HS2 suppliers call on the government to tap the potential of high speed rail as a major new export market

 
Rebecca Smith
How the HS2 trains should look when completed
How the HS2 trains should look when completed (Source: HS2)

Companies involved in the building of Britain's High Speed 2 (HS2) railway want the government to create a new body to tap into the potential of high speed rail as a major export market.

The firms could then pool their expertise and pitch for contracts to work on other high speed lines abroad.

Suppliers working on the major rail project, including Bechtel, Atkins, Hitachi and CH2M, have called on the UK government to create an export body to market the UK's expertise in rail and construction.

Read more: HS2 launches designer hunt for London's new train station

In a response to the industrial strategy consultation, High Speed Rail Industry Leaders (HSRIL), the trade body of suppliers to HS2, has recommended creating a body called HS2 International bringing together "HSR delivery businesses and the government-owned client body HS2 Ltd to create a public-private partnership to market the UK skill base and experience abroad".

The firms say this will offer "a whole exportable package to potential customers", and a key focus of the industrial strategy should address how to take advantages of the opportunities provided by the £55.7bn project that is HS2.

"We need to begin to view the UK's expertise in rail and construction, and in particular in high speed rail, as a potential export sector," the businesses said.

Read more: HS2 boss and Chris Grayling to face MPs as another contract is scrapped

HSRIL also emphasised the importance of common standards in a post-Brexit world, as "vital" to opening export markets and a key enabler of productivity.

The firms said UK suppliers should continue to contribute to the development of European and international standards. They warned that if standards diverge in the future, "non-tariff barriers will be created and manufacturers will have the unwanted cost of operating in different jurisdictions".

The news comes after the government was forced to deny the construction of HS2 will be delayed due to ongoing controversy over procurement.

Last month, engineering firm CH2M withdrew its interest from a £170m contract to design the second phase of the project, citing "protracted delays and ongoing speculation", after losing bidder Mace queried the award over concerns of potential conflicts of interest.

This prompted Lord Berkeley to query what the likely time delay and cost would be for CH2M's withdrawal.

Parliamentary under secretary of state for transport, Lord Ahmad said in response: "The secretary of state for transport still expects to make a decision later this year on phase 2b of HS2."

He added: "HS2 Ltd does not expect any material time or cost delay, following the CH2M decision."

HS2 has opted not to rerun the tendering process, instead offering the contract to the original second-placed bidder Bechtel, but Mace has called for the whole tender to be rerun.

A Mace spokesperson said: "It is quite remarkable that HS2 thinks they can simply brush this debacle under the carpet, when there is such a long list of questions to be answered from us, the public and parliament.

"When we finally receive the answers to our very straightforward questions, we will be ready to decide on our next steps with our legal team. We do not rule anything out."

Read more: Mace calls HS2 tendering process "seriously flawed" as legal threat looms

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