Notice to proceed granted for HS2 construction 16 Apr 2020

Karen Martin, TunnelTalk

Approval has been granted by the UK Government to begin main construction works of the HS2 high speed rail link in the UK. Approval allows HS2 Ltd, as delivery partner for the totally publicly funded project, to enter Stage 2 of the main works civils contracts held by the preferred bidder JVs appointed in July 2017 (Table 1). Notice to proceed is formal approval for the contractors of the four main works contracts to now commence full detailed design and construction of Phase 1 of the project between Birmingham in the Midlands of England to London in the south (Fig1).

Fig 1. Phases 1, 2a and 2b of HS2 brings high speed rail to the north of England and eventually to Scotland
Fig 1. Phases 1, 2a and 2b of HS2 brings high speed rail to the north of England and eventually to Scotland

To date, the contracts between HS2 and the main works civils contractors (MWCC) for Phase 1 have focused on scheme design, site preparation and the pricing and scoping of construction works. Notice to proceed marks the point in the MWCC contracts where the work transitions from scheme design and preparatory work, to full detailed design and main project construction.

The MWCC JVs will start work immediately, progressing detailed design, site preparation works and placing necessary supply chain subcontracts. An estimated 400,000 supply chain contract opportunities will be created for UK businesses during Phase 1 of HS2, supporting thousands of jobs. An estimated 95% of those contract opportunities are expected to be won by UK based businesses with about two thirds applicable for appointment of small and medium sized businesses. HS2 currently supports about 9,000 jobs and during its 20-year construction it will create more than 30,000 engineering and construction jobs, including 2,000 apprentices, directly on sites and through the supply chain.

Of the 225km Phase 1 double-track route, 41km is underground in twin tube tunnels and more in cut-and-cover tunnels or in deep cuttings. Almost 90% of the S1 and S2 packages for the SKS JV £3.3 billion design-build project, from Euston Station to the outskirts of London, is underground in 21km of twin tube TBM bored tunnels. This is as much as the 21km of twin tube tunnelling under the centre of London for Crossrail. The Align JV contract includes the 16km twin tunnel beneath the Chilterns, and another 3.2km of twin bored tunnelling on the approach to Birmingham city centre for the BBV JV.

Table 1. HS2 Phase 1 MWCC contracts, values and appointed JVs*
S1 and S2: Euston Tunnels and Approaches; Northolt Tunnels
Contractor: SCS Railways - Skanska UK, Costain, Strabag AG
£3.3 billion
C1: Chiltern Tunnels and Colne Valley Viaduct
Contractor: Align JV - Bouygues, Sir Robert McAlpine, VolkerFitzpatrick
£1.6 billion
C2 and C3: North Portal Chiltern Tunnels to Brackley;
Brackley to South Portal of Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel
Contractor: EKFB JV – Eiffage Genie SA, Kier Infrastructure, BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman
£2.3 billion
N1 and N2: Long Itchington Wood Green Tunnel to Delta Junction and Birmingham Spur; Delta Junction to West Coast Main Line Tie-In
Contractor: BBV JV - Balfour Beatty, Vinci
£4.8 billion

* Stations, rolling stock, systems and other non-civils contracts are not included as part of the MWCC awards; * Contract values are point estimates excluding risk

Award of the main civils contracts in 2017 was for Stage 1 of the project procurement. There was the possibility of main contracts for appointed JVs ending at the end of Stage 1, but HS2 has continued with the Stage 1 JVs into Stage 2 for detailed design and construction with significant changes in only one of the JVs. Following the collapse of UK contractor Carillion in 2018, Bam Nuttall and Ferrovial Agroman have joined Eiffage and Kier in the EKFB JV for contracts C2 and C3.

“HS2 has been in development and design for more than ten years,” said HS2 CEO Mark Thurston, “and the announcement today represents an immediate boost to the construction industry in these current difficult times. “While defeating Covid-19 is rightly the focus of the country, the issuing of the notice to proceed ensures confidence for our contractors to commit to building HS2, generating thousands of skilled jobs across the country as we recover from the pandemic.”

Approval to continue with the taxpayer-funded project was confirmed by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson in February (2020) after consideration of its independent review of the project in light of escalating costs and construction period forecasts. The Government confirmed go-ahead of the project alongside reform to improve governance at HS2 Ltd to ensure the project is delivered better and more efficiently. HS2 Ltd will remain in charge of Phases 1 and 2a of the new rail line between London, Birmingham and Crewe, with a new organisation wanted by the Government to take responsibility for extending the line to Manchester and Leeds under Phase 2b. The changes are in a bid to control the overall turnout budget of the project to less than £100 billion. In preparation for notice to proceed, HS2 Ltd reports that it redesigned its Phase 1 organisation structure to focus on the delivery of the main works civils contracts and construction of the railway.

Twin tube bored tunnels account for 41km of the 225km Phase 1 route
Twin tube bored tunnels account for 41km of the 225km Phase 1 route

One of the highlighted issues for teams working on moving the project from preparatory work into construction is accommodation of a number of undertakings and assurances commitments secured by organisations and individuals along the HS2 route during the three-year passage of the enabling Bill through Parliament to its Royal Assent and passing of the HS2 Act in April 2017. These commitments disrupted earlier feasibility design assumptions on which early cost estimates were based and opened the project to extra costs. As well as securing extended lengths of the route in underground and deep cuttings, undertakings and assurances altered location of construction sites and supply and haulage routes, the resiting and rerouting of which have added to time and planning costs. Undertakings and assurances are written into the HS2 Act and any changes would require another Act of Parliament. HS2 Ltd and its construction JVs must therefore comply with the commitments.

As the project develops, HS2 contractors are reviewing continuously their ability to work within Public Health England guidelines to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of the workforce and of the communities in which construction is to progress. Protection of natural environments as well as against noise and disruption, both during construction and long term for the operation of the new railway, are costly items in the estimated project budget.

According to the UK Government Department for Transport and HS2 Ltd, the estimated cost of Phase 1 is in the range of £35-45 billion and partial start of passenger services on the Phase 1 between Old Oak Common and Birmingham Curzon Street are due to begin between 2029 and 2033 with full Phase 1 services into the London terminus at Euston forecast to start between 2031 and 2036.


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