I thought it was about time that I wrote another blog about HS2 as, finally, after years of arguments. delays and uncertainty, the project is very much underway. After 11 years of planning and preparation, HS2 finally received ‘Notice to Proceed’ in April. Now, even seasoned observers like myself find it hard to keep track of progress as the speed and scale of events means it feels like there’s a new announcement on progress every week – despite the Covid hiccup. It’s easy to miss things, after all, this is a massive project that’s around 124 miles long and that contains dozens and dozens of worksites (large and small) covering a whole range of activities. There’s archeological surveys, utilities to divert, vegetation clearance, mitigation works, the establishment of site compounds as well as some major civil engineering ready for the launch of tunnel boring machines of the construction of viaducts and bridges.
What I’m going to do in this blog is give an overview of what’s happening where, as well as some of the major announcements that have taken place in the past few months. If you want to find details of work being carried on in specific areas, HS2 Ltd have an excellent website called ‘HS2 – in your area’ which keeps people along the route up to date. You can find it here. This blog is not an exhaustive list. I’m sure there will be some things I’ve missed because of the sheer size of the project.
Firstly, let’s look at some of the major announcements.
2nd July. The contract for the overhead power lines on phase 1 and 2 a to Crewe is announced.
Worth around £300 million the system will cover 589 single track kilometres, including 62 viaducts, 293 bridges and 15 tunnels
24th June. Birmingham Curzon St station construction shortlist announced.
The following companies were shortlisted for the contract to build the £570m contract to build the station.
BAM Ferrovial (a joint venture consisting of BAM Nuttall Ltd and Ferrovial Construction (UK) Limited)
Laing O’Rourke Construction Limited
Mace Dragados (a joint venture consisting of Mace Limited and Dragados S.A. UK Branch)
The station recently became the first HS2 station to gain planning approval. It’ll be net zero carbon in operation and adopt the latest eco-friendly design and sustainable technologies, including capturing rainwater and utilising sustainable power generation, with over 2,800m2 of solar panels located on platform canopies.
22nd June. Telecoms supply contract announced.
The winner of the contract – worth around £300m – will be responsible for the design, manufacture, supply, installation, safety authorisation, testing, commissioning and initial maintenance of the operational telecommunication systems and the route wide security systems on Phase One and 2a, between London and Crewe.
The scope of the work includes 2,760 km of fibre optic cabling, 140 trackside cabinets, dozens of equipment cabins and radio coverage across 230km.
11th June. Pictures of the massive site where the Chiltern Tunnel boring machines will be launched from were released.
Anyone thinking that work so far has been small beer about grubbing up a few hedgerows or diverting a few water mains were in for a shock when these pictures were released. The site at South Heath in Buckinghamshire is massive (136 acres) – but it’s escaped attention because protesters have ignored it so haven’t drawn attention to it. Hardly surprising at it shows just how ineffective they’ve been.
The two TBM’s that will be launched from the site in 2021 are currently under construction in Germany.
28th May. Cleveland Bridge Co supply girders for the first major HS2 bridges at the M42.
Another solid good news story as a British company supply pre-assembled steel bridge sections.
26th May. Details of the Chiltern Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) under construction in Germany are released.
Two of these state of the art machines are being built by Herrenknecht in Germany. 170m in length and weighing around 2000 tonnes apiece, the machines will run virtually non-stop for three and a half years.
19th May. Old Oak Common station gains planning approval.
Set to be the largest new railways station ever built in the UK, The station will have 14 platforms with a mix of six high speed and eight conventional service platforms. Expected to be used by around 250,000 passengers each day it’s set to become one of the busiest railway stations in the country when it opens.
15th May. The signalling contract is announced.
The contract covers the design and build of the signalling systems between London, Birmingham and Crewe and up to 25 years of technical support.
4th May. Track systems contract is announced.
The search is on for specialist contractors to deliver around 280km of state-of-the-art high speed track between London, Birmingham and Crewe – although Contracts covering rail, switches and crossings and pre-cast slab track systems will be awarded separately – with the track systems suppliers coordinating the design and installation.
1st May. Curzon St is the first HS2 station to gain planning approval.
Three planning applications for the new station and the surrounding landscaping were approved by the Council’s planning committee on 23 April, with the Council’s report concluding the station design “is truly world class”.
On the same day, it’s announced that…
Birmingham Interchange becomes the first railway station globally to achieve the BREEAM ‘Outstanding’ certification – a measure of sustainability for new and refurbished buildings – putting it in the top 1% of buildings in the UK for eco-friendly credentials.
Of course, work continues at both the Curzon St station site in Birmingham and at London Euston and the surrounding streets where demolition of many old properties that have to be removed to make way for the new station has already been completed. Here’s a excellent time-lapse video from Network Rail showing the demolition of the old Western ramp up to the parcels deck atop the station.
Whilst the big announcements catch the eye there’s continual progress on the ground as the project gathers pace towards its biggest and busiest period which will be between 2024-25. That said, there’s plenty to look forward to in the next couple of years. The first tunnel boring machine is set to be launched later this year.
Contractor BBV plans to start creating the tunnel under Long Itchington Wood in Warwickshire at the end of 2020. This includes the creation of a compound and upgrading Ridgeway Lane to support the future transportation of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). In autumn, the TBM will be delivered to the Welsh Road main compound via the upgraded Ridgeway Lane. It will be transported in parts and assembled on site.
Following assembly of the TBM, tunnelling will start in December 2020. BBV will bore two tunnels under the wood, emerging near the A452 and Dallas Burston Polo Club. Once completed the TBM will be removed from site.
So, as you can see, there’s a huge amount going on, despite the temporary hiatus caused by Covid. It’s not all about Phase 1 and 2a either. On the 23rd June the DfT issued new safeguarding instructions for Phase 2b whilst on the 26th outline details were revealed of the HS2 route wide ground investigation’s programme for phase two – a contract estimated to be worth up £250 million and delivered in up to 8 years.
And what of the protests and opposition to the project? It’s generated a lot of hot air and some media attention but achieved nothing. Not a single HS2 worksite has suffered serious disruption or been closed down for more than a day – despite the claims to the contrary. The half dozen protest camps are tiny with many under the constant threat of eviction. One has to wonder how the handful of protesters think they can stop the largest construction project in Europe when they can’t even stop themselves being evicted! Extinction Rebellion did organise a walk along the route from Birmingham to London but this only attracted a few dozen people. The irony was that whilst they were wasting show-leather on this futile exercise they weren’t able to disrupt any work on the HS2 sites! Such disruption have reached farcical levels, such as their last stunt where a solitary protester glued his hands together through an unused gate on the Denham work site. The level of disruption he caused for the couple of hours before he was removed was zero! Some like to paint the protesters as ‘heros’. Anyone who’s watched their antics on social media knows the truth about their (often) abusive behavior, assaults on HS2 staff and destructive antics. You can read about the whole sorry saga around Harvil Rd in this statement which was attached as evidence to back up the latest High Court Injunction.
It’s the same with the Crackley ‘protection’ camp. Whilst they did cause disruption, they didn’t stop any work from being completed and the camp is now pretty much redundant as the last few trees that need to be removed to make way for HS2 will be cleared at the end of the nesting season.
Attempts to disrupt HS2 in the courts have also failed. Hero Grainger Taylor’s attempt at a judicial review about the Camden cutting was rejected by judges on the 5th June, with no realistic chance of an appeal. (link).
‘Environmentalist’ Chris Packham is in court again this next week when judges will hear his crowdfunded appeal on the 8th July. Expect this to end in another humiliation as nothing substantive has changed. Here’s what the judges said last time.
No doubt I’ll be blogging about this after the event!
Apart from Extinction Rebellion’s ineffective efforts there’s nothing going on. Campaign group (and I use that term very loosely indeed) StopHs2 are moribund and irrelevant with nothing going on apart from ‘rent a quote’ Rukin giving the occasional pointless, blustering interview. With the Government desperate to get the economy back on track and inject some life into it HS2 is needed more than ever – a point those opposed to the project refuse to grasp.
As soon as restrictions on visits are relaxed I’m expecting to be able to bring you some updates from worksites along the route so watch this space as this exciting project continues to gather momentum in scope and scale.
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Long Branch Mike said:
Thank you Paul for this construction summary. I look forward to reading many more!
Paul Bigland said:
Hi Mike, no problem. There’s so much activity on the project now there’s going to be plenty to write about!
As a keen supporter of HS2, I live in the NE of England and really want to see the 2nd part built and have been perturbed by suggestions that any work beyond the Midlands and Cheshire will be watered down and little more than a rehash of what already exists. Thanks Paul for this great round up, hopefully the first of many, even maybe a new standalone blog?
Paul Bigland said:
Thanks for the kind words. I’ll probably do a monthly round-up of HS2 news and also cover any major milestones or announcements as they happen. I’m afraid a standalone blog won’t be possible due to cost/time implications. Paul
Neville Hollingworth said:
At last a much more balanced and objective analysis of the HS2 project.
Thanks so much for this – really great to hear what’s happening.
I live in Sheffield – I wish the government would be clearer about what the plans are for Phase 2
Paul Bigland said:
Hi Jamie, the plans for phase 2 are now inextricably linked with Northern Powerhouse Rail, so will take longer to become clear. Expect news later this year.
That’s good to hear and I hope you’re right that the delay in clarity is due to big ambitions, not just that we’ve been forgotten.
As far as I’m aware, they still haven’t given a definitive answer on the proposed South Yorkshire parkway station or the quality/frequency of services to Sheffield itself.
Fingers crossed that there are ambitious plans
Mike Smith said:
The construction update is one thing, but the comments about protestors are something else. Just amazed at your ignorance about the destruction that HS2 has wrought so far on the environment, and will now blight in perpetuity, for something proven even before COVID to be a entirely unnecessary, a true vanity project. £105bn and counting for a pathetic railway line that saves 10 minutes off one specific route while most white collar workers are now WFH. Ancient woodlands torn up and towns and villages receiving no benefits subjected to permanent pollution and diminished quality of life, because of construction companies’ fetish for laying concrete and yes-men’s lack of imagination for anything not “new” (let alone innovative). All thanks to a new blank cheque from a clown prime minister desperate for a pet project. Meanwhile as you applaud the “democracy” of our increasingly dim and careerist legislature you are probably still ranting to your friends about the illegitimacy of the Brexit vote. Just a puff piece from a construction insider living off their dividends and spreading their rhetoric. Protestors are “single-issue” in the same way you in the construction industry have only one care, to preserve or improve their bottom line. Hope you’re okay living in a smog-filled, asphalted, insipid wasteland of white elephants that this country will become with the sort of grim and reckless projects you endorse.
Paul Bigland said:
Thank you for dropping in with that fact-free rant. I’ve let it through as you’ve illustrated for better than me why no-one takes you people seriously and why you’ve been so useless at trying to stop the project. Just making stuff up (£105bn, 10 mins time saving, blah, blah) was never going to stop HS2 any more than those silly little protests at Crackley woods or Harvil Rd. Enjoy watching HS2 being built over the next few years…
Mr. Mistoffelees said:
Mr Smith I honestly can’t imagine a comment more full of hyperbole and lacking in critical thinking skills.
It’s honestly like someone aimed a neural network at the #hs2 tag on twitter and asked it to write the most incomprehensible drivel it could.
Scott Peacock said:
So Mike, i have just track your area via Google map and i beleive their a disused line running across those woods, I wonder how many protestor were out during the victorian time protesting disapproving the line, Those woods maybe lovely, but their is demand for Rail travel and those nature reserve will be recover as HS2 will plant new trees. Thank for your interesting blog Paul
Richard Clifford said:
You may be interested to see my collection of HS2 Construction videos here:
Paul Bigland said:
Hi Richard, thanks for the link. They’re a very useful addition!
Hi. Very useful footage that shows how minimal the impacts actually are. Could you post a link on the HS2 Facebook pageor if your happy I can do it??
Interesting blog Paul, just been reading some more tosh in The Ecologist – The Struggle to Stop HS2 by Rupert Read. its on theecologist.org
Andrew Ellis said:
Hi Paul, thanks for another great artical about HS2.
I’ve just heard an interview on the radio about HS2 with someone from HS2AA, and was dismayed to hear that the DFT had no one available for interview. He was spouting the usual rubbish about HS2 being Lord Adonis’ fastest trainset in the world. I do wish the HS2 Ltd & DFT would have a team who are willing to publicly refute the claims made by the antis in public debates.
Paul Bigland said:
Hs2aa? That’s a name I’ve not heard mentioned for a very long time! As a ‘campaign’ group, they folded way back in 2016 and have done nothing since.
Andrew Ellis said:
Ah! So the statement in that interview was obviously a desperate attempt by someone to stop the project under an old banner.