UK's Hunt backs high-speed rail link to central London despite soaring costs
By Sarah Young
LONDON (Reuters) -British finance minister Jeremy Hunt promised that the country's new high-speed rail line HS2 would connect to central London as originally planned, dismissing a report that it would end on the outskirts of the capital to save money.
"I don't see any conceivable circumstance in which that would not end up at Euston," Hunt said on Friday after he delivered a speech laying out his plans for growth.
The Sun newspaper reported earlier that the government was considering stopping the flagship rail connection in west London, instead of Euston in central London, due to surging inflation.
"We are absolutely committed to showing that we can deliver big, important infrastructure projects," Hunt said.
Hunt's backing for Euston does not rule out the newspaper's suggestion that the government was also considering delaying the whole project or pushing back the time line for the 7 kilometre tunnel connecting west London to Euston.
Asked about the report in the Sun before Hunt spoke, the government's Department for Transport had said: "The government remains committed to delivering HS2 to Manchester."
HS2, which will connect London to Manchester in northern England, was expected to cost between 72 billion pounds ($89 billion) and 98 billion pounds at 2019 prices, but since then inflation has soared, with price rises in the construction industry standing at around 18%.
The 2019 budget was already a big jump from the 2015 estimate of 56 billion pounds.
The government has already scrapped a link to the northern city of Leeds due to the spiralling costs of the project which is scheduled for final completion from 2035-2040.
A trade association representing companies working on rail projects in Britain, High Speed Rail Group, said not linking to Euston would damage the whole point of HS2, because it would reduce capacity given the lack of platforms in west London.
Britain was the birthplace of rail travel and has an extensive network dating back to the nineteenth century.
But in the twenty-first century, it has fallen behind European peers like Spain and France which have thousands of kilometres of high speed infrastructure.
In northern England, in particular, the rail network is struggling, hit by a lack of investment and poor management.
The poor state of the transport network is the number one complaint among mayors representing cities in the north of England. On Wednesday they issued a joint statement saying they could no longer accept the current system.
Construction of the first part of HS2, from west London to Birmingham, is already underway. Building the second part from Birmingham to Manchester is slated to begin in 2024.
($1 = 0.8085 pounds)
(Reporting by Sarah Young, additional reporting by Andy Bruce; Editing by Kate Holton and Christina Fincher)