HS2 opens £100m 20-year IT procurement hours before Sunak curtails project

Public body responsible for delivering major rail project issues tender for technology work – with plan that includes built-in mechanism to either include Manchester line or limit development to Birmingham branch

The public body overseeing the rollout of HS2 opened bidding for a contract to deliver a key £100m software system – just hours before the prime minister announced that a large part of the planned rail project is being scrapped.

Construction is already underway on the programme’s first phase, which will implement a new high-speed rail line from London to the West Midlands.

The plan for the phases 2a and 2b was to extend the line further north to Crewe and Manchester, respectively.

Speculation has grown in recent days that ministers were set to cancel these second two phases. This was confirmed yesterday by prime minister Rishi Sunak during his speech at the Conservative party conference.

Just hours beforehand – around 2.45pm on Tuesday – HS2 Ltd, an arm’s-length body of the Department for Transport,  published a contract notice for the supply of the technology to underpin a “train dispatch system” (TDS) to be rolled out at each HS2 station.

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The system will represent a “novel combination of platform CCTV and safety software with a bespoke user interface”, according to the notice. This will be comprised of “a network of cameras linked to central control rooms that will monitor the 400-metre long platforms to ensure that passengers have safely entered the trains before the signal is given to close the doors and leave the station”.

The procurement process is seeking to identify and appoint tech firms to two separate contracts lasting for up to 20 years, and respectively dedicated to the development and support of the TDS.

The notice sets out potential total spending during this time of £84m plus VAT – the addition of which would take the value of the deal to a little over £100m. However, this figure is based on delivering the dispatch system across the entirety of the originally planned line – all the way to Manchester.

However, the notice specifies that work on deploying the technology at locations north of Birmingham will be “subject to the issue by HS2 Ltd of notices to proceed” and, if the winning bidder is only required to complete work at the stations covered by the first stage of the project, spending via the contracts will be about £70m.

This figure may increase somewhat if HS2 decides to press on with an optional provision for the development of a “gap monitoring” system to be implemented on train platforms, the document adds.

Once suppliers have been picked, the two deals will be come into effect “simultaneously”, according to HS2.

The first of these is a “a design and build contract for the design, software development, prototyping, factory testing, integration testing, installation, static and dynamic testing and commissioning of the TDS”.

The second is “a technical support contract to undertake technical support, install system upgrades, and undertake asset inspection or maintenance of each section after completion” as part of the first deal.

Bidding for the deals is open until 14 November, with contracts scheduled to come into effect in March next year.

“HS2 Ltd reserves the right to omit and/or vary the scope of the contracts,” the notice adds.

Sam Trendall

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