Timeline of HS2 delays and problems as some of train line’s construction is put back

·7-min read
In March the CEO of HS2, Mark Thurston, announced more delays to building the high-speed rail line to try to control costs  (Joe Giddens/PA)
In March the CEO of HS2, Mark Thurston, announced more delays to building the high-speed rail line to try to control costs (Joe Giddens/PA)

The HS2 rail project has long been beset by delays and soaring costs, and now construction on the project’s £1.2 billion tunnel to Euston has been pushed back from its planned start next year after the Government “switched priority” to get the railway running from Birmingham to Old Oak Common.

The construction of the 7.2km tunnel between Euston and Old Oak Common stations will now be paused amid widespread disruption, protests and rising costs.

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The latest delay to the project comes after a huge area around Euston station was cleared to make space for the high-speed track, with many properties bought up.

“Since the Government announcement to prioritise the delivery of HS2 between Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street we have been working on the detail of which works will be deferred,” an HS spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

The latest setbacks followed a string of issues for the project.

HS2 has been blighted by criticism over its finances. A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of the project was set in 2015.

But the target cost excluding the eastern leg of Phase 2b from the West Midlands to the East Midlands has skyrocketed to between £53 billion and £71 billion (in 2019 prices).

Here we look at the timeline of HS2 delays and U-turns.

January 2009

The Labour government sets up HS2 Ltd after evaluating proposals in respect of the cost and benefits of enhancing capacity and connectivity with a new rail line. The first section would connect London and Birmingham by 2020 and cost £7bn.

January 2012

The high-speed rail gets the go-ahead by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, with an initial budget of £32bn, inciting strong views in favour and against the scheme.

June 2013

The project continues to fuel concerns among government officials, with costs rising to £42bn.

Giant machines dig HS2’s longest tunnel (HS2 Ltd / PA)
Giant machines dig HS2’s longest tunnel (HS2 Ltd / PA)

June 2016

The National Audit Office (NAO) publishes a report on HS2’s progress and finance issues.

The report finds that the project is facing cost and schedule delivery problems and should be delayed by a year.

The NAO also said the HS2 team was looking to reduce costs, with a delay helping them with budget issues.

August 2019

A BBC report finds the Government and HS2 bosses were aware the project was grossly over budget and behind schedule for the past three years.

September 2019

HS2 Ltd chairman Allan Cook does not believe the project can be delivered within its £55.7bn budget and will be delayed.

January 2020

Previous chairman of HS2 Douglas Oakervee issues an independent review and states the project could cost as much as £108bn.

The NAO added it was uncertain what the final cost of the project could be.

February 2020

The prime minister at the time, Boris Johnson, gives the project the green light despite rising concerns.

May 2020

An Independent Construction Commissioner is appointed to oversee HS2 Phase 2a route. However, MPs warn the project has gone “badly off course”.

September 2020

HS2 formal construction begins but is met with some restoration work being paused, including Birmingham’s Curzon Street Station, which had been built in 1838.

July 2021

MPs from the transport committee and the public accounts committee travel to Birmingham for HS2 accountability sessions.

September 2021

There are major concerns regarding the projected increase in time and money, with both MPs stating there is “no clear end in sight” and the public accounts committee adding it is “increasingly alarmed” regarding vital parts of the project.

October 2021

MPs from both sides argue over the Government’s integrated rail plan, an initiative that aims to transform the rail network in the North and Midlands.

Despite clashes within Government and continuing protests, Johnson announces we “will do Northern Powerhouse Rail, we will link up the cities of the Midlands and the North”.

November 2021

The eastern leg of HS2 to Leeds is scrapped with no east-west line linking Leeds to Manchester being built, said the then Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps.

He added that the Oakervee review of HS2 showed a major rethink was required, and a report by the National Infrastructure Commission indicated “a flexible approach” was needed.

The Government is accused of a “great train robbery” by Labour shadow transport secretary Jim McMahon, and he added that ministers have “betrayed” the North.

January 2020

The Oakervee Review is leaked to the Financial Times. It finds that HS2 could cost up to £106bn, but concludes “on balance” that the project should continue.

July 2022

UK ministers come under fire for cancelling a £3bn section of HS2, which would have allowed Scotland to benefit from the rail line.

The SNP describes the move as “sleekit” and “cowardly”.

Then first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham hold private meetings to discuss better alternatives when it comes to axing the Golborne link to take high-speed trains to Scotland.

October 2022

Parts of Euston Road in London would close in early 2023, it was announced, in order to dig tunnels for the HS2, which is “well beyond the point of no return”.

The Government announces phase one of HS2, between Old Oak Common and Birmingham, is due to open around 2030 and the link to Euston is due to open between 2031 and 2035.

January 2023

Activists including Daniel Hooper, also known as Swampy, Dr Larch Maxey, Isla Sandford, Lachlan Sandford, Juliett Stevenson-Clarke and Scott Breen say the justifications of the HS2 project “have gone out the window” after reports the Euston route could be axed because of rising costs.

“It’s been clear to me for a couple of years now that HS2 is gonna get scrapped – our job as protesters is to bring forward the inevitable date when it does by helping to shine a light on it,” said Dr Maxey to the PA news agency.

“As soon as anyone with any commonsense looks at HS2, they realise it has no place in a sensible world, we’ve won the argument, there is no argument.”

February 2023

The Department for Transport looks to commission HS2 to rethink its scheme, with the possibility of axing parts of the proposed line to cut costs, reports The Times.

According to reports, completion of the project could now be as late as 2045.

And a mysterious brown foam began spewing out of the ground at Ruislip RFC in west London on the 24th, causing work on the project to be stopped for several hours. It was “most likely caused” by one of the tunnelling machines for the HS2 project.

March 2023

More delays for HS2 are announced by the chief executive of HS2, Mark Thurston, to curb rising costs, with the route’s final destination yet to be confirmed as central London.

The transport secretary, Mark Harper, said: “We have seen significant inflationary pressure and increased project costs, and so we will rephase construction by two years, with an aim to deliver high-speed services to Crewe and the North West as soon as possible after accounting for the delay in construction. “

He also announced setbacks to key road projects as he blamed the pressures of soaring inflation and increasing costs.

Thurston said the impact of inflation has directly hit the HS2 project, saying budget issues have been “significant”.

“We are absolutely committed to delivering HS2 trains from London to Manchester and, of course, going over to the east as well,” said Thurston.

“But, of course, we have to look at cost pressures, it’s absolutely right that HS2 focuses on costs, that should be expected of the Government and the taxpayer, we’ll continue to do so.

“But … I am absolutely committed, as is the Secretary of State [Mark Harper] and the entire department, to delivering HS2 and the benefits for this country.”