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29.06.18

Electrification schemes must be put back in the pipeline after ‘less than candid’ DfT approach

The electrification schemes cancelled by transport secretary Chris Grayling last year should be recategorised as pending and placed in the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) for further development and design work in order to find ways to reduce their costs, MPs have said.

In a new report, the Transport Select Committee expressed disappointment that Grayling didn’t “engage more openly with our scrutiny of his decision” to scrap the schemes, instead taking a “less than candid approach” to the electrification debate and timing of the cancellation announcement.

“The government should have been more honest with Parliament and the public about the real reason for the decision,” Lilian Greenwood, chair of the committee, said. “An announcement made by Written Statement on the last day before summer recess offered limited opportunity for debate and scrutiny.”

MPs acknowledged that the cancelled schemes – which will affect routes in the Midlands, South Wales and the Lake District – fell victim to the “well-documented problems” of CP5, which resulted in a stark lack of money available to fund planned projects.

But they blasted Grayling’s decision to focus entirely on the passenger benefits of investing in bi-modes when he chose to scrap electrification schemes, which “seemed to ignore the environmental costs,” the committee noted.

And despite being motivated by a lack of money, the ultimate benefits of the bi-mode approach itself were uncertain: the DfT was even advised in March last year that trains with the required speed and acceleration to deliver the timetable of the route north of Kettering didn’t exist.

The committee therefore urged the government to do more to support the development, testing and ultimately deployment of new technologies on the network.

With regards to funding specifically, MPs welcomed changes the DfT made to the funding and processes for CP6, which “should advert the problems encountered in CP5.” But they argued that more must be done to ensure the department and Network Rail can restore their damaged reputations and instil greater confidence in the industry to invest in workforce, skills and innovations.

For example, a mechanism designed to smooth out the renewals spending profile – one of the major sticking points in this control period – must be adopted, as well as streamlined processes for market-led proposals. The government should also provide full transparency of projects in the RNEP and greater clarity about schemes available for third-party funding.

Network Rail has already kick-started its journey towards greater supplier transparency by seeking to break down the barriers between itself and external organisations so that the latter can more easily invest in and build on the railway.

As part of its response to the Hansford Review, the infrastructure owner will produce a national framework to help drive a consistent and transparent approach for third-party investment, and will also be hiring eight devolved leaders to make sure industry standards can be improved to so that investment routes are slicker and less bureaucratic.

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