HS2 could be completed ahead of schedule if the construction industry applies efficiencies learnt in the first stage of the scheme to the planned link beyond Birmingham, according to its chief engineer.
Speaking to the All Party Parliamentary Group on High-Speed Rail, Andrew McNaughton said the ‘Y’ link towards Manchester and Leeds, or phase two, would be a “seamless operation” for the industry.
HS2 announced the proposed appointment of CH2M Hill as its development partner for the next phase of engineering, design and environmental work on the first stage of the £32 billion scheme in January.
Mr McNaughton said the challenge of completing phase one from London to Birmingham by 2026 was “in any western democracy” a very challenging programme.
HS2 had been examining whether it could be completed any earlier and had received advice suggesting it was not possible. He said the “exact phasing through Parliament of a bill for the second stage” would decide whether phase two would take a further six years from 2026.
In addition, it would depend “on the capacity of the British construction industry, which may well, through its response to the challenge of building the first part of [HS2], become more efficient and capable, and may be taking some time out of that second stage”, he said.
His comments are revealed in recently published minutes from a meeting on 18 April.
Network Rail estimates there will be a 34 per cent growth in passengers coming into London between 2008 and 2031.
West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (Metro) director of development David Hoggarth had told the parliamentary group that incremental improvements were vital for the East Coast Main Line, while MPs argued for greater connectivity in the North-west.
HS2’s chief engineer insisted that further upgrades were needed on local infrastructure alongside the high-speed programme.
Mr McNaughton said: “It seems self-evident that [increasing capacity on the current intercity main lines] is absolutely necessary to fill the gap until HS2 can be brought into service.”