What is HS2, where will it go and when will it be completed?

After years of setbacks, controversy and rising costs, the second phase of the long-awaited HS2 rail project appears to be under threat.

The Independent has exclusively revealed that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is considering abandoning plans for the Birmingham to Manchester leg.

Britain's biggest infrastructure project was originally scheduled to open in 2026, but only the date of the London to Birmingham leg has been pushed back from 2029 to 2033 due to technical difficulties and mounting bills.

Work at Curzon Street Station, Birmingham

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The total cost, estimated at around £33 billion in 2010, is now expected to reach £71 billion.

Below we look at everything you need to know about the troubled system, as questions about its future continue.

What is HS2 (and for that matter, what is HS1)?

High Speed ​​​​1 is the 68-mile high-speed rail line from London St Pancras to the Channel Tunnel at Folkestone in Kent, which opened in 2008.

High Speed ​​​​2 is a much more ambitious rail project, involving 345 miles of new high-speed line.

The first phase of this high-speed line will include stations at London Euston, Old Oak Common in west London, Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham Curzon Street. Work on this section, which will join the West Coast Main Line, is already underway.

The second phase consists of two parts, 2a and 2b. In March, the government announced that work at Euston station in central London, as well as the construction of the Birmingham to Crewe leg, would be delayed by two years to save money on transport costs.

With services not stopping at Euston for the next few years, passengers will have to travel half an hour on the Elizabeth line.

Latest HS2 project map shows proposed phases 2a and 2b said to be under threat


Why is it needed?

HS2 was designed to relieve pressure on the West Coast line and reduce journey times.

When the plan was first revealed, arguments focused on reducing travel time. But the real reason is to provide the necessary extra capacity.

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The existing West Coast Main Line is the busiest intercity route in Europe, serving a combination of Avanti express services, commuter trains and freight services. There is no room for expansion and the system has little durability.

How much faster will travel be?

Target times for HS2, compared to today's fastest journey times, include:

London-Birmingham: 45 minutes (81 minutes)

London-Manchester: 67 minutes (125 minutes)

Birmingham-Manchester: 40 minutes (87 minutes)

What is supposed to happen with phase 2 of HS2?

Protesters say the whole project is a ‘white elephant'

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Phase 2a has long been planned to include a line running from Lichfield in the West Midlands to Crewe, before services join the existing network so passengers can travel to Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Carlisle and Glasgow.

The Phase 2a Act has received Royal Assent, but the start date for Phase 2a has been pushed back from 2033 to between 2035 and 2041.

In May this year, a large sinkhole appeared above a tunnel being built for the line in Buckinghamshire. An HS2 spokesman said the sinkhole was related to “existing ground conditions”.

Phase 2b, the western leg from Crewe to Manchester, is intended to serve new stations at Manchester Airport and Manchester Piccadilly, with a connection to the West Coast Main Line at Crewe for trains to Scotland.

A planned eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds was scrapped in November 2021 as part of the Comprehensive Rail Plan for the North and Midlands, and will now stop at East Midlands Parkway. From there, services to Sheffield will only run on existing lines.

Phase 2b awaits parliamentary approval.

What are the concerns about the scheme?

Building work near Lichfield

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The review follows the announcement last month by HS2 Ltd chief executive Mark Thurston that he was stepping down amid long delays and cost pressures on the project. Two weeks later, an official watchdog branded HS2 “not feasible” on a number of grounds.

Both the first two phases were given a ‘red' flag by the Infrastructure and Works Authority, which reports to HM Cabinet and Treasury.

“Successful delivery of the project appears not to be possible,” the authority warned. “There are significant issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefit delivery that at this stage do not appear to be manageable or solvable. The project may need to be re-scoped or /and reassessing its overall viability.”

At the time, a Department for Transport spokesman said: “The sticks are already in the ground on HS2, with 350 construction sites, over £20 billion invested to date and supporting more than 28,500 jobs.

“We remain committed to delivering HS2 in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers.”