UK’s high-speed train line in danger of going off the rails

September 24, 2023

LONDON: HS2, the UK’s second high-speed train line after the one leading to the Channel Tunnel, has suffered spiralling costs despite the route being cut short, raising fears the project could be further derailed.


Designed to bring the major cities in the north of England closer to London, its cost was estimated at £37.5 billion ($46 billion) in 2013.

It has since soared to around £100 billion. “It’s one of the most expensive railway projects in the world, in cost per mile,” said Sam Dumitriu, head of policy for the economic growth group Britain Remade, which has compared infrastructure projects in 14 countries.

The 134 miles (215 kilometres) of track between London and Birmingham, the first section of the line, will cost £396 million per mile (£247 million per km), more than eight times as much as the Tours-Bordeaux high-speed line that entered service in 2017, the organisation estimated.

Dumitriu pointed out that building railways, tramlines and roads is much more expensive in the UK than in other European countries.

This is partly due to the broad opportunities given to local residents and environmentalists to make objections, which “are often taken onboard,” he explained.

In the case of HS2, this has led to an increase in the number of tunnels.

There is also a lack of qualified personnel due to the rarity of major projects (HS2 is the first line to be built in north London in 150 years), and projects are often more ambitious -- and therefore more expensive -- than in other countries.

“Why is it more expensive to build in Britain than in say China?” asked HS2 chairman Sir Jon Thompson in a Daily Telegraph article published in February.

“Here we do not ride roughshod over the environment, over planning law, over local authorities and local people. “We have some of the strictest planning and environmental legislation in the world,” he explained. Unlike similar projects in Spain, HS2 will carry people directly into the centre of cities “in some of the most expensive land and property areas in the world,” further raising costs, said Thompson.

And in contrast to France, “we choose tunnelling over the demolition of whole communities and swathes of countryside to protect people, wildlife and our precious green spaces,” he added. But the bill is causing headaches for the government.

In November 2021, it ditched a section of track that was supposed to link Birmingham with Leeds, infuriating local politicians who accused the government of reneging on its promises to disadvantaged regions of the north.