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Lat week HS2 Ltd released their corporate plan. Running to 76 pages it details the progress on the project so far and the key milestones which will be achieved over the next few years as construction of the new railway ramps up. It’s a great reality check to the manufactured media spin and speculation that we’ve been seeing over the past few days in advance of the September 13th non-event where a few MPs will debate HS2 in a room in Westminster Hall – with no vote at the end of the talking shop!

I’ve been reading though the report (which you can read here) to bring you the highlights. Right from the beginning the report acknowledges the impact of the global pandemic has had when it says “Inevitably, Covid-19 has
had an impact on schedule, cost and productivity but the programme remains on schedule” – which is good news! Having personally visited two of the main construction sites (at Calvert and South Heath) I can attest to the lengths HS2 Ltd and its Joint-Venture construction partners have gone to in order to ensure a Covid-free workplace and the difficulties and expense this has led to. The challenges were especially strong in London, where most workers would be using public transport to/from work. Thankfully, all these challenges are now subsiding.

There is another challenge mentioned that may people would rather ignore. Brexit. Whilst the first two multi-million pound Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) were imported from Germany before January 1st 2021 (saving time and import duties) another 8 are yet to arrive. There’s no doubt our new relationship with the EU (being outside the single market and customs union) will add costs to HS2.

Moving on, the report mentions another significant milestone that’s already been achieved. Piling work has started on one 3.4km long Colne Valley viaduct. Over the next year, 292 piles will be sunk, some as driving as deep as 55 metres into the ground to support the viaduct. Initially, engineers sank 12 piles at two locations and used the geological and structural data to refine the design of the viaduct. This has allowed them to reduce the depth of piles by 10% to
15%, saving time, money and Co2 emissions. The viaduct piers and sections will be built at the HS2 site at South Heath and the factory for making them is currently under construction. Construction of the viaduct itself is expected to start in the second half of 2022 with the superstructure complete in late 2024.

The report contains a handy graphic outlining the time table for the next few years. Here’s 2021-22.

As you can see – there’s an awful lot going on! There are other works which have only recently started that haven’t been mentioned. For example, at Wendover construction of the cuttings and other major earthworks at what will be the North portal of the Chiltern tunnel began this month. Of course, work still continues at other sites such as Calvert, where East-West rail crosses HS2.

Here’s the 2023-24 time table.

The update does highlight one area of concern – Euston station. It says this on page 34;

“Following the DfT’s instructions in November 2020, we have been exploring design options to reduce cost and speed up delivery by building the station in a single construction stage. This includes considering options to reduce the number of platforms at Euston from 11 to 10 while maintaining 17 trains per hour (tph) operations for the full Phase Two service. If this design option is adopted, the station construction programme will become a single-stage build, reducing the impact of our works on local communities”.

Whilst speeding up the delivery of redevelopment of the Euston site, reducing the number of HS2 platforms is seen by many people (including myself) as a retrograde step that sacrifices the long-term operational future of HS2 for short-term expediency. I would really hope this temptation is resisted. The good news is that the decision doesn’t appear to have been made. Yet…

The report has more to say about Euston.

“MDJV has started work on-site preparing for early works and has completed installing the first 161 piles for the station’s west wall. Enabling works will continue to the end of 2023. Network Rail will undertake demolition works on the Euston conventional rail station through to the end of 2025. This will allow the construction of the east side of the HS2 station. Following the enabling works and design, the main station construction will start in spring 2023 with piling and excavations works”.

There’s more…

“Work on the 4.5 mile Euston tunnel, which will be built up to 50 metres underground, is scheduled to begin in early 2024 and be completed in mid-2025”

But it’s not just tunnels in the centre of London. The report mentions work at West Ruislip, saying;

“West Ruislip will be the first site to launch tunnel boring machines (TBMs) in London. The machines will be assembled at the end of 2021 and launched in 2022, travelling five miles east to create the western section of the Northolt tunnel. Piling works at the site have been progressing well, with the second piling rig installed in April this year. A base slab for the TBM launch will be created in the autumn and the launch portal is due to be complete by the end of 2021”.

Delivery of the new station at Old Oak Common is discussed (pages 38-41) and one particular piece caught my eye, which was the section on Co2 emissions.

“The roof covers an area larger than three football pitches and will be mounted with 3000m2 of solar panels to generate green energy for the station. Together with a number of sustainable design and construction innovations, the solar panels will allow us to cut the station’s emissions by more than 144,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent across its 120-year design life compared with the original designs”

This puts into perspective opponents dishonest claims that HS2 won’t be carbon neutral for 120 years. This claim (based on a 60 year rough calculation of HS2 Phase 1 from 2011) has been completely overtaken by detailed design work and a continual focus on reducing the Co2 produced in the building and future operation of HS2.

The report has some interesting things to say about the 50 mile rural section of the route being built by EKFB which includes Calvert. There’s this insight into the haul-road system.

“As this stretch of HS2 mainly runs through the countryside, the closest existing access to the route is often via minor roads through villages. Our construction team developed the concept of building a temporary access road to join up the whole 50-mile (80km) section. We are building a hard-surfaced road, with standard road signs and traffic lights, instead of a traditional earthworks haul road to reduce dust and noise and take traffic off local roads. The internal access road will be used to move people and materials and provide more efficient vehicle movements, cutting emissions, energy use, dust suppression measures and maintenance costs. Some sections of the internal access road will be removed when the site footprint is reduced but others could be retained for rail maintenance, farm access, or as a cycleway”.

On pages 55-57 details are given of another tunnel further North on the route – at Long Itchington.

“We started excavating the TBM launch portal at Long Itchington in April 2020. This involved 120 people and was completed in February 2021.

The first components of the 2,000-tonne variable density slurry TBM arrived in December 2020. The TBM is set to launch from the north portal in the autumn and is planned to break through about six months later. It will be extracted at the south portal ‘reception’ box, which is under construction, before being transported by road back to the north portal for the second bore. We plan to complete tunnelling in summer 2022. The north portal is also the site of the slurry treatment plant, which was built in six months. It will be used for processing the spoil excavated by the TBM so it can be reused for landscaping for HS2. At the south portal, we have started building the diaphragm walls for the green’ tunnel which will be about 160 metres long and forms the final section of the Area North scope before linking into the
works by EKFB. The ‘green’ tunnel will blend into the landscape and be completed next year”

There’s also news of a tunnel extension and other green initiatives on page 58 that show how the detailed design work that continuing to be developed throughout the project means it’s always evolving.

“It is proposed that a second twin-bore tunnel, the Bromford tunnel, near Birmingham, be extended by 1.4 miles (2.2km) to 3.6 miles (5.8km) to run next to the M6 between Water Orton and Washwood Heath. Extending the tunnel has ecological benefits as it will reduce disturbance to Park Hall Nature Reserve. It will also take up to 250,000 lorries off roads in Birmingham city centre. Earthworks and enabling works started in February 2021 at the east portal, from where the TBM will launch. It is due to start its first ‘drive’ in August 2022 with the breakthrough expected a little over 12 months later. To overcome constraints at the tunnel’s western end, the TBM will then be returned to the east portal
for the second tunnel.

We will start setting up piling platforms and the batching plant for the 522-metre Burton Green tunnel in Warwickshire, the shortest on the Phase One route, in October 2021. Piling works are set to begin in early 2022. This ‘green’ tunnel involves a cutting being created in the ground before a tunnel ‘box’ is built inside it. The space around the box is then filled to create an area of land on the surface. We have revised the design of the railway through the Canley Brook area, near Kenilworth, so it will travel in a slightly shallower and longer cutting. A viaduct can be built over the brook, reducing the diversion of the river from 700 metres to just 80 metres. This means we will excavate 600,000 cubic metres less earth and save 28,000 cubic metres of concrete by removing the retaining wall for the Canley Brook realignment. Less excavation and building work will cut the number of lorry movements by 2,500. Avoiding a major realignment of the waterway will help to preserve the home of otters and bats and we plan to create a wetland habitat either side of the realigned section of the brook”.

Page 59 contains this insight into the initial HS2 Phase 1 train timetable.

“Initially there will be at least three trains per hour between Curzon Street and Old Oak Common, which will act as the temporary London terminus for HS2 pending the completion of Euston. We are working with the DfT to assess whether a maximum of up to six trains per hour could be operated from Old Oak Common”.

The timetable for construction of Curzon St station is also discussed.

“We will build on the design vision as we work with Mace Dragados to agree a target price and we expect notification of Stage 2 in mid-2022, signalling the start of the detailed design and construction of the station. Construction activity will step up from summer 2022 to 2024 as we set up a site compound and start extensive works including excavation and piling. We will need to hit the key dates for the delivery of Curzon Street to make sure other contracts for the high-speed railway remain on schedule. Elements of the station building need to be completed by the end of 2025 to allow the Rail Systems team to access the station from January 2026. The station is currently scheduled for completion in 2028”.

Reducing the Co2 footprint is also mentioned.

“Revisions to the original designs for Curzon Street mean we will reduce carbon emissions by an estimated 55% during the ‘whole life’ design of the station and we will achieve net zero carbon emissions from regulated energy consumption. We will cut the station’s emissions by more than 87,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent – similar to removing the emissions of more than 10,000 houses”.

Moving on to Phase 2a between Birmingham and Crewe the report has this to say (page 64-67). I’ve gone into detail here as people don’t always understand that much about what’s being built on this phase of HS2.

“Our goal to deliver HS2’s national benefits as quickly as possible was boosted by Royal Assent for the Phase 2a hybrid Bill, achieved in February 2021. Activity is now ramping up along the 36-mile (58km) route connecting the West Midlands and Crewe, clearing the path for the railway in readiness for the start of main construction work in 2024”.

The report mentions a new approach on Phase 2a than 1. Early Environmental and Civils contracts are being let to speed up construction.

“Our new model also includes two early civils work packages. Early Civils Work package 1 (ECW1) includes two major junction improvements in Staffordshire at M6 Junction 15/A500 (Hanchurch Interchange) and the widening of Wood End Lane/A515 Tewnalls Lane near Lichfield for construction traffic. Early Civils Work package 2 (ECW2), due to start in
Q4 2021 and valued at £50 million, will be awarded via the Government’s Construction Works and Associated Services framework. ECW2 includes a range of enabling works such as major highways work, utility diversions and a new bridge over the M6 near to Stone. This work will take place alongside environmental and other surveys. The package represents HS2’s first major civils work north of the West Midlands and will help us accelerate delivery as we build towards the handover to main civils construction in 2024″.

Page 62 contains a schedule for and details of the mains civils work to Crewe.

“We will start major earthworks in spring 2024, excavating cuttings and building embankments.
The main civil engineering works include the IMB-R, 17 viaducts, 26 cuttings, 36 embankments and 65 bridges. We will build two twin-bored tunnels, totalling about 1.2 miles (2km), at Whitmore and Madeley. A short section (about 200 metres) of the southern part of the Whitmore tunnel will be a cut-and-cover or ‘green’ tunnel. The TBMs are set to be launched in 2025 and will tunnel from south to north. Both tunnels will have porous portals to control noise and make sure there is no adverse effect on the surrounding area as trains exit the tunnels. Both tunnels sit high in their respective hillsides and require significant works to secure access to start the building. Other significant structures include the River Trent and Kings Bromley viaducts which stretch for about two miles (3.5km) through flood plain and are separated by a large embankment. The Great Haywood viaduct spans the Colwich to Macclesfield line, the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey canal. It requires significant temporary works including a 230 metre temporary access bridge to allow articulated dumper trucks to pass over the rail and waterways to build the viaduct.

The River Lea viaduct sits in a valley between the two tunnels and has to span the WCML and Silverdale branch line. This will require two temporary crossings of the WCML for construction. The landmark Meaford viaduct will cross the M6 just north of the IMB-R. The three-span structure includes a 130 metre span over the motorway. The viaduct will be built off site before being transported into position and will be one of the most visible structures on the Phase 2a route. The complex spurs and main line which gives HS2 connection into Crewe station and onto the conventional rail network require major engineering, including a diversion of the WCML. The portal for the Crewe tunnel will need to be constructed at the same time due to space constraints with the tunnel being built as part of Phase 2b, subject to Parliamentary and government approval.

Following the completion of the track bed, we will install the railway systems, including slab track, signalling and the power supply. Testing and commissioning is expected to take place over two years from 2029 to 2031. Testing will start at the southern end of the Phase 2a route to allow us to test the train operating systems at the earliest opportunity. The route does not feature any new stations and the Phase 2a trains are part of the classic compatible fleet that will be shared with Phase One. The total estimated cost range for Phase 2a is £5 billion to £7 billion and the funding range will
be finalised alongside the construction works delivery model.

So, on to Phase 2b. What’s the plan? Well…

“In line with the Government’s instructions, we are continuing to develop a hybrid Bill for the Phase 2b western leg, extending the railway from Crewe to Manchester with a connection to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) south of Wigan. The western leg will allow HS2 trains to serve destinations including Preston, Carlisle, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow”.

This means the Golborne spur South of Wigan is still very much part of the project. Despite local opposition claiming it’s ‘unnecessary’ the spur provides a relief route to the the heavily used two track section of the WCML at Weaver Junction where the Line to Liverpool diverges and also by-passes Warrington with its freight yards, junctions and congested station.

In his recent briefing to the Transport Select Committee Mark Thurston stated he expects the Phase 2b Hybrid Bill to be submitted to Parliament in February 2022. I won’t go into detail about what the 2021-24 report says about Phase 2b to Manchester and Wigan as plans could change once the Bill starts its journey through Parliament and the Petitioning process begins. However if you want to read about it, check out pages 66 and 67 of the report.

I hope this has been a useful insight into how things stand with HS2 now.



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