July 15, 2017

HS2 poised for start of construction

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Preliminary works are now underway for the first phase of Britain’s HS2 project to build a 338km high-speed network linking London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. David Briginshaw reviews progress on the £55.7bn scheme.

THE first phase of Britain’s High-Speed 2 (HS2) cleared its final hurdle in February when the Hybrid Bill to authorise construction was granted royal assent, allowing enabling works to start on the 220km line linking London with Britain’s second city Birmingham and a connection to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) near Lichfield.

Curzon Street“The bill was the biggest Hybrid Bill in British history,” Prof Andrew McNaughton, technical director with HS2 Ltd, the state-owned company charged with implementing the project, told delegates at the Railtex exhibition in Birmingham in May. “This was partly because of the 50,000-page environmental statement for phase 1 - the statement for phase 2 will be nearly as big. The HS2 Bill received 3406 petitions, compared with just over 300 for Crossrail, and we got through them in parliament in three years.

“Some of the most contentious topics were the impact of construction and construction lorry movements, and habitat replacement. We set out with the view that we should be do the right thing for the country. We are now working the commitments we made into the contracts we will let.”

As McNaughton put it: “in the early stages, this is more like an environmental programme than a railway project.” For example, a contract has been let to grow 7 million trees which will be planted along the route. “We have taken the baton on from HS1 regarding environmental standards, and from Crossrail in terms of skills,” McNaughton said.

“We are about to start the same process for phase 2A, but as this only involves building 69km of new railway, it should be quicker. We will submit the Hybrid Bill for phase 2A when the new government authorises it.” Phase 2A will extend phase 1 north from Lichfield to Crewe.

In November 2016, the government finalised most of the route for phase 2B, which will extend HS2 82km north from Crewe to Manchester and a junction with the WCML south of Wigan, it also includes a 198km eastern branch from Birmingham via the East Midlands and Sheffield to Leeds and a junction with the East Coast Main Line south of York.

The original plan was for the eastern branch to serve Sheffield with a station located northeast of the city at Meadowhall shopping centre. However, the project’s developer, HS2 Ltd, has recommended an amendment to the alignment to route the line further east, drop plans for the Meadowhall interchange and build a link from HS2 to the Midland Main Line south of Chesterfield to enable HS2 trains to serve both Chesterfield and the existing main station at Sheffield Midland. Not only would this change enable HS2 to serve Sheffield better but the alignment further east would be cheaper to build. There would also be provision for a connection north of Sheffield back onto HS2. The government is expected to make a decision in the summer.

McNaughton says the phase 2B Hybrid Bill will be “just as big an activity” as phase 1. “We have let the development partner contract for phase 2 to Bechtel,” he revealed.

“The phase 1 Hybrid Bill enables us to take land, alter highways and modify utilities; it also gives us the power to operate the railway,” McNaughton explained. “Early works, utility diversion and land acquisition are happening now.”

A strict timetable and budget have been set for HS2. Phase 1 will open in 2026 at a cost of £22.2bn. “We are committed to bringing it in at that price,” McNaughton said. Phase 2A will follow a year later and phase 2B will open in 2033 completing the entire project for a total investment of £55.7bn. “We will design HS2 to cost, time and quality - there is no other way,” he says.

The first significant contracts for phase 1 have already been let. These comprise three contracts for the enabling works worth around £900m which were placed in November 2016 and the appointment of an engineering delivery partner. The latter contract was awarded in March 2016 to a joint venture of CH2M, Atkins and Sener, Spain. “We want the best of British experience combined with the best knowledge from around the world, and we have achieved that with our engineering delivery partner,” McNaughton explained.

Civil works contracts

HS2 Ltd is currently evaluating tenders for the seven main civil works contracts and expects to award the first contracts this month. “Each contract is worth more than £1bn and covers earthworks, tunnels and bridges,” McNaughton said.

Phase 1 will have six short cut-and-cover tunnels totalling 8.2km and 39.1km of twin-bore tunnels with internal diameters from 7.55m to 8.8m. For safety reasons, tunnels longer than 1km will have cross-passage escape routes between the bores as well as escape routes to the surface.

Phase 1 of HS2 will serve four stations. London Euston will be completely rebuilt and expanded to accommodate both HS2 and conventional services.

The other three stations are new build:
= Old Oak Common in west London will provide connections with Crossrail services to central and eastern London as well as Heathrow Airport and Reading in the west
= Birmingham Interchange, which will be located within walking distance of the existing Birmingham International station near the National Exhibition Centre, and will provide a connection to Birmingham Airport via a new peoplemover, and
= a new terminus station at Birmingham Curzon Street, located on the site of the original terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway which opened in 1838, near Birmingham Moor Street station and served by an extension of the Midland Metro light rail network.

“The stations are the most difficult part of the project,” McNaughton explained. “They are technically challenging, like the route and trains, but everybody has a stake in the stations because they affect the people around them.”

HS2 is more involved in the design of the stations than for the civil works, for example. “We are doing some of the design to provide a look and feel for the stations which will be anchored into the design before we go out to tender,” McNaughton revealed. “These are very large and complex contracts, and getting the specifications right is a challenge.”

HS2 invited bids in April for architects and designers to refine the detailed plans for the stations, and for a master development partner for the construction of homes, offices and retail space above and around London Euston. Bidders for the station designs and the Euston master development partner are expected to be shortlisted in the summer, with contracts signed early next year. The station design work will be split into four packages. “By the end of 2018, we will have completed the station design and obtained approval from our city partners,” McNaughton said.

HS2 also launched the tender process in April to design, build and maintain a fleet of 60 high-speed trains at an estimated cost of £2.75bn. It was originally intended to have two types of train. “Captive” trains would take full advantage of the generous loading gauge on HS2 which would limit their operation to the new line, while the other type would be compatible with Britain’s restrictive loading gauge and would be used for services operating beyond the end of HS2 to reach destinations such as Manchester and Glasgow. McNaughton said market testing with potential suppliers demonstrated that it would be more cost effective to procure a uniform fleet of “classic gauge-compatible” trains in the early years of operation.

Each train will be about 200m long and able to operate in multiple so that capacity can be adapted to meet demand and trains can split en route to serve two destinations. “We have designed HS2 as a single-deck railway to maximise capacity - capacity is limited by the throughput of passengers getting on and off trains at stations - but we could accept double-deck trains in the future,” McNaughton said. “We want the trains to have the best off-the-shelf design but with the flexibility to adapt them in the future.”

Train procurement is currently in the pre-qualification phase. HS2 plans to issue an invitation to tender for the trains and depots during the first quarter of 2018 and to award the contract by the fourth quarter of 2019.

HS2 is currently finalising packages for the six railway systems contracts with a view to awarding the contracts in December 2019. The six contracts will comprise:

  • track and overhead electrification at 25kV ac which must designed from a life cycle point of view
  • tunnel services and ventilation
  • power supply
  • command and control systems, ETCS Level 2 signalling, and traffic management
  • communications, and
  • equipping depots.

“We have designed and specified the railway using the latest available technology rather than things which don’t exist yet,” McNaughton said. “We need to up-skill the entire supply chain to design HS2 virtually and to simulate operation and maintenance virtually before we settle on the final design. We need the maintenance and renewal regimes for HS2 and operating plans before we finalise the design of the railway. We are working in a 3D environment or 4D if you count noise.

“I have seen too many projects where the design was rushed. We will be working with the civil engineering contractors to ensure we get the design right before we start digging.

“When we start talking to suppliers, we won’t be just talking about hard numbers, but we will be asking whether it will be easy for passengers to use it. We are not just appealing to existing passengers who find rail easy to use. We want to be able to guide passengers to their seat with ticketless travel. We want something that is challenging but deliverable by the supply sector,” McNaughton said.

In November, the Department for Transport (DfT) announced that the new Inter-City West Coast (ICWC) franchise, which is due to start on April 1 2019, will incorporate phase 1 of HS2. The combined franchise will encompass conventional long-distance WCML services from London Euston to the West Midlands, North Wales, Manchester, Liverpool, and Scotland as well as shadow operations on phase 1.

The DfT says the specification for the shadow operator element of the franchise will be developed more fully in the expression of interest prospectus and invitation to tender. The operator’s responsibilities will include

  • engaging with HS2 Ltd to ensure the requirements of the operator and passengers are fully considered
  • exploiting emerging technologies to deliver “a step change in passenger experience”
  • leading industry consultation on services and timetables for the period after the start of high-speed services
  • working with Network Rail and HS2 to develop an organisational model for the operation of HS2, and
  • responsibility for HS2 mobilisation activities, including staff recruitment, testing and acceptance of rolling stock, testing infrastructure, and the phased introduction of HS2 services.

The DfT anticipates that ICWC services will operate until the opening of HS2 on a partial revenue risk basis. After phase 1 becomes operational in 2026, it is anticipated that the franchisee will operate integrated ICWC and HS2 services for 3-5 years on an incentivised management basis.

Expressions of interest for the franchise will be issued in December, and an invitation to tender will follow in October or November 2017.

McNaughton says HS2 “will be the most heavily used high-speed railway in the world as well as being the fastest,” as it will operate up to 18 trains/hour carrying up to 1000 passengers per train during peak periods with a maximum line speed of 360km/h. The alignment will be designed to allow for future upgrades to operate at 400km/h.

McNaughton says HS2 is already having an impact on the country 10 years before it opens because people are starting to relocate to be near the new stations. “We will create a railway which will be a catalyst for growth,” he concluded.

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