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Electrification hit by ballooning costs and delays

Even more of Network Rail’s electrification programmes have been hit by ballooning costs and delays, with the latest reports suggesting TransPennine electrification may not be delivered until CP6.

Even the cost of the scheme remains unknown, and is not expected until spring 2015, while costs on other key schemes keep rising. Electrifying the Midland Main Line between Bedford and Sheffield could cost £1.3bn rather than £650m, it is reported, while the cost of electrifying the Great Western Main Line from London to Swansea has swollen from £1bn (itself a rise on earlier estimates) to nearly £1.7bn.

In its latest Network Rail Monitor report, the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) says there are “serious questions about Network Rail’s ability to deliver future electrification projects on time”. The first six months of CP5 have seen poor performance on enhancements, and the ORR says the evidence from North West Electrification Phase 2 in CP5 so far, which has missed key milestones, and from Cumbernauld electrification and North West Electrification Phase 1 at the end of CP4, is not good.

On costs, it says: “So far a number of individual cost estimates, particularly for electrification, have been higher than originally thought at the time of Network Rail’s Strategic Business Plan, when the projects were at a very early stage of development,” it adds.

Cost inflation has been caused by a range of factors, including incorrect assumptions about power supply points, poor ground conditions, civils and structures works being more extensive than hoped, plant productivity, reviews following safety incidents, and some specific factors like the OLE south of Bedford.

The Sunday Times quotes industry sources as saying that delays and funding pressures are likely to push the TransPennine electrification into CP6 – even though it was approved back in the 2011 Autumn Statement. Little progress seems to have been made on the scheme, beyond some preparatory civils.

A source told the paper: “It’s entirely likely that the electrification of the core TransPennine route will slip and probably by two or three years. What we’re seeing is electrification plans going backwards.”

Mark Carne, Network Rail chief executive, said electrification costs had risen as the projects had increased in scope and complexity but insisted the deadline would be met.

“This is like open-heart surgery because you are taking a very vital artery and doing work on it,” he said. “We’ve not invested in electrification for 20 years and inevitably when you start on a big process of electrification there’s a learning curve.”

This was the same language used by Saleem Mohammad, programme director for Network Rail’s National Electrification Programme, when asked earlier this year about delays to GWML electrification. He told RTM then: “Whenever you introduce a new technology, there is a learning curve, and perhaps we didn’t factor as much of that in as we should have done in our programme plans.”

He admitted then that the programme was “under pressure”, and spoke of the wider need to smooth out peaks in the Network Rail Infrastructure Projects workbank in 2016 and 2017, when demand for resources, plant and workforce seem set to outstrip supply. He said: “Everything that’s going on with Great Western electrification, because the programme is not where it needs to be, is just adding to that.”

First Great Western’s managing director Mark Hopwood made reference to the electrification delays when addressing the ‘Future of Rail’ conference last month. He said the first IEP train is “going to be put on a ship in the new year and sailed halfway around the world and docked in Southampton in March…I think that lays a very firm foundation to this project and I think it also sends a clear message to Network Rail that the trains are going to be on time – you guys need to make sure the electrification is on time as well.”

Osborne said last week that ageing Pacer trains in the north would be replaced, and that operators would be “encouraged” to submit their plans on how they would do this in the delayed Invitations to Tender for the new Northern and TransPennine franchises.

The electrification delays are disrupting future rolling stock plans, however, and there is increasing worry and rumour that new DMUs are likely to be required. RTM readers and others have even speculated that old London Underground D78 rolling stock could have to be converted for operation on northern routes. That would mean “effectively replacing one 30 year-old lash up with another”, the RMT union says.

The DfT has not yet publicly commented on the electrification problems, beyond saying: “Network Rail continues to develop, design and cost the electrification programme with both the department and Office of Rail Regulation. The transport secretary has been clear this project should be delivered within the overall Network Rail budget.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email


Terry O'donnell   17/12/2014 at 17:47

Electrification of this route seemed a strange sudden revelation considering it having the only new fleet of units in the North since the Electric 333's on the Leeds Wharfedale Lines, new units in 2006/7 being Diesel Seimens Desiro 3 car especially modified for the route (originally destined as electric procurement for elsewhere). A proclamation out of the blue, out of sequence without preparation work or earlier preliminary announcement in November 2011 following the posted by judiciary of an Employment Appeal Tribunal (Dunster vs First TranspennineExpress) whereby the documented poor trackwork of the core route was brought into question. Fears apparently settled by the TOC personal use of its procured 2006 Delta Rail Ambimon Noise and Vibration test gear (at Network Rail imposed TSR's reducing speed by 25mph to facilitate as quoted in FTPE court submissions) and the RMT union sanctioning of it as a track test. That is according to court submissions, York lay reps and Eng Director Donovan! The difficulties on the route for rough trackwork, multiple number of lengthy tunnels and the need for a continually viable alternative the use of the non electrified Lancashire- Yorkshire via Todmorden for 24/7 operation to contractually serve Manchester and its Airport makes this a very long term prospect. I worked the route as a Guard for ten years and have many current traincrew communicants who agree both in potential timescale and the current roughness of the this route needing real upgrade to maintain the necessary high volume capacity of this vital route.

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