The HS2 Railway Impact so Far and in the Future

HS2 is the UK’s high speed railway project, currently under construction. It’s an enormously ambitious concept that has already proven controversial and continues to do so. However, the benefits of the new railway line that the project is creating are substantial. From reducing commuter congestion, to taking the pressure off other services, HS2 is designed to give the UK a high speed overhaul. In this whitepaper we’ll be looking in detail at the project itself, as well as the advantages it will create and the impact that it is having on the construction sector.

A new high speed transport option for the UK

British railway services are not renowned for being high speed. While the Japanese may have their bullet trains, in the UK the rail network is more likely to be known for delays and fare hikes than efficiency and progress. However, HS2 – High Speed 2 – is creating infrastructure and services that are intended to change all that. When the network is complete the trains that have been designed for it will be able to operate at speeds of up to 250 mph. That will significantly upgrade UK train services in terms of performance. In fact, it will make HS2 trains faster than any others in Europe.

The HS2 infrastructure

HS2 is effectively a new railway line for the UK that connects some major cities. London is the southernmost point on the HS2 network, which then runs north to destinations such as Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The idea behind this is to overhaul the rail infrastructure in this crucial area of the country and to make connections between cities in the north and London faster and more efficient. The new line has involved a vast amount of construction in order to achieve the infrastructure already built and will continue to do so as the project continues. This has not only meant creating new track but new stations too, such as the HS2 station that will be built next to Manchester Piccadilly and the one planned for Manchester Airport.

What do we know so far?

The project has barely begun so far but has already come under a lot of fire for costs that have escalated and the impact of the construction on various areas around the UK. Completion of HS2 has also already been delayed and this has frustrated many people. Nevertheless, this ambitious construction continues to progress towards completion to enable better connection between north and south, improved rail services and faster travel times.

HS2 – in numbers

Perhaps the most important number connected to the HS2 project is the completion date. This was originally set for 2026 but has now been considerably delayed. As with any big construction effort there are many factors that can slow progress down. And with a project that is this big and this innovative, it’s often difficult to avoid them. As a result, completion is unlikely to be 2026 as hoped – estimates of 2032 or 2033 are now assumed to be much more likely.

Longer and faster trains

The new trains designed for the HS2 network will not only be able to travel at faster speeds than current trains but will be able to carry more passengers too. With the potential to reach speeds of up to 250mph, the new HS2 trains could be up to 400 metres long. In terms of capacity that means that each one could have up to a thousand seats. With a faster service and more seats it’s hoped that the commuter experience will improve considerably as a result of the new project.

Increasing hourly seat availability

To put the increase in seat numbers into some kind of context, when the HS2 is complete it will increase the volume of seat capacity available per hour on the existing route by three times. Around 15,000 seats will be made available on the new trains every hour, making room for even more commuters to start making the journey north to south or vice versa. For existing commuters the journey should be much more comfortable as a result of the more spacious trains.

Reducing the time it takes to get to stations along the route

Journey times are going to be considerably cut thanks to the improvements that will be delivered by HS2. For example, the journey time between Leeds and London will reduce from 130 minutes to just 81 and between Manchester and London from 127 minutes to 67. Passengers making the trip between London and Crewe will enjoy daily one way travel time of 55 minutes, which will be reduced from the current 90 minutes once the HS2 network is in place.

Improving the transport infrastructure of the UK

Both from an environmental perspective and also when it comes to congestion, the UK’s roads currently have a lot of issues that need to be resolved. It’s thought that the arrival of HS2 will be a factor in helping to reduce congestion and the environmental impact of everyone making individual journeys in their own car. For example, the government estimates that 9 million road journeys could be transferred from existing roads to the HS2 once the project is up and running. The same is true of air congestion and minimising the impact of air travel – the government says that 4.5 million journeys that are currently made by plane could be completed via the HS2 instead by the time the new rail network is complete.

Closing a 200-odd mile gap

The North-South divide is something that is frequently discussed, in particular when it comes to the disadvantages for those businesses without easy access to London. When HS2 is up and running the service will bring this much more within reach, making it quicker to cover the 200-odd miles between London and many northern cities, enabling geography to be less of an issue when it comes to business.

What benefits does HS2 have for the UK?

Given the amount of controversy that has been involved in the project, as well as the cost, many have queried the wisdom of it. However, when it comes to a new, more efficient and faster rail network for the UK there are some significant benefits to ensuring that it goes ahead. These include:

Considering future generations

HS2 has set up an educational programme that is designed to share the goals and benefits of the project with young people. This extends from very young children keen to learn to those who are ready to start training. Without the project going ahead these resources would simply not be available.

Apprenticeships to nurture new talent

Significant emphasis has been placed on ensuring that the HS2 project spreads its benefits across all generations of workers in the construction sector. 2,000 apprenticeships have been created as part of the project to give opportunities to a whole new generation.

Improving employment prospects in engineering and construction

HS2 is such a sizeable project that on its own it can significantly influence the employment market for engineering and construction in the UK. 30,000 roles will be created around the main construction itself. Once the network is complete it will continue to keep giving, with an additional 3,000 roles to be established so that the network can run smoothly.

A positive impact on the British economy

We are currently in fairly unstable economic times and any initiative that helps people to connect, and which creates opportunities, is going to have a positive economic impact. The HS2 network will give businesses and individuals in different geographic locations a way to work together more closely than ever before. This is especially important given that many UK businesses are currently looking for new UK based partners. The project has identified some £92 billion of benefits that it will create for the British economy as a whole, a not insubstantial amount.

The impact on train services

HS2 will bring positive improvement to the existing rail network in the UK. There are currently serious problems on the British railways, something that is acknowledged by the government, by operators and by commuters. Service is frequently below par and journeys can be seriously uncomfortable. The addition of the new route will take the pressure off existing services with more seats per hour and longer trains that give commuters more space.

It’s not just about London

Three quarters of the jobs that have been created as part of the HS2 project are outside London. Local communities have been given careful consideration when it comes to how the economic benefits of the project should be shared.

Environmental standards and human experience

Environmental issues have been at the heart of HS2, as for any construction project today. Plans have been put in place to minimise impact including conserving, replacing or enhancing wildlife habitats that are affected. The experience of those living near the site has also been taken into account with the design of a set of standards to ensure that factors such as noise pollution and traffic congestion are properly dealt with.

HS2 and the UK construction and engineering sector – a focus on education and recruitment

We have written before about the recruiting issue that the UK construction sector has been struggling with.  There are many reasons for this and a big part of the problem has been a lack of focus in the industry when it comes to introducing younger generations to what it’s like to work in construction and engineering. Construction and engineering often have an image problem with younger British generations because there is little understanding of what a career in the industry might actually entail. With this in mind, HS2 has created a programme of education designed to appeal to a wide variety of young people at various ages and from a range of different backgrounds. This is targeting children as young as 7 right up to recent graduates. Initiatives include:

For primary and secondary school children

An exercise called “The Zoom Train.” This is a practical activity that revolves around a train template and a balloon. Students are tasked with using the balloon to facilitate the movement of the train template. The activity has resonance right across a range of subject areas, including physics, English and maths. It can also be staged as a fun competition between different teams.

For secondary school children only

Focusing on the realities of the HS2 network, the Route Options Project is designed to stimulate the analytical and planning capabilities of secondary school children with an exercise that revolves around four potential routes for a new railway. The task is to establish which route is going to be the best one based on various different factors, from financial to environmental and efficiency. There’s no perfect answer to this exercise, which is more about getting young people to focus on the challenge and look deeply into the pros and cons of the various options.

Mentors for future generations

The educational side of HS2 has also meant the creation of numerous education ambassadors whose role it is to help guide children into the industry. This involves highlighting where skills and abilities would be ideal for roles in the sector and what further training might be required.

School leavers and graduates

In addition to the HS2 apprenticeships already mentioned, a graduate scheme has also been set up to provide opportunities for those leaving university and wishing to transition into the construction and engineering sectors. These will not only help to boost the image of the project but to nurture a whole new generation of construction and engineering talent too.

In addition to the specific educational initiatives established by HS2, the project itself acts as a beacon to future generations who might be interested in construction and engineering careers. The size and scale, as well as the level of ambition involved, are likely to inspire future generations to want to take part.

HS2 and the UK construction and engineering sector – jobs and opportunities

According to the HS2 Chief Executive, the HS2 project will “create a sustainable pipeline of jobs and skills for companies across the whole country, which will boost regional economies and help Britain compete internationally.” In total, some 30,000 jobs will be created in construction and engineering while the HS2 project continues to move forward towards completion. Currently, there have been more than 7,000 new roles created to ensure that the early stages of the project are under way. The target of 30,000 jobs in total is set to be reached by 2020. So, the HS2 project is a substantial force in construction and engineering that has created a wide selection of new roles and opportunities for a variety of different professionals across the industry.

It has also been carefully planned so as to spread the recruitment and business benefits around the country. The supply chains that have been set up to support the successful completion of the project are not limited to London. Instead, the focus has been on ensuring that the employment opportunities arising from HS2 are spread around the country, from London to The Midlands and beyond. There has been particular emphasis on ensuring that the advantages to the local business market have been felt in the areas where the HS2 will be passing through, especially those parts of the country that are likely to feel some disruption as a result.

Although HS2 is still in its relatively early stages there are already many construction and engineering sector businesses that are visibly benefitting from the project in terms of jobs and opportunities. For example, contractor Balfour Beatty VINCI has already started to recruit staff for its role in the project, including quantity surveyors and project managers. Working with the HS2 project has enabled Balfour Beatty VINCI to create new roles and to provide a boost to the construction sector at a time when it is particularly necessary.

Jobs and opportunities, now and in the future, are also being given more security thanks to the HS2 network. The National College for High Speed Rail at Eastside welcomed the first group of apprentices on the HS2 apprenticeship scheme last year. This, in addition to the graduate scheme that has been established by the HS2 project, will provide opportunities for those who have been inspired by the project and the potential that it has to support a long and fruitful career in engineering and construction.

There is no doubt that HS2 has plenty of detractors. However, the iconic transport project also has a lot to contribute, both to the experience of commuters and to the way that the British railway network is viewed by the world. It may also have a pivotal role to play in supporting engineering and construction jobs and businesses and helping to bring new talent into the industry at what is a critical time.

At RG Group we’re always interested in projects that could positively benefit the construction sector, such as the hugely ambitious HS2 railway network.

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