MPs say 2026 opening date may need to be revised
Repeated delays to the start of the main civils work on HS2 could result in a Crossrail-style programme blow-out, watchdog MPs have warned.
In a letter to the transport department's permanent secretary, Bernadette Kelly, Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair Meg Hillier said a fixation on a 2026 opening date – despite a delayed start to the programme – could make the £56bn project doomed to fail.
She said: "You acknowledged that one of the lessons you had learned from Crossrail was that delivery dates set early on in a project can drive additional costs and inefficiencies.
"Given that the opening date for Phase One has not moved from 2026, I am increasingly concerned about compression in the schedule for High Speed 2 and what this means for the risks being carried in the programme."
Hillier said the transport department had delayed providing HS2 Ltd with notice to proceed with the main construction of phase one several times already, with it now not expected to take place until this December.
She added that the milestone was originally expected to be reached in 2017.
And she said the PAC expected the transport department to be carrying out a review of the schedule to ensure that it is realistic and "reflects recent programme progress".
The letter, which was sent last week, also raised concerns that only 361 of the 1,200 places available at the National College for High Speed Rail in 2019-20 had been filled.
Hillier asked Kelly to provide the committee with information on how the transport department, HS2 and the college are encouraging the take up of courses, saying that the level of interest was "disappointing" given Phase 1 construction work is likely to start early next year.
The college offers both apprenticeships and full-time courses.