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04.04.18

Grayling ‘knew vital bi-mode tech didn’t exist’ when he scrapped electrification schemes

A damning report into the cancellation of three rail electrification projects has been labelled “deeply frustrating” by the Commons Transport Committee.

The report, by the National Audit Office (NAO), details an investigation into why and how the government cancelled the Midland Main Line north of Kettering and the Oxenholme to Windermere electrification projects, as well as the Cardiff to Swansea Scheme.

In July 2017 the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, announced the cancellation of the three electrification projects, explaining that it is not necessary to electrify every line in order to deliver passenger benefits.

Grayling argued that passenger journeys on the Great Western Main Line in South Wales, the Midland Main Line and the Lakes Line between Windermere and Oxenholme could be improved sooner than expected by using “state-of-the-art trains,” or bi-mode trains which could transfer from diesel to electric power seamlessly.

The NAO’s investigation found that it is too early to determine whether the department will still be able to deliver the benefits of electrification without these electrification projects in place.

It also discovered that when Grayling made the decision to cancel electrification north of Kettering in March 2017, the DfT had advised that bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist. And when he made his announcement in July, it was still uncertain whether existing bi-modes could be modified to achieve these requirements.

The NAO argued that although the availability of alternative means of delivering passenger benefits was important, the major reason for the cancellation was affordability. Network Rail could no longer deliver its 2014-19 investment programme within the available funding, and it found that the cost to complete planned works exceeded the available funding by £2.5bn.

Towards the end of 2016 the DfT and Network Rail reportedly found that plans to raise and retain £1.8bn to reduce the funding shortfall through asset sales were unachievable, and so they decided to cancel projects to help address the shortfall.

The DfT estimated that cancelling these three projects would save a maximum of £105m in CP5 and avert spending in the slowing 2019-24 period.

Chair of the Transport Committee, Lilian Greenwood, welcomed the “deeply frustrating” report.

“It is frustrating because it shows the secretary of state took the decision on the Midland Main Line in March 2017. He failed to mention it to the wider world, not just until the General Election was over, but until the last day before recess in July,” she explained.

She also said that Grayling was “less than candid” with the committee previously, and that the report confirms that the committee was right to be concerned about the decision-making process, openness and transparency that the case was presented with.

Greenwood added: “But it is especially frustrating for passengers. The report confirms that the department has not yet fully costed the environmental and future financial implications of its decision on Midland Main Line and Oxenholme to Windermere.

“I believe this should have been considered before the decision to cancel was made.”

The chairwoman argued that business cases must show that alternative viable options to achieve an outcome have been subject to the cost-benefit analysis, but that “time and time again, decisions have been made without knowing what the alternatives are.”

“Business cases built on hope are not a substitute for business cases built on a proper cost-benefit analysis and a firm grasp of economics,” she continued.

“The secretary of state promised my committee that completing electrification would 'be more expensive' than buying bi-mode trains which deliver the same passenger benefits. He said this knowing the technology does not exist.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “We are investing in the biggest modernisation of our railways since the Victorian era, spending billions of pounds across the country to deliver faster, more frequent, and more comfortable services with more seats.

“As this report makes clear, we are focused on delivering better trains and services to passengers more quickly, at better value for money for the taxpayer, without the significant disruption to services that electrification can cause.”

Top image c. David Mirzoeff/PA Wire

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