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I’ve been trying to get around to writing this update for weeks as the last was as long ago as November 25th last year and a huge amount has happened since. I’ve finally found the time but it’s been so long since the last one there’s going to be a lot in this blog. I’ll try and get onto a monthly basis to go forward from here on as the project is really ramping up at the moment. There’s a massive amount of positive news – and one potentially bad one – but more of that later. So, let’s catch-up with news from last year. I’m not going to be able to cover everything so I’ll be cherry-picking and focusing mostly on ‘concrete’ developments rather than some of the more socially orientated announcements.

First off was an announcement on the 16th December when HS2 began the quest for suppliers to provide switches and crossings for the 280km of new track between London, Birmingham and the connection with the existing mainline at Crewe. The contract – worth up to £156m includes the design, manufacture and delivery of around 180 switches and crossings for Phase 1 and 2a of the project, with options to extend for further equipment to cover Crewe to Manchester in phase 2b as well as the maintenance depots. More here.

Two days later HS2 released details of the first dedicated freight train to run. The train – operated by DB Cargo UK and Hanson – delivered 1,650 tonnes of aggregate that will be used in the construction of the temporary Calvert Railhead. Across the whole HS2 project, 15,000 freight trains are planned to be used to haul 10 million tonnes of aggregate to construction sites – taking the equivalent of 1.5 million HGVs off the UK’s roads.

EKFB’s Calvert site’s first freight train delivery at night, with aggregate, and then unloaded by articulated cranes. Copyright HS2 Ltd.

Moving freight for HS2 is providing a welcome boost for the rail industry over the next few years, leading to companies having to source extra traction such as the rebuilding of former Class 56 locomotives with EMD engines, the first of which is currently on test.

On the 22nd December the shortlist of bidders for Track Systems and for Tunnel and Lineside Mechanical and Electrical (M&E) systems. Both sets of contract opportunities cover design and construction between London, Birmingham and Crewe where HS2 trains will join the existing West Coast Mainline. The winners of the Track systems contracts will also take a lead role in managing and coordinating the complex interfaces between the track and other elements of the rail systems. The following were shortlisted for track systems.

Lot 1 – Phase One (Urban – London and Birmingham) – £434m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd
  • STRABAG AG UK and Rhomberg Sersa UK (STRABAG Rhomberg Sersa Joint Venture

Lot 2 – Phase One (Open Route – Central) – £526m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd
  • STRABAG AG UK and Rhomberg Sersa UK (STRABAG Rhomberg Sersa Joint Venture)

Lot 3 – Phase One (Open Route – North) – £566m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd

Lot 4 – Phase 2a (Track) – £431m

  • Balfour Beatty Group Ltd, ETF SAS, TSO SAS (BBVT Joint Venture)
  • Ferrovial Construction (UK) Ltd and BAM Nuttall Ltd (Ferrovial-BAM Joint Venture)
  • Colas Rail Ltd
  • STRABAG AG UK and Rhomberg Sersa UK (STRABAG Rhomberg Sersa Joint Venture)

Rail, switches and crossings and pre-cast slab track will be delivered by separate suppliers – with the Track Systems contractor coordinating the design, logistics and installation. The winning bidders are set to commence work on site once the tunnels, bridges, viaducts and earthworks are complete.

The winner of the estimated £498m Tunnel and Lineside M&E package will be a Principal Contractor, delivering the design, supply, manufacture, installation, testing, commissioning and maintenance (until handover) of the Phase One and Phase 2a Tunnel and Lineside M&E systems.

This includes the tunnel services within the shafts, tunnels and cross-passages, low voltage power services and distribution in the open route. The contractor will also design, supply, install, test and commission the tunnel ventilation systems.

The following organisations are invited to tender for Tunnel and Lineside M&E:

  • Alstom Transport UK Ltd
  • Balfour Beatty Bailey Joint Venture (BBB JV) – a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Group Ltd and NG Bailey Ltd
  • Costain Group PLC

Contracts for Track Systems and Tunnels and Lineside M&E are expected to be awarded in 2022.

HS2 celebrated the end of a momentous year by releasing this update on the project which includes pictures such as one of the tunnel entrance at Long Itchington. Soon this will be occupied by Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs)

FIlm and photo shoot of the Long Itchington wood North Portal, with apprentice/undergraduate Shehan

2021 started with the announcement that HS2 had received the go-ahead from Birmingham City Council to begin the transformative refurbishment of the Old (Grade 1 listed) Curzon Street Station, built by the London and Birmingham railway. The old building can be seen in the foreground of this illustration which also shows how the grade 2 listed ‘Woodman’ pub will also be incorporated into the area around the station. HS2 have declared that the old station goods yard alignment (and historic roundhouse) be incorporated into the plan.

Birmingham Curzon Street visual, January 2020

On January 25th HS2 announced that preparatory work on the Victoria Road Crossover Box (West of Old Oak Common) was complete and building work would commence.

The huge underground box will house crossovers allowing trains to switch tracks up to a design speed of 62 mph. The box will be 130m in length and 24m deep complete with 1.5m thick walls constructed by diaphragm piling method, with top and intermediate levels of reinforced concrete props.  The base slab of the crossover box will be supported by 77 piles installed 20m into the ground below the slab level.

The site at Victoria Road is also currently being prepared to launch the Northolt Tunnel Boring Machines which will bore 3.4 miles North West as part of the construction of HS2’s 8.4 mile Northolt Tunnel. You can learn more here.

Here’s a cross-section of what the construction of the box will look like.

On the same day HS2 released details of new designs for two viaducts near the village of Water Orton in Warwickshire, including new landscaped areas that will provide green public spaces and wildlife habitats. Here’s an artists impression of the landscaped are in between the viaducts which will contain tree planting and new wildlife habitats with an opportunity (subject to local interest) for a community orchard or area of allotments. More here.

The next day it was announced that the first of five headhouses providing ventilation and emergency access to HS2’s ten-mile long Chiltern tunnel had gained planning approval from Buckinghamshire Council. The Chalfont St Peter headhouse takes its inspiration from the style of nearby barns and other agricultural buildings.

Progress continued apace this month with the announcement on the 11th that the bill for Phase 2a to Crewe had received Royal Assent. The 58km (36miles) route will open at the same time as Phase 1 much to the chagrin of those opposed to HS2 as it destroys their claims that HS2 will only ever run to Birmingham and also their mad claim that HS2’s only an ‘airport shuttle’! Royal Assent was no surprise as the bill had sailed through both houses in Parliament, which demonstrated how weak the opposition to HS2 really is. There wasn’t even a vote on the final reading of the Bill in the Lords as it was painfully obvious the bill would pass.

On the 16th February the final design of the Euston tunnel headhouse was announced. Developed in consultation with local residents the 2-stoey building will be clad in engineering brick to enable it to blend into the existing structures. Standing next to the original 10m high retaining wall, the new headhouse structure will extend above the top of the wall, with a green roof, stone-paved courtyard and entrance facing Park Village East. More here.

Cavern Headhouse – Park Village East elevation. The images were created by the Design House team as part of the Schedule 17 application. Copyright HS2 Ltd.

There’s other progress across the route that hasn’t really hit the headlines and a great place to get a flavour of what’s happening right across the route of HS2 is to follow the ‘HS2 in your area’ website which (as the name suggests) goes into detail what’s happening are by area.

One example is the announcement of the start of work on what will be one of the most iconic and visible construction projects on the route – building the Colne Valley Viaduct. Work on piling foundations the piers starts next month. Here’s some details from the HS2 website link.

Another item that’s happening next month is the delivery of the transformers to power the Tunnel Boring Machines that will be digging the tunnels under the Chilterns. These transformers will step the incoming voltage down from 33kV down to 11kV to power the Tunnel Boring Machines at their required levels. Shipped from abroad, the transformers will arrive over the weekends of 13/13 and 27/28 March. The 33kV power supply cable is coming in along the streets of Hillingdon and won’t be ready before June, so don’t expect the TBMs to begin work before then.

To end the round up here’s one of the many people and environmental good news stories. On the 17th February HS2 announced it had taken on its 500th apprentice.

So, as you can see, there’s a huge amount going on and there’s plenty more to come over the next few months. Now that the Government have announced a plan for us leaving Covid lockdown I’m looking forward to being able to get out and about along the route of HS2 as construction ramps up, so expect more blogs over the next few months documenting the chances as HS2’s built.

Oh, I mentioned one bit of (potentially) bad news, which came through Hs2’s Mark Thurston’s comments at yesterdays National Rail Recovery Conference. RAIL’s Richard Clinnick broke the news on Twitter.

This sparked a discussion at the conference which included Jim Steer, William Barter and Prof McNaughton. I questioned Jim about the potential impact of this change. His opinion was that it wasn’t a major issue and that rebuilding Euston station in one phase rather than two was a great improvement as doing it over 20 years as had been planned was a ‘big ask’ of the residents and communities around Euston. The conference continues tomorrow and you can still register (which will allow you to catch-up on what was said).

You’ll notice that i’ve not mentioned the increasingly desperate and failing protests against HS2 in this update. I’ll be covering those next in a separate blog which you can now find here.