HS2 north of Birmingham: What work has started and what might happen next?

The Prime Minister is reportedly preparing to axe plans for HS2 to run from Birmingham to Manchester.

Here the PA news agency answers 13 key questions on the situation:

HS2 network
(PA Graphics)

– Are there doubts about Phase 1 between London and Birmingham?

The only current uncertainty is whether Old Oak Common in London’s western suburbs will be the permanent terminus in the capital or whether the line will reach Euston.

– What was the plan for HS2 north of Birmingham?

In Phase 2a, the high-speed railway was due to be extended from the West Midlands to Crewe.

It was then due to be built up to Manchester in Phase 2b, and to the East Midlands in another phase.

– Has HS2 work started north of Birmingham?

Phase 1 of HS2 includes a 19-mile section of route between Curdworth, Warwickshire and Handsacre, Staffordshire.

Some of this work has been paused since March, but much of the construction continues.

Recent examples include two bridges being installed near Lichfield, Staffordshire.

– What about Phases 2a and 2b?

Preparatory work for Phase 2a is ongoing, while some residents on the Phase 2b route have already voluntarily sold their homes to HS2 Ltd.

– How much has been spent on Phases 2a and 2b?

In an update to Parliament on June 19, rail minister Huw Merriman said £900 million had been spent on Phase 2a, and £700 million on Phase 2b.

HS2 project
The site of the Birmingham High Speed Railway construction site at Curzon Street in Birmingham (Jacob King/PA)

– What would be the impact on services if Rishi Sunak scraps HS2 north of Birmingham?

It largely depends on whether the planned Handsacre Link in Lichfield goes ahead.

– If it does?

HS2 trains will be able to connect to and from the existing West Coast Main Line (WCML), meaning they could serve stations such as Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow.

But capacity constraints on the WCML – one of the main reasons why HS2 was planned – mean the number of high-speed trains that could run on the existing line will be limited to around three per hour in each direction.

– What happens if the Handsacre Link is axed?

HS2 trains will only be able to operate a shuttle service between Birmingham and London.

– What stage is the legislation at?

The Bill giving the Government the power to build Phase 2a secured royal assent in February 2021.

The Bill for Phase 2b was introduced to Parliament in January 2022 and is currently at the committee stage.

– What must the Government do if it wants to stop Phase 2a?

It is unclear if the Government could simply choose not to use its powers under the Phase 2a legislation or if it must secure the support of the majority of MPs in a vote in the Commons.

– What is Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR)?

It is a plan to improve east-west rail connections across the North.

– How is it linked to HS2?

NPR and HS2 were being designed so trains would run between the two networks and onto the wider railway system.

NPR was set to rely on some infrastructure built by HS2, including for a complicated section through central Manchester.

Scrapping HS2 north of Birmingham will put the finances of NPR in doubt.

– What about rail improvements in other parts of the country?

Progress on East West Rail – a scheme to re-establish a rail link between Cambridge and Oxford – is ongoing.