Skip to main content

HS2: Speed Restrictions

Volume 823: debated on Wednesday 13 July 2022


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to avoid significant settlements, and consequent speed restrictions, on the route of the HS2 rail line in the area above the Cheshire salt mines north of Crewe.

My Lords, HS2 Ltd has undertaken ground investigations to increase the understanding of geological risks associated with settlement. This work supplements examination of information from the British Geological Survey, historic boreholes, salt extraction operators and action groups. This information has informed the current design.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that helpful Answer. She will be aware that underneath the area where the line goes north of Crewe, there are caverns that are 200 metres high, and only 25% of the salt is remaining and the rest has been extracted. It has been settling for 100 years and probably will continue to settle for that length of time. What is HS2 going to do to ensure that the line remains straight and level, which is necessary for high-speed rail work?

Of course, HS2 is well aware of what has happened underneath the Cheshire Basin, and I noted in my previous Answer that groundworks have been undertaken. I am pleased to reassure the noble Lord that that is not the end of it. Plenty more work still needs to be done. A full programme of ground investigations across the entire route will happen between 2023 and late 2025. HS2 is confident that the line can be built on this route at an appropriate cost.

My Lords, what has this ridiculous project cost to date? Is its construction continuing on time and on budget? Have they yet found a way of getting in and out of Euston station?

My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interest as chairman of Transport for the North. Is it not the case that the Bill will have detailed consideration in Committee, which it is about to enter in the other place? This is the biggest increase in rail capacity in our country’s recent history, and the simple fact is that it will do more to increase capacity on our rail network than any other project currently being looked at by the Government.

My noble friend is absolutely right. The Bill for this leg of the HS2 project had its Second Reading in the other place on 20 June. As noble Lords may recall from the phase 2a Bill, which was before your Lordships’ House recently, it now goes into a very detailed process of petitioning, which is really important as it allows local people to raise detailed concerns about the project. Obviously, it is key that we keep as many stakeholders as content as possible.

My Lords, I know from serving on an HS2 Select Committee how vital it is for the track to meet the highest standard, particularly in challenging areas like the Cheshire salt mines, to prevent perturbation of the timetable. With today’s announcement of railway speed limits because of concerns about the effect of hot weather on current tracks, is the Minister satisfied that the high-quality steel being used for HS2 will cope with the likelihood that climate change will lead to more regular and more extreme hot spells?

Of course, these are all considerations when we consider how the railway is to be designed and subsequently constructed. It is the case that where changes are necessary, HS2 is willing to look at them. For example, the 2016 route refinement consultation shifted the route slightly to take into account the salt mines in the Cheshire Basin. When issues come before us, we are able to make appropriate changes.

My Lords, the way things are going down the other end, these salt mines might prove useful. On the substance of question, the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, is right: this is a project to increase capacity; it is not just about speed. All the Government’s stop-go on this project has bedevilled it. It is about time they rushed ahead with it, got back to its original concept and had it going all the way up to Scotland.

It is the case that we have to get this project right. It has to be delivered within a reasonable cost, and it must actually be deliverable. As I have said previously, the Government are always willing to look at better solutions for Scotland. For example, the union connectivity review concluded that the Golborne link would not resolve all the capacity constraints on the west coast main line, Crewe to Preston, and would therefore not provide the benefits to Scotland. We are taking that away, and we are working on more options such that we can keep Scotland really well connected.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership. The Minister mentioned the Golborne link and threw doubt on its effectiveness. However, is it not the case that if we are to improve links to the north-west and beyond to Scotland, the Golborne link provides a very substantial improvement? As such, it is not going to assist levelling up in those areas if it is not part of the overall final scheme.

Sir Peter Hendy in his union connectivity review slightly begged to differ, and suggested that there are alternatives that would make for better journeys to Scotland. Nothing is off the table; that may mean new high-speed lines or improvements to existing infrastructure. Of course, any of the options brought forward would have to compare favourably with the Golborne link as originally planned.

My Lords, the spiralling cost of the Great Western electrification programme is a perfect case study of the importance of transparency between government and industry to ensure industry’s preparedness to deliver complex infrastructure projects. Yet that link, the rail network enhancements pipeline, remains unpublished. Given that, how can we expect HS2 to be delivered on time and on budget when maintaining transparency with the rail industry is not a priority for this Government?

The noble Lord has managed to combine many elements into one thing. I can reassure him that the RNEP document will be published shortly, which will reassure him about the Government’s commitment to investing in our railways.

My Lords, in November, the Government decided to terminate the eastern leg of HS2 in the Midlands rather than at Leeds, as originally promised. When they were criticised for abandoning their policy on the grounds that it would affect levelling up, the Government promised £100 million to look at alternative ways to run HS2 trains to Leeds. However, eight months on, absolutely nothing has happened in terms of even scoping this study. Is this yet another broken promise from this Government to the people of northern England?

Not at all. Work is of course well under way within the department as to how best to use the £100 million that we have set out to look at the options on the route to Leeds and to finally make some progress on a mass transit system for Leeds. However, one of the key things about the Government’s decision for our plans for high-speed rail in the future is to make sure that we get as close to city centres as possible. In the older plans, it was far too often the case that the train never got anywhere close to the city centre but now places such as Derby and Nottingham will benefit.

My Lords, the report of the Economic Affairs Committee of this House on HS2 predicted that the net result would be that it would run over budget and we would lose the necessary expenditure for east-west improvement of rail services in the north, which has come to pass. Given that the business case was based on the premise that there would be a need for more business travel and given that, as the Civil Service has shown, many people are now working from home, should the business case now be reviewed?

I reassure my noble friend that if there are changes to the budget or to the schedule, that will be put before Parliament in the six-monthly review. I slightly take issue about there being a lack of east-west investment from the Government. The £96 billion that we are investing in the integrated rail plan is a significant amount for east-west connectivity.

My Lords, is the Minister as weary as I must admit I feel from time to time of endless questions about the difficulties and problems associated with building a railway? Some 180 years ago, the Victorians managed to put bridges over estuaries, tunnels through hills and build railways over marshland, and heaven knows whatever else, and we seem to be incapable of proceeding because we are worried about salt mines in Crewe.

I cannot recall 180 years ago, but it sounds idyllic. It is absolutely right that the Government should receive the correct amount of scrutiny, this is an enormous amount of taxpayers’ money, and we want the line built as soon as possible.