UK opens door to PPPs for £30bn HSR network

The government unveiled plans earlier today to build a 335-mile, £30bn high-speed rail network across the UK, dubbed the ‘fourth transport revolution’. Importantly, the door has been opened for the private sector to play a part in funding it.

Transport secretary Andrew Adonis unveiled what he called “the fourth transport revolution” earlier today – a 335-mile, £30 billion (€33 billion; $45 billion) high-speed rail (HSR) network across the UK.

Source: Department of Transport

The Department of Transport said in a statement the £30 billion bill to build the HSR network would be spread over a period of 20 years and that the government should be able to accommodate a construction rate of £2 billion a year starting in 2017. The public body said it is now studying how to fund it.

But Lord Adonis revealed more information on how the HSR network could be paid for in an opinion article in the Times: “These [options] could include third-party contributions and Public Private Partnerships, as was done so successfully with Crossrail and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link,” opening the door for the private sector to have a role in funding the HSR project.

The initial core of the HSR should link London to Birmingham, Manchester, the East Midlands, Sheffield and Leeds across a Y-shaped network of some 335 miles. The network is expected to carry trains at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour, cutting travel times from the West Midlands to London to about half an hour. Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester would be connected to the capital in 75 minutes.

However, this initial core could then grow to include links to other cities including Glasgow and Edinburgh, in Scotland, and Newcastle and Liverpool, in the north of England. London-Birmingham would be the first link to be built at a cost of between £15.8 billion and £17.4 billion. It would run from London’s Euston station to a new hub in Birmingham city centre, stopping at a new Crossrail station nearby Paddington and a new station to be built near Birmingham airport.

Construction for this first stretch would only start in 2017, after the £16 billion Crossrail scheme – a high-frequency, cross-London rail network – is completed. It is estimated that construction of the HSR would cost around £2 billion a year, the same as Crossrail’s annual cost. The government will also investigate if the London-Birmingham connection should include a station at Heathrow airport, at an estimated cost of some £2 billion.

The HSR project, which, in principle, enjoys cross-party consensus, will now be opened to the public for “extensive and detailed” consultation, Lord Adonis told Parliament today.