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Cost of HS2 rail project goes up amid pandemic

By JONATHAN POWELL in London | China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-22 09:40
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A view of heavy machinery as construction continues for the HS2 high-speed railway project in Denham, Britain, on April 1, 2021. [Photo/Agencies]

The overall cost of the United Kingdom's HS2 high-speed rail project has increased by 1.7 billion pounds ($2.35 billion) over the past year because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures.

Sources close to the UK's biggest infrastructure project have told the Financial Times that work on most sites was halted during the initial lockdown last year, while social distancing measures have caused access delays and reduced productivity.

One contractor was quoted as saying that HS2 Ltd, the state-funded body responsible for delivering the railway line, "doesn't really know "how much the delays have added to the overall bill, which is currently estimated to be 106 billion pounds.

Following more than ten years of planning, at huge costs to the taxpayer, construction started on the project last August.

The FT reported that the first-phase costs of the high-speed link between London and Birmingham have now increased by as much as 800 million pounds. This is in addition to an 800 million pound-increase in costs previously announced by HS2 in October.

It reported that there has been a further 100 million pound-increase in the costs of work on the Birmingham interchange.

The paper quoted a government official saying there were "unavoidable costs" resulting from the pandemic.

It quoted the Department for Transport as saying: "Our focus remains on controlling costs, to ensure this ambitious new railway delivers its wealth of benefits at value for money for the taxpayer. The response to COVID-19 remains ongoing and final assessments of its effect have not been made."

The report said the 1.7 billion pound-increase in costs is still within the budget for the first phase of the project, but means it is now drawing on contingency funds. It said that budgets for many parts of the project have still not yet been agreed, meaning costs may increase further.

Public resistance to the HS2 project is growing. The new line is due to run through the Buckinghamshire county constituency of Chesham and Amersham, where the Conservative Party suffered a heavy loss to the Liberal Democrats in a by-election last week.

Local opposition to the HS2 rail line in that area was a major factor in the poll, the BBC reported.

Anti-HS2 campaigners say the project will damage water supplies and destroy woodlands. In February, a group of protesters caused delays and disruption when they dug tunnels around London's Euston station.

The National Audit Office last year warned that it is "almost impossible "to predict the final costs of the project.

Costs for other major infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail and the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant, have also been rising due to the pandemic, according to the FT report.

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