of HS2’s capacity and instead compares changing stations from Euston to Kings Cross to ‘transferring from one terminal to another at Heathrow’. He believes the government should reconsider whether this is the best use of money.

4. Faster progress on the Hybrid Bill is crucial

The key piece of legislation behind HS2, the Hybrid Bill, was introduced to Parliament last year but has made little progress through the Commons. In the report, Higgins attributes the ‘uncertainty over the legislative timetable’ as a main reason for not reducing the costs further. On the Today programme, he made it clear that ‘time is uncertainty; uncertainty leads into cost and eventually money’:

‘My message to the government and the public is that infrastructure is critical to this nation. We can’t have a logjam of approval process. I understand the reason for debate and proper consultation but time is money’

5. The costs are stable — for now

Whether HS2 continues to have cross-party support will be entirely dependent on the costs. Labour has continued to demand reassurances on the costs of the line and whether those costs can be reduced any further. Higgins has stated that first stage of HS2 will cost £21.4 billion, plus £3 billion for the trains, including some contingency funds.

However, he has avoided lowering the budgets any further due to the lack of parliamentary progress — as well as indecision from the government. The report states ‘the more certainty there is about the timescale, the lower the costs will be’. Yet Labour’s response to the report has been rather positive. Shadow transport spokesman Mary Creagh has said Labour will ‘vote to support the Hybrid Bill at Second Reading when the Government finally brings it to Parliament’. This appears to be pretty unequivocal support for the project — at least, for now.

Give the perfect gift this Christmas. Buy a subscription for a friend for just £75 and you’ll receive a free gift too. Buy now.

Show comments
  • John

    Higgins’ recommendations: Prime points for phase 1 of HS2 are:

    1. No HS2 to HS1 connection in London.
    2. A new Crewe high-speed rail hub and station.

    The Crewe hub is interesting. High-speed trains will reach Crewe high-speed rail hub then run on existing classic compatible tracks to Liverpool, Manchester, Chester or wherever. This makes lots of sense as journey times can be quickened to most destinations that currently radiate from Crewe. The plan was that HS2 trains could not use all classic compatible track radiating from Crewe. The Manchester line would run in tunnel under the existing station by-passing Crewe.

    The HS2 trains run slower on classic compatible tracks than the existing Virgin tilting trains, as they do not tilt. Have HS2 trains tilting and times to Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, etc will be much quicker than without. The Virgin trains have a maximum speed of 150mph which currently they cannot reach because they do not have in-cab signalling. Then there are massive savings in not running a high-speed track to Manchester and Preston, so phase two of HS2 north of Crewe can be cancelled saving whole lot of money that can be spent on a east-west Holyhead to Hull line via Liverpool. Manchester and Leeds.

    The time saved between a) running a full captive high-speed HS2 line into Manchester and b) using the proposed Crewe high-speed rail hub and tilting HS2 trains then onto classic lines will be minimal to the point it is just not worth extending high-speed track north of Crewe. Then Liverpool, Chester, Manchester, Preston, etc, will have excellent journey times to London and Liverpool will not be at an economic disadvantage to Manchester. It is wrong to put major cities at economic disadvantages over neighbours.

    This is good news for Liverpool. Liverpool times will be better and the city will have parity with Manchester. Lobbying should be to have:

    1. Tilting HS2 trains
    2. No HS2 track north of the Crewe HSR hub.

    The Cheshire NIMBYs will be happy and all will be happy. HS2 rolling stock could tilting and none tilting. Non-tilting to reach say only Birmingham and tilting for Liverpool and Manchester.

    The current rail traffic to Glasgow and Edinburgh is less than what goes to Liverpool alone. Most fly to London from Scotland and that will be the case after HS2 and HS3 as Scotland is just too far. So extending very expensive HS2 track to Scotland in HS3 is economic madness.

    Of course, if Manchester is having the scheduled HS2 track right into its city centre then the lobbying must be for Liverpool to have the same. Having no HS2 track north of Crewe HSR hub and using tilting trains may be very appealing to HMG.

    • Alexsandr

      HS2 has to be built within EU interoperability regs. (why?) so floor heights will not be compatable with current trains or stations.

      • Richard Gadsden

        (why?) because the EU won’t part-fund it otherwise.

        Also it does mean that the trains won’t have to be purpose-designed for the UK, which will make a relatively small order much cheaper. In spite of the proper (“captive”) HS2 trains being bigger and potentially faster, they’re actually cheaper than the (“classic compatible”) trains that go onto the normal network.

        • Alexsandr

          so we will have foreign made trains (that will help jobs and the balance of payments) probably ICE or TGV, that wont fit on the ‘classic’ network, the floors will be at the wrong height.
          this is so badly thought out.
          the french run their TGV off the LGV onto the classic network. Why have 2 fleets. why not just make stuff fit the british infrastructure.
          there again the whole concept is daft anyway.

          • Richard Gadsden

            I suspect there’s a pretty good chance that we’ll get Hitachi trains, made in Newton Aycliffe. The Javelins they make are pretty decent, and the HSEP, replacing the old InterCity 125s, will be a big demonstration of their abilities.

            Why have 2 fleets. why not just make stuff fit the british infrastructure.

            Because the UIC GC gauge trains are better – they carry more passengers in the same length of train, they’re more comfortable, and they’re also cheaper than the ones compatible with the standard network because the manufacturer can amortize the design costs over more vehicles as they can sell to more countries.

            The “classic-compatible” trains are a temporary bodge until the British infrastructure can be brought properly up to date. Admittedly, that “temporary” might be a century, but widening infrastructure won’t hurt.

            If we buy trains from either Hitachi or Bombardier (Derby) then they would then have a base for an export market to the rest of Europe.

            Germany and France will presumably stick with their national firms of Siemens and Alstom, but there are several contracts coming up in other countries over the next couple of decades:

            * There will eventually be a replacement for the Dutch-Belgian Fyra disaster.

            * Italy is building a new line Milan-Verona-Venice-Trieste which will need new trains
            * Switzerland and Austria are both building new trans-alpine lines to Italy
            * Poland is upgrading CMK (Warsaw-Krakow) and will need high-speed rolling stock for that at some point.

            There are probably going to be other lines in the 2040s that aren’t yet certain, like Rail Baltica (Warsaw-Riga-Tallinn), a possible revival of the Polish Warsaw-Poznan-Lodz link, Danish and Swedish high-speed plans, a possible Trieste-Ljubjana-Vienna link. Existing high-speed rail will also eventually need rolling stock replacement (the first Spanish AVE trains will be approaching end of life about 2040).

    • Richard Gadsden


      It’s a great idea, but not going to happen. At HS speeds on the HS2 track it wouldn’t be safe to tilt, so the tilting mechanism would have to have a mechanical lock-out (tilt mechanisms are normally hydraulic; the hydraulics would be put under a lot of stress resisting the forces at 220mph, and would become unreliable; you’d need a mechanical lock that would disable the tilt securely) and then that mechanical lock-out would have to be enabled and disabled, in the middle of a journey (ie in a minute or two at most, so it would have to be possible to do from the cab), and preferably without having to stop.

      No-one currently makes such a system, and one would have to be designed. It isn’t technically impossible, but it would certainly cost a lot of money, require licensing the Pendolino tilt-system from the Italians, and take an enormous amount of time.

      The assumption that most people will continue to fly from Glasgow/Edinburgh to London if HS2 is extended to their cities is incorrect. The reason people fly is that it takes over four hours by train. Lower that to the anticipated 2h20 with the rest of the high-speed system and flying will drop to a little more than 10% of the Central Belt-London market (about 10% are transfer passengers for Heathrow, who will presumably continue to fly). That’s about the level of flights from Manchester and Leeds at present, which are currently just over two hours from Euston and King’s Cross.

  • foxoles
  • Mark McIntyre

    NO2 HS2 – report that !

  • Alexsandr

    so someone who has a reason for wanting HS2 wants it to happen. Hardly independent is it?
    We need more and faster capacity between northern cities, and more long distance capacity into Waterloo and Paddington. West coast and east coast intercity growth is now very low, less that 1% p/a on west coast.

  • Frank

    Just make the business case!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Japan had the first leg (Tokyo-Osaka) of its High Speed train network up and running in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Chop, chop, Britisher pals.
    Jack, Kuala Lumpur

  • White Lightning

    The thought of Euston being under reconstruction for years on end fills me with intense, lingering, piercing dread.

    • Alexsandr

      they could make capacity @ Euston my sending the tring stoppers down crossrail. Its a small way from Willesden to old oak common.

  • John Smith

    Good on him, nice to have someone positive & visionary in charge
    If it ends up with Ed Balls it will be a bike to Southend

  • rtj1211

    The argument about changing termini at Heathrow is entirely inappropriate. No-one would bother flying into Heathrow from Manchester, then changing terminals and flying on to Paris. They’d fly direct or not at all. You only bother flying to Heathrow if you’re going to the USA, China or somewhere far away where there is no direct flight from your home airport.

    There needs to be a direct link to the Channel tunnel from HS2. Whether the Camden route is the right one, who knows. But this is typical myopic, British planning which wants everywhere North and East of London to be isolated from the European high speed network just to appease some bumblies in Camden who have HS1 right on their own doorstep.

    I do hope that a blanket ban on using HS1 for all those living within 5km of St Pancras will be added to the Hybrid Bill for HS2. I hope they are banned from flying out of Heathrow too.

    It might teach them that the world doesn’t revolve around them………

    • Alexsandr

      is there really enough traffic from Manchester and brum to paris or Brussels to justify a 700 sat train every hour?

  • Maurice_Gosfield

    Whoever argued that HS2 was worth doing on grounds of speed/journey time did the project a huge disservice. The debate always should have been about capacity and whether Britain wants a railway that’s fit for purpose in the 21st Century and beyond or whether it wishes to continue with an outdated legacy rail network serving the major population centres north of London.

    • andagain

      It is almost as if everyone started off wanting to justify a new railway to throw money at, and only then stared coming up with excuses like speed and capacity.

      Incidently, if capacity really is the goal we would be better off modifying the existing lines.

      For example, Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester are about 40 miles from each other, and there is not one electrified line between any of them. (And there is not so much as a dual carriageway between Manchester and Sheffield, but building roads is unfashionable.)

      • rtj1211

        There is a dual carriageway between Manchester and Sheffield, it’s just not a very direct route. It’s called the M62-M1 route.

        You’d need tunnelling to build a fast link whether it be road or rail.

        Just as you’d need tunnelling to speed up between Liverpool and Hull via Manchester and Leeds. Electrifying won’t change the speed because the route has curves, gradients and steep downhill sections.

        • andagain

          You’d need tunnelling to build a fast link whether it be road or rail.

          Or bridges. Or embankments. Or cuttings. Has some law of nature suddenly stopped them from being built in this day and age?

          And electric trains have a higher power-to-weight ratio, which certainly does make them faster on routes where they often have to slow down or speed up. This is why the westcoast main line was electrified before the flatter, less curvey east coast main line.

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …and the torque is available immediately, with electrics, which also helps.

        • Daedalus

          The M62 which I travel on every day around Leeds is a car park at some times of the day. I end up leaving at 06:30 to miss the jams but still caught in it at 18:00 going home. The M67 needs to be extended over the south route to Sheffield, the Woodhead pass is a disaster particularly in the winter.
          At times I have go into the office in Manchester and I use the train. I go on the 06:45 from Huddersfield just so I can get a seat, usually end up upgrading to 1st class on the way back at 17:11 so I can sit down. The trains are 3 carriage diesels, in the middle of the day they are probably fine, but they are totally useless with the numbers of people on them at rush hour. The train takes about 35 minutes at the moment I can see no reason why that cannot be taken down to 20 minutes with some decent electric trains, its only 25 miles or so by rail.
          Evan Davies made the point in his 2 part London special that the Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds corridor could be the norths counter balance to London, but we need the transport links to work. As for HS2 they should start to build it from Leeds at least, if not from Newcastle THATS if they need to build it at all.


          • rtj1211

            I used to do it myself and always made sure I was through to Yorkshire before 7.30am if I needed a meeting in the morning. I also went over the Snake Pass many times en route to Sheffield, not to mention going via Penistone.

          • andagain

            Evan Davies made the point in his 2 part London special that the Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds corridor could be the norths counter balance to London, but we need the transport links to work.

            I’m sure he was right. I am told that the Northern Hub scheme to improve the commuter lines into Manchester has about twice the benefit-to-cost ratio of HS2. And a small fraction of the funding.

            But High Speed Rail is fashionable in government circles. Commuter lines and roads are not.

            • John

              The links all across Merseyside, Gt Manchester and West Yorks need upgrading ASAP. One third of Liverpool’s metro, Merseyrail, was not built after work started, and the trackbeds are still awaiting. HMG thinks nothing of pouring money into London’s rail. Only a few days ago another multi-million pound rail electrification and update was announced in Lo0ndon. Enough is enough !!!

              • andagain

                Wales is getting a relief road for the M4 and electrified commuter lines into Cardiff. Meanwhile the region from Liverpool to West Yorks is the most densely populated area outside London and gets what?

                The Norths cities clearly need to gang up against Whitehall if they want to get anything other than vanity projects…

        • Alexsandr

          there was a very nice tunnel on a fast Manchester Sheffield route. it was called the woodhead route and they closed it in 1981

          • John

            The Woodhead Tunnel It was electrified but it was used for coal only. One the coal trade stopped then tunnel was redundant.

            • andagain

              And it didn’t occur to BR to send anything other than coal through it? And then they complained that traffic was declining…

            • Alexsandr

              wrong. br ran a passenger service between manchester piccadilly and sheffield victoria via woodhead till 5 jan 1970. there were express locos, class 77 to haul them – they were sold to the netherlands railways.
              woodhead was electrified at 1500v dc, not the current 25Kv AC. glossop – manchester was converted to 25kv in dec 1984
              why do you say stuff like this when its clearly documented in Wiki?

        • John

          A line from Holyhead (near to the 2 million in the Dublin region) to Hull via Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds via a River Dee tunnel using tilting trains will be pretty fast. Some parts may need realigning and bottlenecks dealt with, but times would be quite fast indeed. That is what the north needs.

    • rtj1211

      The debate should actually be about whether Britain is capable of designing integrated infrastructure for the national good without NIMBYism, selfish regional agendas and deliberate cocking up of provision making the final result look like a cowboy builder’s legacy.

      Manchester’s whole rail infrastructure faces south. It is half-way between London and Scotland but you wouldn’t know it from it’s railway set up. Liverpool is pretty similar – no inter-city services north of the city there. Manchester Airport station isn’t on the main line, it’s on a little spur from the city centre. Hopeless. Every well designed rail system has a station straight under an airport terminal building. Go to Geneva, Zurich and it’s like that. Gatwick is close to that. Heathrow is a shuttle from Paddington. Hopeless.

      A fit for purpose national rail system links city centres, airports and has parkway stations more easily accessible for rural travellers. It has routes which by-pass the capital to ensure that sclerosis doesn’t ensue due to political elites posturing to rich financiers (just because Paris has more than one TGV terminus doesn’t preclude a direct route from Lille to the SE of the country avoiding Paris, does it?)

      Britain will always struggle to have fit-for-purpose infrastructure because it refuses to confront London-centric power blocs head on. It wants to shut down the whole of the North and West of the country and run the country entirely for the benefit of the SE and London.

      • John Smith

        Labour are complicit, it suits them that those in the North are poor & uneducated
        They have succeeded so far ..
        Ed Balls is about to ram it home ..

        • BarkingAtTreehuggers

          keeping a handle on the budget isn’t the same thing as ramming it home. Did you notice that the £28bn construction budget now magically increased to £50bn – even though six years were cut from the program?

          • rtj1211

            You need to educate yourself on the figures.

            £50bn is the cost for the whole project including £14bn of contingency and £8bn for the rolling stock. The cost of building the line is £28bn all in and could come in at less if years aren’t wasted with judicial reviews.

            This failure to educate yourself about what the actual figures represent is why you express outrage.

            Everything is consistent as long as you know what each figure refers to.

            Demand that the media report things properly.

            • BarkingAtTreehuggers

              That is exactly my point, thank you for making it for me.
              £28bn magically doubles. It DOUBLES. Why?
              Do we now understand what Ed Balls (bless him) means when he utters what he utters?
              I do.

            • andagain

              These giant projects are always more expensive and less useful than predicted. After all, if it wasn’t for the optimistic projections, they would never have been built.

              If it really just costs £50 billion, I will be pleasantly surprised.

  • James Strong

    There’s only one thing you need to know about David Higgins’ HS2 report:
    He is the chairman of HS2 Ltd.

  • Richard Gadsden

    I note that the most effective thing that the antis have done is to drive the price up; if they just hadn’t bothered with mitigation in the Chilterns, it would be about £5bn cheaper, and the NIMBYs wouldn’t be complaining any more than they are doing.

    The same problem with slowing it down in Parliament – it puts up the price without actually stopping it, and (unlike the NIMBYism) without making it any better.

    • andagain

      I think HS2 is probably a waste of money, but I don’t live anywhere near the line: am I still a NIMBY?

      • Richard Gadsden

        No, you’re not a NIMBY. I specifically was talking about the “mitigation” in the Chilterns, like the tunnels.

        That’s what I meant when the NIMBYs have put the price up – they were bought off, except they weren’t actually bought; could have just built above ground and they’d still have got the same amount of complaining, but they’d have made it cheaper and probably made people like you happier.

        • andagain

          But you seemed to be conflating “anti” and “NiMBY”. They are not the same thing.

          • Richard Gadsden

            No, NIMBYs are a sub-set of antis.

            • andagain

              And, of course, conflating the two is a good debating trick.

              • Richard Gadsden

                Indeed. I didn’t intend to conflate the two, and wasn’t trying it as a debating trick. But I can see how you read it that way, and it was certainly not the best-written sentence I’ve ever produced in my life.

                • andagain

                  Well, I’ve written worse sentences.

Can't find your Web ID? Click here