HS2 could run fewer and slower trains in order to remain within its £56bn budget, the boss of the firm building the high speed rail link has admitted.
In a letter to Andrea Leadsom MP, leader of the House of Commons and MP for South Northamptonshire, Mark Thurston, chief executive of HS2 Ltd, confirmed that a number of changes to the scope of the project were possible to reduce cost.
HS2 trains may be fewer and further between
These changes, Mr Thurston had told a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Rail in November, included ‘possibly lowering the speed that trains will operate at on the line by around 50 km/h, reducing the number of trains from 18 per hour to 14, and changing from a slab track to a ballast track’.
In his letter, Mr Thurston confirmed that a letter to him from Ms Leadsom, based on an account from her parliamentary assistant, had ‘correctly referred to’ the possible changes he had outlined at the meeting.
He added: ‘I was also clear that HS2 Ltd is working to the scope and budget of the project which the Government has set, and for which detailed debate in Parliament has taken place.’
Mr Thurston also wrote: ‘I would like to confirm that it is our intention at HS2 to ensure the project is delivered on time and within budget agreed with the [Department for Transport].’
In her letter, Ms Leadsom had pointedly asked how the possible changes would impact on the viability of the project, ‘given that the business case for HS2 was first predicated on speed, then on capacity, then on improving connectivity with the north’.
She asked Mr Thurston to confirm that if changes were made he would be providing ‘an updated review of the business case and value for taxpayers’ money’.
Mr Thurston replied: ‘If at some point in the future we are instructed to consider any of these options, then more detailed work on the effect of such changes would of course take place.’