The planned ‘HS2’ high-speed rail link from London to the English Midlands, North of England and, eventually, Scotland may have to sacrifice some of its speed to meet its current budget.
The rail project is one of a number worldwide being hit by cost and construction delays with both India and California suffering from similar challenges.
Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2 Ltd, the firm charged with delivering Europe’s largest infrastructure project has reportedly told members of the UK Parliament that cutting the number and speed of the trains might be necessary to reduce costs.
The letter noted that options discussed at the meeting included possibly lowering train speeds by around 50kmph (30mph), reducing train numbers from 18 to 14 per hour, and changing from a slab to a ballast track.
HS2 trains are designed to operate at speed of up to 225 miles per hour but this measure would take it to just below 200 miles per hour.
The news has been gradually disclosed over the last few weeks in a rather unconventional way and amid Brexit turmoil. The Leader of the House and cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom disclosed much of the content of the meeting, which occurred in November, in a letter to Mr Thurston asking for reassurances. Ms Leadsom also published his written reply on her website.
Lord Young of Cookham, a cabinet office minister, has also now admitted to Parliament that trains might not run at their top speed in order to bring the project under Budget.
The admission was made to a question from Conservative peer Lord Forsyth of Drumlean who asked about whether cutting the top speed would save billions.
Lord Young said: “There is a dialogue between HS2 and the suppliers to ensure that the bids come in within the overall envelope that the government have allocated. This may involve looking at some of the specifications that my noble friend has referred to. It is about connectivity and capacity as much as about speed.”
The HS2 project had an original budget of £32.7bn though this has increased to £56bn. Phase 1 of the line between London’s Euston station and the UK’s second largest city Birmingham is set to cost £27.18bn.
California’s bullet train, which one day may run from Los Angeles to San Francisco has seen big cost overruns in its initial phases. A high speed rail project in Illinois is also reported to be considering cutting train speeds while India’s planned Mumbai to Ahmadabad high speed link has recently seen concerns about the power the project will use while another Indian state Kerela has wound up its own high speed project.