East West Rail to miss GRIP 3 milestones, pushed back nine months
Plans by Network Rail to ‘reprofile’ the GRIP 3 milestones for the East West Rail project from November 2015 to August 2016 have been approved by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
However, the regulator added that as the original date was set in 2013 the infrastructure owner “must log the status of the existing milestone as ‘missed’”.
The original date was based on the assumption that a study completed for the East West Rail consortium in 2008-09 had effectively achieved most of the GRIP 1-3 development.
But since taking over the work, Network Rail considers that the original study did not include development of the additional scope to meet the ‘core’ and ‘incremental’ train service specifications.
“You also consider that the original study has several omissions, such as ground investigation and surveys, which have led to more time needed to complete GRIP 3,” said Graham Richards, deputy director, railway planning and performance at ORR, in a letter to Network Rail.
“You have received support from operators for this change, although we note Chiltern’s concern that this delay puts additional pressure on the timescales for delivery of East West Rail Phase 2.”
Last week, Network Rail said it had identified two potential corridors for the proposed ‘Central Section’ of the East West Rail to link Bedford and Cambridge – via Hitchin or Sandy – for further consideration.
This follows earlier work by the East West Rail Consortium that showed that improved rail services in the Eastern region could deliver significant economic benefits, sufficient to justify further investment.
Network Rail’s study appraised seven corridors, each offering different benefits. A preferred route will now be chosen and developed for the Central Section for consideration for inclusion in the Initial Industry Plan (due for publication in September 2016) as a choice for investment in the rail industry’s future control periods.
Cllr Ian Bates, of Cambridgeshire County Council and chair of the East West Rail Consortium’s Central Section Board, said: “In order to secure investment for the Central Section, we need a robust business case that is aligned to local and regional growth plans as well as the strategic rail network.
“This important work is providing valuable evidence that will support our long-held ambition to reinstate east west train services that will benefit individuals, communities and businesses all the way from East Anglia through Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and beyond.”
However, Gavin Shuker, the MP for Luton South was quoted by the Bedfordshire on Sunday as being “disappointed” that neither of the two corridors chosen by Network Rail for further study include trains stopping at Luton.
“The Luton – Stevenage – Hitchin to Cambridge route would join together major towns in the region and would help boost economic development,” he said.
“I hope that the East-West consortium might reconsider its shortlist and put Luton back in the running for this important rail project.”
However, Peter Wakefield, chairman of Railfuture East Anglia, said the group had been campaigning for East-West Rail for 25 years and was ‘very pleased’ with the latest announcement.
Following the transport secretary’s decision to ‘pause’ the TransPennine and Midland Mainline electrification schemes, Network Rail and the local authorities within the East West Rail Consortium stated that they are continuing to work to deliver the core East West Rail (Western Section) scheme and electrification as planned.
The upgrade of the Oxford to Bicester line, which marks the first phase of works on the western section of the East West Rail scheme, is due to be complete this autumn.
Phase 2 of the Western Section covers the route from Bicester Town to Bedford and Milton Keynes to Aylesbury Vale and Princes Risborough. This is due for completion by March 2019.