Andrea Leadsom confronts HS2 chief over talk of slashing capacity and speed
The government’s flagship high-speed rail project HS2 could have its capacity slashed and journey times extended in order to stay within its multibillion-pound budget, it has been revealed.
According to the Sunday Telegraph, the CEO of the £56bn initiative indicated in a recent meeting that the number of trains leaving London every hour could be reduced from 18 to 14 in order to save cash.
Mark Thurston is also reported to have said that operating speeds could be lowered by around 50 km/h.
The revelations prompted a backlash from Commons leader Andrea Leadsom who confronted Mr Thurston in a letter following a briefing for MPs on the issue.
She wrote: “My parliamentary assistant, who attended on my behalf, tells me that you informed the APPG [all-party parliamentary rail group] that, ahead of the business case for HS2 next year, a number of changes to the project may have to be considered in order to keep it within budget and on time - something my colleague the Secretary of State for Transport has made clear is imperative.
"These changes 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."
She added: "Given the business case for HS2 was first predicated upon speed, then on capacity then finally on improving connectivity with the north, can I ask how these changes - separately and cumulatively - would impact on the viability of the project?
“My constituents are naturally concerned that changes to the project could undermine the business case, negatively affect the benefit-cost ratio, and reduce the value for taxpayers' money."
In reply to Ms Leadsom Mr Thurston said it was the rail firm’s "intention ... to ensure the project is delivered on time and within budget".
He added that he had been responding to questions "about what could be done to change scope in an effort to reduce cost".