April 21, 2024

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The cursed construction site of the English TGV, Rishi Sunak

The cursed construction site of the English TGV, Rishi Sunak

Two former prime ministers, three former finance ministers, three mayors of major cities, former transport ministers and… the American partner of Birmingham City Football Club. As the days go by, the list of people agitating against planned cuts at the English TGV construction site grows longer.

Despite the outcry, the British government is maintaining the same position: “The finance minister and the prime minister are looking at how to rein in spending,” Chris Philp, the ministry's foreign secretary, told Sky News on Tuesday. Home Office said “no decision has been made on the remaining sections of HS2”.

The area between Birmingham and Manchester is under threat

According to the Times, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has decided to cancel the high-speed section between Birmingham and Manchester and shorten the route between Birmingham and London so that the train will reach the western suburbs of London. Sooner than Euston station in the heart of the capital.

The announcement comes just days before Congress in Manchester during November's budget debate, to avoid upsetting Conservative Party ranks.

A symbol of regional restructuring

HS2, for “High Speed ​​2”, is a high-speed line project that will connect London to Birmingham in 50 minutes (compared to 1 hour 20 minutes today) and Manchester in 1 hour 40 minutes. It was announced after the elections in 2010. David Cameron's plan, supported by five successive prime ministers, has become a symbol of the policy of regional restructuring (“stabilisation”) at the heart of the Conservative programme.

Since this fanfare announcement, delays have piled up and the bill for the project has continued to rise. Instead of the 33 billion pounds mentioned in 2009, the cost of the English TGV will exceed 100 billion.

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Several reasons have been suggested to explain this drift. Originally, the line was designed so that trains could travel 360 kilometers per hour, or 10 to 20% faster than the French TGVs. This resulted in an additional cost, for a benefit that is now disputed. Soil studies justified additional consolidations. It is necessary to add kilometers of tunnel to alleviate local concerns. Added to this is inflation, which penalizes all infrastructure projects.

A bill “totally out of control”

British Finance Minister Jeremy Hunt was noncommittal, saying construction site costs were “totally out of control”. Over the years, the financial collapse of HS2 and its eventual postponement has become a sea serpent of British politics. Part of the route between Birmingham and Leeds has already been canceled for November 2021.

If the recent controversy gets too heated, canceling the section between Birmingham and Manchester could call into question the project's merits. In fact, the time saved in the Birmingham-London area may not be sufficient to generate the expected economic benefits. When questioned on the matter, Rishi Sunak simply pointed out that regional restructuring “is not based on big railway projects alone”.