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Great Western electrification ‘under review’ as costs soar – Labour

Great Western Main Line electrification is failing with its “budget blown” and is “under review”, the Labour party has claimed. 

Network Rail admits that "costs have risen", but says the project still represents excellent value for money. Reports last month suggested that chief executive Mark Carne had told the DfT that costs had swollen to £1.5bn, far beyond the original £600m estimate, the £874m predicted in the Strategic Business Plan, or the more recent £1bn estimate. 

During the opposition’s Annual Conference in Manchester this week, shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh said in a speech: “Rail electrification. The government’s flagship project: budget blown and under review. That means delays to the whole project, and more misery for commuters in Reading, Swindon, Exeter and Plymouth.” 

The Sunday Times was told last month: “We’re getting to the point where if there’s not enough money, something’s got to give.” 

Network Rail says electrification will transform the railway between London and Cardiff to deliver a faster, greener, quieter and more reliable railway for passengers, with extra capacity. 

In response to Creagh’s allegation RTM was told by Network Rail that the project will still go ahead. A spokesperson said: “Though costs on the Great Western Electrification Programme have risen since original estimates were made, it still represents excellent value for money in terms of improved service and reliability. We’re in discussions with the DfT and have agreed revised costings, with construction well underway and significant progress made; all of which has been assessed as efficient by the Office of Rail Regulation.

“Savings have been identified and will be realised through efficiencies of scale and the innovative systems we have developed during the programme.”

Originally, Network Rail said that the electrification work between London and Bristol, including Newbury and Oxford, will be completed by 2016, with the route to Cardiff electrified by 2017. 

It also believes its pioneering high output equipment, which can electrify around 1.5km of railway per night, will allow Network Rail to keep the railway open during large parts of the construction work. 

For the Great Western Main Line electrification, the High-Output Plant System (HOPS) ‘factory train’ is based near Swindon, moving to worksites under its own power at up to 95 km/h, and around 200 people, employed by Amey, will work on the HOPS project overall. 

In interviews with RTM during the summer, Network Rail Infrastructure Projects’ programme director for the National Electrification Programme, Saleem Mohammad, and Western & Wales regional director Robbie Burns, admitted that the productivity of the HOPS train was not yet where it needs to be. 

Mohammad said: “The equipment is new to us and it’s got to go through its teething, like any new equipment. 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." 

Burns said: “We have invested in a HOPS which is designed to operate ALO. As a result of that, we have managed to reduce the amount of Schedule 4 payments that we predicted that we would need to make to train operating companies, because we can keep a timetabled service on the network. That is really important for us. You couldn’t really build the overhead line system on the Western using traditional equipment without taking longer than we have. It is essential to keep it on schedule. 

“I would say we are in 'pre-production', and with any system you bring into service, in pre-production you have lots of teething problems and lots of challenges. And it is unfair to think that we were going to unpack this out of a box and suddenly it is going to be delivering 24 piles every night: that is ludicrous.” 

Mohammad and Burns also both admitted that getting standards and designs locked down was taking time. 

Burns told RTM: “The design team is working furiously to produce detailed designs, particularly on bridges and stations, and some of those designs are dependent on rationalising the differences between our current standards and European interoperability [standards]. Therefore we have not been able to develop our designs as quickly as we would have hoped. Without the designs you can’t stick piles in the ground. 

“That has been a constraint – but things are getting much better.” 

The DfT had no comment at the time of publication. 

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


Nonsuchmike   26/09/2014 at 17:25

You mean to say, Mr Burns et alii, that when a firm tenders for this or any other job and says it can deliver something - it knows, even whilst it is tendering, that it cannot deliver that level of competence or standard of workmanship promised? Wow! I wonder what would happen to Amey's share price if the work was taken away from them completely and given to some other firm that can actually deliver on its promises from the get-go? This is one giant stride for privatisation; unfortunately, it is in the wrong direction to forward.

Henry Law   10/10/2014 at 14:56

Perhaps they should use a 750V DC conductor rail system instead? It would save an awful lot of work to provide all those extra clearances. And perhaps the Southern did not get it so wrong after all. (reflections on being stuck for four hours in a forest in Sweden after the wires came down, and luckily it was a warm summer evening)

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