Britain’s new high-speed rail project, HS2 is on track to provide a swift and low-carbon alternative mode of transport from London to the Midlands and the North of England.
Across Europe, a number of public and private infrastructure projects are pushing the construction industry to take carbon emissions and sustainability more seriously. In many ways, the UK’s latest mega project – the creation of a £56bn high-speed railway connecting eight English cities – is the most ambitious yet. Called High Speed 2 (HS2), it will be the second high-speed rail line in Britain after HS1, which connects London to the Channel Tunnel.
High Speed 2 Ltd is the organization responsible for developing and promoting the new railway. The line has a “Y” shaped route and will be built in two phases. Phase 1 consists of a 225 km (140 mi) line connecting London to Birmingham and is scheduled to open in 2026. Preparatory works are already underway, and main construction works are expected to start in 2019. Phase 2 is split into sub-phases: Phase 2a provides a connection between the West Midlands and Crewe by 2027. Phase 2b links to Manchester and Leeds and is set to be operational by 2033.
HS2 trains would run at speeds of up to 250mph (400 kph) as often as 14 times per hour in each direction with as many as 1,100 seats per train, each 400m long (1,300ft). Besides shorter journey times, the primary purpose for HS2 is to provide additional capacity on the rail network from London to the Midlands and North England. With the capability to carry more than 300,000 people a day, the new rail line will free up thousands of seats on existing over-crowded trains, creating extra local services. Additional benefits will come from displacing passenger and freight journeys from road and air onto rail, so HS2 also offers a low-carbon alternative mode of transport.
But HS2 is more than a railway. This mega project has adopted the moniker, ‘Engine for Growth’ for its promise to bring prosperity to northern England. Construction of the full route to the Northwest and Yorkshire will create up to 25,000 jobs and 2,000 apprenticeships. Another 3,000 people will operate HS2, and it is estimated that growth around new stations will create another 100,000 jobs.

The scale of construction for Phase 1 alone is staggering: 128 million tonnes of excavated material, 90% of which will be reused; 46km of tunnels; 145 over bridge structures and 152 under bridge structures. The Volvo Group is readying itself to respond to the challenge. Such an undertaking will demand tough and highly-productive machines and versatile on-highway and off-highway trucks to transport material.
The Volvo Construction Equipment dealer in Great Britain, SMT GB is making preparations to support the contractors who will build HS2. This includes a strong network of support centers and expanding its pool of trained technicians and apprentices. “We have been working hard to understand the unique challenges HS2 brings to the supply chain,” says Martyn Brawn, infrastructure projects manager at SMT GB. “It’s not just about productivity and efficiency. Safety and wellbeing are key areas in focus and perhaps most significantly of all, the environmental impact that building HS2 will have along the route and surrounding areas.”
As the largest infrastructure project in Europe, HS2 Ltd places climate change as a central focus of its strategy. The organization has set the objective to minimize its carbon footprint. The project has sustainability at the heart of its design and implementation. It is one of the first projects to integrate climate change into HS2 Ltd’s environmental assessment, as explained by Mark Fenton, climate change specialist (carbon) at HS2 Ltd during the Construction Climate Challenge (CCC) seminar at the Bauma 2016 event in Germany.
HS2 Ltd is using four ‘key enablers’ that provide the imperative for the supply chain to deliver lower carbon solutions. The first enabler is leadership and governance, with carbon considerations integrated into all decision-making processes. HS2 Ltd aims to provide the kind of leadership and direction to inspire the supply chain to collaborate and deliver lower carbon solutions to minimize the carbon footprint.
Awareness of carbon emissions will be raised through the culture and communications of the project both internally and externally. HS2 Ltd has been publically reporting its performance and will continue throughout the duration of the project.
The third enabler is innovation, a key driver for carbon reduction. The organization is ensuring that it provides the mechanisms that allow the supply chain to respond and challenge standards that might create barriers for delivering lower carbon innovative solutions. The carbon credentials and a demonstrable collaborative approach to dealing with carbon are considered prerequisites for suppliers.
Procurement is the fourth enabler, with the project’s policy requiring suppliers to exhibit carbon reduction in their activities, as well as meet performance targets through the development. By setting ambitious carbon targets, HS2 Ltd is creating a step-change in performance.
The Volvo Group aims to support these demands and encourage others to do the same. “All suppliers, big and small, need to respect the local environment and communities where their products operate,” says Brawn. “This not only means minimizing CO2 emissions with the most advanced machines available but also ensuring that operators are trained to the highest standards of efficiency. Innovations and new methods of working are helping to reduce the environmental impact. Alternative fuels are a good example where the supply chain can collaborate to the overall benefit of the Project and the communities affected.”

As part of the supply chain – and sponsor of the CCC – Volvo is likewise demonstrating leadership and collaborative efforts to meet HS2’s targets. The CCC is a global initiative to drive sustainability, specifically in the construction industry value chain. In the UK, this has included hosting supply chain events to promote PAS2080 (a Publicly Available Specification). This is the world’s first standard for managing infrastructure carbon, offering practical guidance for cutting costs, improving efficiency and slowing climate change.
Initiatives like the CCC are necessary for the supply chain and product manufacturers to be doing their bit as well.
HS2 and other mega projects are propelling the construction sector towards a new, decarbonized economy. By pushing global companies to develop new solutions and business models, HS2 Ltd is encouraging the industry to reach new levels of sustainability.