London, June 28 (IANS) Britain's National Audit Office on Tuesday put the country's biggest ever rail project under the spotlight, warning of rising costs and the project's timetable.
The ambitious $74.5 billion HS2 project, which will provide a high speed rail link between London, Birmingham and northern England, has an "unrealistic timetable" and faces major cost pressures, with a schedule that is too ambitious and could mean all its intended benefits are not delivered, Xinhua news agency reported.
In its report, the NAO said the 2026 target date for the opening of the first phase from London to Britain's biggest provincial city Birmingham was at risk, despite good progress being made.
Options for extending the opening date for phase 1 are now being considered and steps are being taken to bring cost estimates within available funding, said the NAO report.
The NAO has asked HS2 Ltd to assess the impact of extending the timetable for opening the London to Birmingham phase by up to 12 months.
The government bill to pave the way for the new rail link is scheduled to be approved and given royal assent by Queen Elizabeth towards the end of this year.
Responding to the report, HS2 Ltd, the company formed to build the link, said it was confident it could achieve its objectives.
Amyas Morse, who heads the NAO said: "HS2 is a large, complex and ambitious programme which is facing cost and time pressures. The unrealistic timetable set for HS2 Ltd by the Transport Department means they are not as ready to deliver as they hoped to be at this point. The department now needs to get the project working to a timescale that is achievable."
The NAO said phase one of HS2 was currently forecast to cost $36.5 billion, exceeding available funding by $272 million.
The estimated cost of phase 2 between Birmingham and Crewe in northern England was also over budget, the NAO said, although it added potential savings had been identified.
HS2 is intended to ease pressure on the overcrowded West Coast main line, which links London, the Midlands, northern England to Scotland.