The UK’s HS2 high-speed rail project has been given an “unachievable” rating by the government’s infrastructure watchdog.
The Infrastructure and Projects Authoritys red rating means that the project is unlikely to be completed as planned, and that the government may need to reconsider its scope or budget.
The Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) said that the first two phases of the project, from London to Birmingham and then onto Crewe, are facing major problems with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and benefits delivery.
An HS2 spokesperson said construction on the line was now hitting a “peak”, with “work intensifying and huge civil engineering structures taking shape along Phase One of the route”.
The spokesperson added the priority was to ensure that the initial high-speed services – connecting Old Oak Common in west London and Birmingham Curzon Street – were running by the current target of the early 2030s.
The HS2 project has been beset by delays and cost overruns since it was first announced in 2010. The original budget for the project was £55.7 billion, but this has now risen to between £53 billion and £61 billion.
The project is also facing opposition from environmental groups and local residents, who have raised concerns about the impact of the project on the countryside and wildlife.
The government has said that it remains committed to delivering HS2, but it is unclear how the project will be funded in light of the IPA’s red rating.
The IPA’s report comes as HS2 Ltd’s chief executive Mark Thurston announced his resignation earlier this month. Thurston will leave his role in September after six and a half years.
Under the IPA’s grading system, a red rating implies: “Successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable.“
The rating also means there are “major issues with project definition, schedule, budget, quality and/or benefits delivery, which at this stage do not appear to be manageable or resolvable”.
“The project may need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed.”
The phase of the project running from Crewe to Manchester was given an “amber” grading by the IPA, under which successful delivery of a project “appears feasible”, but “significant issues already exist”.
The resignation of Thurston and the IPA’s red rating are further blows to the HS2 project, which is already facing significant challenges. It remains to be seen whether the project can be delivered as planned, or whether it will be scaled back or cancelled altogether.
In March, Transport Secretary Mark Harper announced work at London Euston would be paused for two years after costs increased from £2.6bn to £4.8bn.
A spokesperson for the Department of Transport said: “We remain committed to delivering HS2 in the most cost-effective way for taxpayers.
“HS2 will bring transformational benefits for generations to come, improving connections and helping grow the economy.”
What does this mean for the future of HS2?
The IPA’s red rating is a major setback for the HS2 project, and it is unclear what the future holds for the project. The government has said that it remains committed to delivering HS2, but it is possible that the project will be scaled back or cancelled altogether.
The decision of whether or not to proceed with HS2 will likely depend on a number of factors, including the cost of the project, the level of public support, and the impact of the project on the environment.
It is too early to say what the future holds for HS2, but the IPA’s red rating is a major blow to the project and it is likely that there will be further delays and cost overruns.