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HS2 chairman Sir David Higgins backs speedy HS3 construction

Sir David Higgins has insisted that High Speed 3 can be built alongside existing plans for High Speed 2.

Speaking at the launch of his report on HS2 phase two, the HS2 chairman said that considering how to build both simultaneously was “the whole point” of making the announcement now.

The report, Rebalancing Britain, proposed improving east-west connectivity in the North through a new high-speed rail line between Leeds and Manchester.

He said: “HS3 is not a 225mph railway line – it will be a 125mph railway line because you don’t need to go that fast between two cities 40 miles apart.

“It will look to many like a more conventional railway line, except that it’s a combination of upgrading existing lines, four-tracking some places where it had that in the first place, electrification, some tunnels, and working out the approaches to the cities.”

Key dates

December 2014: George Osborne will set out in more detail his plans to devolve powers to northern cities, paving the way for HS3 to progress more quickly.

March 2015: The governent will issue a report detailing how much it expects the construction of HS3 to cost. David Cameron has said if it costs the same per mile as HS2 then it will cost in the region of £6bn to £7bn.

2016: First major construction contracts will be awarded following Royal Assent. Packages are split into six categories: design and services; surface route; railway systems; stations; tunnels; and rolling stock.

2017: Construction on HS2 is expected to begin. Phase one from London to Birmingham will begin first under current plans, with Sir David Higgins stating that phase two is “three years behind” it. The line to Birmingham will open in 2026.

2027: Sir David has recommended the proposed North-west hub at Crewe should complete in 2027, six years ahead of current plans. The hub still has to be approved by politicians, as it extends phase one 43 miles further than originally planned.

Sir David emphasised that HS3 was not a “perfectly new railway line” and so would not require a hybrid bill to progress.

He said the line could be built “in stages” that could tie in with other national electrification programmes already under way.

Citing Crossrail 2 as an example to follow, Sir David insisted that HS3 would happen “as long as the public get behind it and the politicians keep faith and keep pushing it”.

However, he acknowledged it was “probably not” a coincidence that chancellor George Osborne moved swiftly to implement his proposal to create a new Transport for the North body in the run-up to a general election.

He said: “I think this is hopefully an idea that transcends short-term party politics, because if it doesn’t it will never happen.”

Procurement for construction contracts on HS2 is due to begin early next year, and HS2 chief executive Simon Kirby told Construction News the company is encouraging UK firms to look at partnering to win work.

He said: “We’re certainly encouraging them to look at forms of relationships, whether that’s joint ventures, partnerships, whatever – and we’re seeing different relationships form now.

“It does depend on what part of the supply chain they’re in and what it is they’re going to do.

“In some cases you’ll get a UK SME that isn’t in the rail sector, or is in rail but outside the Network Rail / TfL space, that wants to do something on HS2. We’re certainly not against JVs.”

Key questions

What will the western leg’s final route be?

Sir David has proposed a North-west hub should be built at Crewe. Stoke-on-Trent has mounted a campaign to have the hub located there instead, but Sir David has reiterated that Crewe remains his “strong recommendation”.
In addition, the question of how to link HS2 to the West Coast Main Line remains unanswered, with the route between Warrington and Manchester to the WCML via the Golborne link causing concerns, particularly over environmental damage. Sir David said “further work is necessary” to clarify the connection.

Where will the East Midlands hub be located?

The current proposals call for a new HS2 station at Toton, between Derby and Nottingham, to connect both.
Questions have been raised over whether Toton is the best location, however, with Sir David now proposing investigations into sites west of Toton – specifically at Breaston.
It’s unlikely either solution will be universally welcomed by locals, but Sir David said he wanted to find the “best solution for the country”.

Where will the South Yorkshire hub be located?

There has been debate over where the new station at Sheffield should be located. The current favourite, backed by Sir David as well as politicians in Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, is to base the hub at the existing Meadowhall station to the east of the city.
Sheffield itself, however, wants the hub to be located at Victoria, an old station to the north-east of the city which has been closed since the 1970s. Sheffield argues it will help regenerate the area; opponents says the Victoria option is too expensive and will increase journey times.

How much will High Speed 3 cost?

David Cameron said that if HS3 costs the same per mile as HS2 then the cost will be in the region of £6bn to £7bn, which he believes is “affordable”.
But questions have already been asked about whether the cost will really be this low, with some significant new tunnelling required to build the line.
Sir David said there is no reason HS3 cannot be built alongside HS2.

This partnering could involve overseas firms, too, with Mr Kirby backing findings from Sir David’s report that lessons must be learned from high-speed rail projects around the world.

He said: “We owe the taxpayer to create a great, world-class asset [in exchange for] this significant public funding.

“How we do it – and how we learn from other railways around the world – has to be part of this. We’re spending quite a lot of time as HS2 Ltd encouraging our supply chain to look across the world at what great looks like.

“This is about creating 40,000 UK jobs, and we’re starting procurement for £10bn-worth of contracts – but we need to do that learning from world-best practice. We see relationships in the supply chain learning from around the world.

“We need to deliver this in a way that’s better than any other railway around the world.”

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