Cancelling HS2 to Euston would be ‘height of folly’, rail group says amid fears for Birmingham-Manchester leg

Rail industry experts say cancelling HS2’s Euston leg would be the “height of folly” and would cut off cities north of Birmingham from the new high-speed line.

National newspaper reports today suggest HS2’s Euston terminus could be delayed or even scrapped because of rising costs. That would mean trains to London terminating instead at Old Oak Common in the suburbs of West London with passengers using the Elizabeth Line to travel further.

It was also suggested that a 2-5 year delay to the project was being considered. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt today insisted the Government was committed to the Euston leg – though acknowledged “we have not got a good record in this country of delivering complex, expensive infrastructure quickly”.

In response to the earlier speculation, a spokesperson for the High Speed Rail Group said: “Cancelling Euston would be the height of folly. The construction site is already very well progressed. Works have been underway there for 5 years and already hundreds of millions have been spent.

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“Old Oak Common station has nowhere near enough platforms to serve as the London terminus. Indeed, if it was, there would only be enough capacity to allow London-Birmingham shuttle services on HS2. In very simple terms, if Old Oak Common is the terminus, you cannot have HS2 services reaching Manchester. If you cut off Euston, you also cut off Manchester and the rest of the north.

“Finally, if the suggestion is to merely delay the opening of Euston, then it is true that you may save some money in the very short term. But by delaying works, allowing more construction inflation to creep in, you will actually add to the overall cost. It would be a total false economy.

“We need to take a long term view and build HS2 in full.”

Nigel Harris, managing editor of Rail magazine, told the PA news agency that scrapping HS2’s Euston station would turn the project into a “white elephant”.

He said: “If you don’t go to Euston you might as well not build any of it. It’s like cutting the roots off the tree.

“HS2 is not primarily about speed, it’s about convenience and capacity.

“If you make people go to Old Oak Common to catch the Elizabeth line and the Central line, there’s no incentive for them to do that.

“They might as well just carry on travelling into Euston on the conventional railway, which means that you would deny yourself the biggest advantage of HS2 which is the released capacity on the old railway, on which you can put inter-urban trains and freight trains.

“So you create the whitest of white elephants.”

An artist's impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct
An artist’s impression of an HS2 train on the Birmingham and Fazeley viaduct

Mr Harris said billions of pounds of funding for Euston had already been committed.

He said: “A lot of it is contracted and being spent. Euston is being built right now. They’re spending billions on digging the hole for all the services and the utilities. They’ve bought up property.

“Any engineer will tell you that preparatory work is the most expensive bit. Putting the railway on the top is not the most expensive bit.

“It is just catastrophic on every level to even think about this. If you’re flying into Heathrow, you don’t want to go to Southend. That’s effectively what you’d be doing.”

Old Oak Common is already planned to be the initial terminus for HS2. The building of a 4.5-mile long tunnel between Old Oak Common and Euston was set to begin in 2024 and take two years to complete.

A “full business case” for HS2 published by the Department for Transport in April 2020 stated the target timeframe for services launching between Old Oak Common and Birmingham was 2029-2033, whereas for trains between Euston and north-west England the range was 2031-2036.

The Department for Transport said HS2 is facing significant inflationary pressures.

A spokesman said: “The Government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester, as confirmed in the autumn statement.

“As well as supporting tens of thousands of jobs, the project will connect regions across the UK, improve capacity on our railways and provide a greener option of travel.”

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said he did not see “any conceivable circumstances” in which HS2 would not run to its planned Euston terminus.

Mr Hunt, asked by BBC News after his Bloomberg speech whether ministers were committed to HS2 going “all the way to Euston”, said: “Yes we are.

“And I don’t see any conceivable circumstances in which that would not end up at Euston.

“And indeed I prioritised HS2 in the autumn statement.

“We have not got a good record in this country of delivering complex, expensive infrastructure quickly, but I’m incredibly proud that, for the first time in this last decade, under a Conservative government, we have shovels in the ground building HS2 and we’re going to make it happen.”

Labour peer Lord Berkeley, who in 2019 was deputy chairman of a review into HS2 commissioned by then-prime minister Boris Johnson, believes the entire project should be scrapped.

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He told the PA news agency: “The alternative in the news this morning is using Old Oak Common as a terminal station, which would work for half the number of trains that they want with a bit of redesign, but it wouldn’t do the lot.

“There’s not enough space for it so they couldn’t do it except maybe a shuttle service from Birmingham.

“What’s the point of building HS2 just to get to Birmingham?

“I think the whole thing should be cancelled.”

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