A version of High Speed 2’s (HS2’s) London Euston station with only seven platforms would prevent the high-speed network from ever reaching the service levels it is designed to accommodate, according to experts.
The new HS2 Euston station is intended to be the London terminus of the high-speed rail line, but it has been beset by issues. It was initially intended to be an 11-platform station built in two phases, but in October 2021 it was scaled back to a 10-platform, single-phase build to save time and money – despite the government having spent £105M on the first design.
In March this year, the government announced that construction at the station would be paused for two years so that it could “take the time to ensure that [it has] an affordable and deliverable station design”. Almost simultaneously, the National Audit Office published a report into the mismanagement of Euston that revealed that the cost of the station had hit £4.8bn when the budget had only been for £2.6bn. It called for a “reset” of the Euston project and greater collaboration with Network Rail on its plans to upgrade the adjacent mainline Euston station.
The following month, Department for Transport (DfT) and HS2 Ltd officials were quizzed by the Public Accounts Committee and admitted that they were working to reduce the scope of the station in a third attempt at the design. No official word has been given as to the status of this work, but a leaked document seen by The Sunday Telegraph suggested that the government is looking at a seven-platform solution for Euston.
This latest development underlines last month’s report from the Public Accounts Committee stating that the DfT “does not know what it’s trying to achieve with the station”.
Independent rail consultant William Barter, who consulted with HS2 Ltd on timetabling, capacity and operations costing, echoed this lack of clarity in the DfT’s long-term plans and how it makes the planning for Euston nearly impossible. He pointed out that decisions are needed on a replacement for the scrapped Golborne link to enable twice-hourly London to Scotland services; what number of trains will operate from Nottingham and Sheffield; whether trains from Leeds and York will need to be accommodated for; and what services from the West Coast Main Line (WCML) will go to Euston after the long-distance trains are transferred to HS2.
“How can you design a station if you don’t know what job it is meant to do?” Barter summarised. “You can’t; you can only design for what you do know, without designing out potential for what you don’t.”
Railway engineer and writer Gareth Dennis agreed, saying: “The problem with these proposals and with the wider Euston project in general is that it is still looking only at the very narrow view from the current Treasury and DfT as to what HS2 services will look like, rather than a longer-term strategic view of both high-speed services and the services that they may enable on the existing network. Euston should be built to accommodate the maximum possible services that HS2 could foreseeably carry, not the minimum viable service that can be got away with.”
The leaked document seen by The Sunday Telegraph was a Minimum Product Initial Feasibility Report that included five options, with most featuring a reduction in the number of platforms. Barter believes that there are likely to be two different seven-platform possibilities in consideration.
The cheapest would see seven platforms created on the already cleared site alongside the existing mainline Euston station. “Six platforms would cater for HS2 Phase 1’s services to Birmingham, the northwest and Scotland, while the seventh would enable the second London to Scotland service per hour made possible by the Golborne link or whatever equivalent materialises,” he said. “That second hourly service to Scotland would trigger reduced capacity on the WCML from Euston and shifting long-distance trains from the WCML to HS2 would free space in the mainline station for a progressive rebuild.”
However, this configuration would not feature the grade-separated throat that Euston is designed to have in the Phase 1 hybrid bill. A grade-separated throat allows trains entering the station to cross tracks without disruption, allowing more arrivals and departures to be made simultaneously, increasing both capacity and reliability.
Barter says that a grade-separated throat is “essential” to enable the full HS2 services in the future. “Not providing the grade-separated throat initially probably rules it out forever, so this configuration is not capable of expansion,” Barter said. “That means that the Sheffield and Nottingham services envisaged in the Integrated Rail Plan would have to terminate at Old Oak Common.”
This seven-platform option with no ability to expand later is a completely unacceptable outcome, according to Dennis. “Seven platforms certainly cannot be the final state of the high-speed station at Euston,” he said. “HS2 is a railway with at least a 120-year lifespan, and with rail capacity needing to more than double by middle of the decade in some parts of the country, Euston is being delivered too small, too slowly.”
Barter believes the other seven-platform configuration being considered is a sub-set of the 11-platform station that was initially planned for, which would have seen six platforms constructed first and five added later. This design would include the grade-separated throat, giving separate access to platforms 6 and 7. “While not absolutely necessary for Phase 1 services, the grade separation allows useful flexibility in choice of times of trains at Euston,” he said. “But the key point here is that the station would be capable of expansion once the grade-separated throat is in place.”
This means that Euston could have further platforms added at a later date to match the service capacity for Phase 2 to Manchester, Nottingham and possibly cities in Yorkshire.
Barter also believes that the DfT and HS2 Ltd might look at persevering with a 10-platform, single-stage build solution, which does feature a grade separated throat. However, this would have to see some areas scaled back to bring the cost back to a manageable range and Barter still sees long-term issues with this design. “Despite protestations from HS2 Ltd, 10 platforms would not cater reliably for an eventual service of more than 16 trains per hour,” he said. He also pointed out that building 10 platforms in one stage would necessitate reducing the HS2 platforms’ width, so as not to encroach on the Network Rail station.
Ultimately, the originally proposed 11-platform design for Euston remains the optimum solution if HS2 is to reach the full trains per hour that the route is capable of handling and was promised to provide. Building it in two phases of six platforms followed by a further five makes sense. “The WCML released capacity becomes available after the first stage of the build and the costs for expanding the station are pushed off into the future as and when requirements can be defined”, according to Barter.
“You could of course build a 10-platform station in two stages,” he added. “But the rationale, or possibly irrationale, for the 10-platform station was that it enabled a single stage build.”
Ultimately, Barter stated that for Euston “one extreme or the other makes some sense, but not much in between does”. However, the bottom line is that “building a minimum product now and failing to allow for expansion later would be a folly of unspeakable proportions”.
An HS2 spokesperson said: “The government has reaffirmed its commitment to delivering HS2 from Euston to Manchester. As part of a rephasing of the programme, we are working with the Department for Transport to get the design and delivery of Euston station right for passengers, the local community and taxpayers. This work is ongoing and we are unable to give updates on the options being explored while the process continues.”
A DfT spokesperson said: “The construction of HS2 will bring transformational benefits for generations to come and we remain committed to delivering the high speed line from Euston to Manchester in the most effective way for passengers and taxpayers.
“We continue to explore options for the design of Euston Station to ensure it provides value for money.”
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