Jacobs chief calls for better-informed HS2 decisions

The chief executive of Jacobs, which is playing a key part in the construction of HS2, has suggested that political decisions about the future of the high-speed rail project should be better informed by data and analysis.

Bob Pragada told the Telegraph that while he was “not close enough to the inner workings of Parliament, and how those decisions are made”, it appeared that “the use of data in order to optimise sometimes is happening after the decision, or the debate, the political debate”.

His comments follow the government’s recent announcement that multiple sections of HS2 will be delayed, and the finding that the estimated cost of the planned HS2 station at Euston has almost doubled to £4.8bn.

Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), also told the Telegraph that reviewing data was “vital” for infrastructure projects but said there was now a need to “get on and deliver” HS2.

Pragada said that “right now the debate is around [the fact that] these are expensive programmes, and they will have an impact on the UK balance sheet.

“How do we optimise that? I think what HS2 and others are doing in order to say: ‘Okay, how do we start to optimise that finite amount of capital in order to get more.’”

He suggested that the optimisation process should begin earlier, commenting: “What if we were to turn it [around] and get some analysis that can drive the decision-making process? The sizing of that line, the distance of that line, the mechanics of where the stations go, and the frequency of the use and all those types of things – data can really help with that.”

In response to Pragada’s comments, Armitt said: “Reviewing the latest data on transport trends is vital during the development stage of the project, and can help guide decisions about later enhancements. But you can’t avoid hard decision points at which stage you commit to core elements of a project, to give certainty to contractors, investors and communities affected by schemes.

“We’ve reached that point with the phases of HS2 from central London to Manchester, and we now just need to get on and deliver it.”

Last month, the NIC said the government was “not delivering fast enough” on its infrastructure goals.

A spokesperson for Jacobs said: “Our continued collective priority and focus at Jacobs is maintaining positive momentum for the HS2 project.”

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “HS2 continues to represent a crucial investment into our national infrastructure, levelling up communities right across our country, providing a net-zero alternative to car travel and domestic flights, increasing capacity on our rail network and training a skilled workforce for the UK’s future construction industry.”

HS2 Ltd declined to comment.

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