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HS2: construction of £106bn high-speed rail line officially starts

The Guardian logo The Guardian 03/09/2020 Gwyn Topham Transport correspondent

(Video by Sky News)

HS2 has announced the formal start of construction of the high-speed rail line between London and the West Midlands, which it claims will create 22,000 jobs.

The prime minister, Boris Johnson, was expected to attend a ceremonial launch of the first shovels in the ground on Friday for the main civil engineering contracts.

The contracts to build the first phase of the line, including viaducts, tunnels, and stations at Euston and Old Oak Common, were signed off by the Treasury during lockdown, after the government approved the controversial £106bn project in February.

a bridge over a river: Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Matthew Childs/Reuters The company HS2 Ltd said most work to date had been preparatory, including design, ground clearance and demolition.

With coronavirus putting limitations on work since the formal notice to proceed in April, it said the launch on Friday of full construction work was “a step closer to reality” for the high-speed line, which has been more than 10 years in gestation and will not see full intercity services for another 10 years.


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Johnson, who briefly threw the project in doubt when becoming PM, after promising a review amid increasing the concerns over escalating costs, said HS2 was “at the heart of our plans to build back better”, and would create 22,000 construction jobs. He added: “HS2 will fire up economic growth and help to rebalance opportunity across this country for years to come.”

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens during a visit to Curzon Street railway station where the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project is under construction, in Birmingham, Britain February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/Pool © Thomson Reuters Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson listens during a visit to Curzon Street railway station where the High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project is under construction, in Birmingham, Britain February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh/Pool

HS2’s main works contractor for the West Midlands, a Balfour Beatty-Vinci joint venture, expects to be one of the biggest recruiters in the region over the next two years, looking for up to 7,000 skilled workers. Contracts to build stations, tunnels and viaducts will produce another 10,000 vacancies in greater London, HS2 said.

The first phase of the line, linking London and Birmingham, is expected to cost up to £45bn, according to the Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd’s estimates, with full services now expected to be begin running from Euston as late as 2036, although first high-speed trains might appear by 2029.

a person holding a sign: A protester against HS2 at the company’s rail construction site in Birmingham. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian A protester against HS2 at the company’s rail construction site in Birmingham. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images The eventual completion of the second phase, completing a Y-shaped network to Manchester and Leeds, remains in some doubt.

The parliamentary spending watchdog blasted HS2’s management in May in a report that warned that the scheme had gone “badly off course” and that further delays and cost overruns could not be ruled out.

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