Descoped, while budget increasing

One of the major issues with HS2 has been the combination of increasing budget and a descaling project.  Since HS2 was first proposed, stations at Sheffield and Liverpool have both been dropped (instead using spur lines): links to Heathrow and HS1 have both appeared and disappeared: and meanwhile the budget goes up and up and ever up, originally being £33billion and now £56 billion.

But HS2 is not the only rail project which has an increasing cost but a decreasing scope.  Today the government made an announcement about the Great Western Line, to say that electrification works were being deferred.

Originally the cost of electrifying the lines was going to be a mere £874m in January 2013 but September 2014 it had risen to £1.5bn and has since trebled to £2.8bn.  Meanwhile the project has been delayed and delayed again, with the original 2018 end date already stretching out well into the mid-2020s.

Today’s announcement keeps the same increased cost of £2.8 billion, but ‘defers’ four parts of the project to an unspecified future date.

The 4 projects being deferred are:

  • electrification between Oxford and Didcot Parkway
  • electrification of Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification of Thames Valley Branches (Henley & Windsor)

The Bristol Post points out that plans to upgrade the Great Western Mainline were part of the Conservative’s 2015 manifesto, but this deferral means that faster electric trains will not serve Bristol before 2024.

Meanwhile the end of the government’s announcement shows that HS2 is run on a completely different financial basis to the rest of the network.

“This decision underscores the government’s approach to wider rail investment; that passenger outcomes must be delivered in conjunction with achieving the best value from every pound spent.”

The current (interim) chair of HS2 is also a director of one of the companies which is a contractor to HS2, which does lead one to wonder who is really getting the best deal for each pound spend on the project.

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