Higgins urges rail industry to “engage” with HS2

New chairman of HS2 Ltd Sir David Higgins has set out his priorities, on day one of his new job.

Speaking on January 14 at the site of former railway sidings at Old Oak Common - which will eventually become an interchange between Crossrail, Great Western Main Line intercity trains, and national and international high-speed rail - Higgins spoke with confidence on the future of the HS2 project.

He told RAIL that he wanted to “bring confidence to northern cities”, adding: “This is the first big project north of Watford in 100 years.”

Asked by RAIL whether the project could be started from the north of England first, rather than from London, Higgins said: “It depends on the second Bill getting Royal Assent as well as the first one”.

And asked if he thought that politically, it was more important that the north of England and the Midlands received more of a share of HS2 than the southern parts of the route, Higgins said: “To be able to deliver the benefits to the North earlier is crucial.” He added there was “more scope to look at the budget and appease the critics”.

He explained: “Costs are an outcome in the end. Let’s look at the overall deliverability. The key in controlling costs is planning work at the start so you don’t change.

“I think the most important thing is that I want to review the current state of the costs plan and come to a recommendation in March.”

In response to the charge that a sometimes lukewarm railway industry didn’t always make efforts to fully get behind the project, Higgins called on the industry to “engage in the debate” over HS2, and said he was looking for “support and input” into the project as plans progressed.

“It’s a really simple message,” he said. “We all know how hard it is to cope with the existing network. I know how difficult it is to get access to the track on a network that is over capacity. We have no resilience in much of our network.

“It’s not just a single line, it’s the centre of what will be a major transport spine.”

Higgins is working part-time for HS2 Ltd as chairman, during the transition from his current post as Network Rail chief executive. His successor at NR is Mark Carne, who takes over full-time in April.

Replacing Douglas Oakerveee, who has retired, Higgins began work at HS2 Ltd just a few days after Chinese investment in the project was mooted.

The state-owned China Railway Group (CRG), which has recently completed a country-wide 6,000-mile network, wrote to Birmingham City Council suggesting re-using the disused Stonebridge Railway formation in Warwickshire, and linking it with the proposed HS2 Interchange station.

CRG is thought to be interested in designing, constructing and financing the project, which would complement plans to develop Birmingham Airport. In its letter, CRG said: “We write to express our formal interest in making long-term investments in the region, including the development and enhancement of Birmingham Airport, and in the development of the railways of the region to connect with the proposed HS2 line.”

CRG is also considering rail links from HS2 Interchange station to Coventry and Peterborough (the latter would link with the East Coast Main Line), although it has not offered any more detail on how these lines would be built.

  • This news article was originally published in RAIL 740 on 22 January 2014

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