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DfT faces criticism for ‘devastating effects’ of GWML deferrals

DfT leaders have faced criticism from the Public Accounts Committee on the delays facing electrification on the Great Western Main Line, particularly the indefinite deferral of electrification of the two sections of the track between Bath Spa, Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads.

In an evidence hearing at the Commons yesterday, Karin Smyth, MP for Bristol South, asked whether leaders had no sight of the “devastating effects” that the deferral of the project will have on the local economy, referring to the West of England LEP’s comments that they were “surprised and dismayed” at the decision.

Phillip Rutnam, permanent secretary at the DfT, said that the deferral of electrification does not mean cancellation and will have no material impact on passenger experience or the economies of Bristol and Bath.

“[Deferring the electrification of those two sections of track] is not an impact that I think will be perceptible in Bristol [but] there will be marginally higher emissions from the trains,” Rutnam said in response to Smyth’s questioning.

“In this case we will be delivering all the benefits and the [temporary] effect of the deferral is marginally higher costs and marginally higher emissions.”

Rutnam offered his assurances that the DfT intends to continue with electrification on the two sections of the track due to the expected long-term benefits of four trains an hour, reduced journey times of 17 minutes, reduced operating costs, reduced pollution and reduced wear of the track.

However, when asked by Smyth when the committee should expect electrification would finally take place on those sections of the line, the permanent secretary was unable to give an exact timeframe for when this would be or even when to expect the renewal of the project to be considered.

Rutnam said that electrification would not be possible “until we have done a great deal more work on planning Network Rail’s investment programme”.

“It is unwise to prematurely give dates for when projects will be completed until the planning has been done,” he added.

Smyth asked Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne how much money the infrastructure owner had spent preparing for electrification for work that has now been deferred. Carne informed Smyth that he would come back to the committee with the figure.

When asked whether leaders will be assessing the case for electrifying the whole Great Western Railway line between London and Swansea, Brian Etheridge, director of network services in the DfT’s rail group, said that the government would need to refresh the business case which was last looked at in 2015, as had been recommended.

 “This remains quite a complex business case but we will do a full business review by early next year and that should be finished by March,” Etheridge said.

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Derek Monnery   15/12/2016 at 19:49

Unfortunately Philip Rutnam is deluded. The diesel power packs for the new trains were designed more for hotel power rather than driving heavily loaded trains up the Wiltshire Downs. Expect lots of failures and lots of very angry Bristolians. Expect Tories will lose all Bristol seats in 2020.

Chris   15/12/2016 at 23:33

Err, no Derek. The 'power packs' were always intended to provide traction power for the bi-mode trainsets, how else were the trains to reach Worcester, Gloucester, Aberdeen, Inverness etc? However the electric-only trainsets will have a single power pack, to provide both emergency hotel and limited traction power.

Andrew Gwilt   16/12/2016 at 01:56

Not only that but also the electrification to Hull has also been stopped and First Hull Trains will instead order new Class 802 Bi-Mode trains and to cascade the Class 180's to Grand Central along with GWR also cascading the Class 180's to Grand Central as they are also ordering new Class 800 and Class 801 IEP's. Electrification is costly and that's why parts of the GWML are to be electrified including the Thames Valley area.

Tothehills   16/12/2016 at 09:31

My bigger concern is how this all impacts the "Bristol Metro", originally the Bristolians were to receive the DMU's current in use in London but a numer of these will now need to be retained for the branch services off the GWML. The same applies for other areas were the DMUs were to be cascaded. All I can see is that the DfT through their meddling and poor project management skills have, again, massively increased the cost of this project.

Huguenot   16/12/2016 at 13:03

Yes, the DfT must shoulder much of the blame for getting too involved in the detail (including in specifying the Class 800s), but Network Rail must also bear responsibility for over-engineering the OHLE and being far too cautious about 25kV clearances and bridge parapet heights.

Kev   16/12/2016 at 13:56

what would isambard have said about this farce on his railway...the man is cursing this joke i suspect...

Henry Law   16/12/2016 at 14:01

In 1985 I and a colleague wrote a piece published in the Railway Magazine, half tongue-in-cheek, suggesting that the GW routes should be electrified on the third rail system. With the benefit of hindsight the idea was not so dumb, and amongst other things would have reduced or eliminated the fatalities in the 1997 Southall accident. The GW route is linked in to LUL routes at Paddington and potentially at Ealing Broadway, and to Southern routes at Reading. Crossrail could then have been done less expensively on the third rail system as it would not have been necessary to provide the larger tunnels required for the 25kV clearances.

Richard Putley   16/12/2016 at 14:14

Dream on Henry Law! Third rail electrification would be far too expensive! That's why they're talking of converting parts of the Southern to AC, just as they did with the North London in the 1990s. As for Brunel, well he had his share of failures. Atmospheric propulsion for one - which is why the GWR considered electrifying the West of England line in the 1920s.

Steveb   16/12/2016 at 16:12

Just how much more expensive would third-rail electrification be on the North Downs line than if AC were to be considered? There are plenty of bridges that would need to be raised on the route. Far simpler to have third-rail throughout between Reading and Gatwick, to free up a few more Thames Turbos to work around Bristol, and perhaps to give the Wessex Electrics a new lease of life.

John Grant   16/12/2016 at 16:57

@Hugenot: "over-engineering the OHLE" might not be a bad thing given the problems on lines in East Anglia that were electrified on the cheap.

Jimbo   16/12/2016 at 18:46

One of the reasons for the new design of OHLE used on the GWML was to try and reduce the number of failures seen in other areas, such as the ECML & GEML. Unfortunately, this now makes it uneconomic to implement, so some middle ground is needed. As for third-rail, NR have said that there will not be any more third-rail projects due to (perceived) safety issues with the solution, which is ironic as part of the increased costs of the GWML project are due to increasing safety margins because of the perceived safety issues with OHLE. In terms of cost third-rail isn't too disimilar to OHLE, or at least it was before the GWML introduced a new standard cost for OHLE. Anyway, the "magic" bi-mode trains mean that full electrification is no longer needed. It is going to be interesting to see how good they actually are.

Lutz   16/12/2016 at 22:45

Extraordinary language from the PAC; you would hope that the would be objective in their assessments rather than hook-up to the fashionable band-wagon of adolescent tantrums in place of fact-based structured arguments. As to the deferred schemes, you have to wonder if they are any longer fund-able. Clearly the costs are higher than expected, and even if some of the work has already been completed, the procurement of an all dual-power source fleet undermines the BCR of the schemes. There is a good chance that the GWML electrification project has killed off big-ticket electrification projects for perhaps a generation.

Henry Law   18/12/2016 at 06:11

@Richard Putley - do you have a figure for what 750V DC would have cost for electrification of the same routes currently planned for the GW electrification programme?

Crimbo   19/12/2016 at 16:29

do people believe that it is NR who have been too cautious about electrification clearance......its ORR who have been racking up the need to spend and to take longer

Roger Capel, Sheffield & Glossop   21/12/2016 at 10:08

So now we have the intriguing possibility of Welsh Valleys wiring, done not under DfT but under the Welsh Devolved Assembly, kicking off, rather as the Glasgow Blue Trains did, in splendid isolation & waiting for the main line to play catch-up. Hopefully the WDA will set up a stand-alone organisation to carry out the scheme in a totally different manner to GWML wiring. But then, at least the gap will be a lot shorter than Weaver - Motherwell was!

Nigel S   30/12/2016 at 20:03

Network Rail has one good leader Peter Hendy and one overpaid incompetent dougnut Mark Carne! Fiasco after fiasco with anything rail related he gets involved with. Why do we keep people like this in key posiyions and when they fail give them massive pay rises? Give Peter Hendy total responsability for Network Rail and he will fight his corner and deliver.

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