HS2 chief executive says it may have been better to start build from north to south

HS2 boss Mark Thurston has reiterated the case for HS2 by claiming it is the transformational network that the UK needs for vital investments and upskilling of workers to create a “lasting legacy”.

The chief executive was a guest speaker at the European CEO Conference which is has being run by the Association of Consultancy and Engineering (ACE) in London. In his speech, Thurston spoke about the vast opportunities HS2 can bring for employment, skills and critical mass. He discussed how the high-speed rail networks currently employs 7,000 people with the number projected to increase to 15,000 in 18 months and 30,000 in five years.

Thurston reaffirmed how vital the scheme will be for the UK’s connectivity and productivity with HS2 set to serve over 25 stations from Scotland to the South East - representing almost half of the UK population and economy.  Once constructed, the HS2 chief said the network had the potential to connect people and places while enriching communities for the better and this is why Britain needed HS2.

“We do need to help people as a society, Thurston said. “High-speed rail can change peoples’ perceptions of distances and how we can get one from place to another much quicker. 300,000 people could be using the network at its peak meaning far more capacity and therefore relieving overcrowding for millions of users especially on the West Coast Mainline. Something transformational is required.”

His comments come just two months after diggers moved into Birmingham to start preparation work on building a new HS2 terminal. Once complete it would be the first railway to be built north of London for over 100 years. Birmingham is planned to be at the centre with a rail station at Curzon Street, in the city centre, while a second station will be built near Birmingham Airport.

However, on the issue of time and the ability for HS2 to stay at the forefront of technology with the final northern stage not projected to be built until 2033, Thurston conceded there was an argument that the network should have been built from the north down.

“The UK is highly democratic and everyone gets a voice with thousands set to be affected,” he added. “The democratic process is hugely expensive and takes up a lot of time but we just need to make sure that into construction we get building at a good rate subject to frailties like UK weather. If I had my time again then starting north and coming south might have been better but we are where we are, it’s important the project does not become obsolete and we stay on the edge of technology.”

The chief executive also said that no decisions had been made by the government over pricing but there was a huge opportunity to provide choices and make it affordable but an appointed franchisee would have a say on this. 

Other speakers on the panel also highlighted the importance of HS2 being built in northern England and beyond. UK managing director of Turner & Townsend Patricia Moore claimed the business case for HS2 was no more stronger than in Scotland with connectivity “100 years behind”. She said it was vital that within construction, teams ensured they were robust in their design of assets.

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