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GWML electrification ‘still at risk’ in new enhancement delivery plan

Network Rail has improved its performance on meeting its goals but will still face challenges, particularly in delivering the Great Western Main Line (GWML) electrification programme, the ORR has said in its annual assessment of the infrastructure owner.

Network Rail was found to be in breach of its licence last year after it struggled to deliver its enhancement projects, as exclusively reported in RTM. Sir Peter Hendy then conducted a review of Network Rail, which led to it publishing a revised Enhancements Delivery Plan (EDP) that includes deferring some projects from CP5 to CP6.

The ORR assessment says: “The delivery of Network Rail’s obligations set out in the new EDP is not without risk: there are still challenges both in terms of demanding timescales to develop route upgrades such as the TransPennine upgrade programme (to be ready for CP6 delivery) and the completion of projects that are already in detailed design or construction. It will also take time for the improvements Network Rail is putting in place to its planning and delivery of projects to take full effect.

“Nevertheless, the revised project dates are more achievable and provide a better baseline going forward, firstly as a public commitment from Network Rail to its customers and funders, and secondly as a point of reference against which to measure how effectively the company delivers projects for the benefit of fare-paying passengers, other rail users and the wider industry.

“Network Rail needs to focus on cost efficiency and effectiveness to address the challenges set out in the regulatory settlement. It needs to do this while delivering record levels of enhancement activity, high levels of renewals activity to improve long term asset sustainability and, ultimately, performance of the network. But the cost effectiveness of renewals activity is proving particularly challenging.”

It says Network Rail has made good progress in implementing the EDP, including jointly establishing a memorandum of understanding with the Department for Transport on accountability for rail investment, establishing a process to peer-review projects at set points in their lifecycle, and improving consistency and capability in its cost planning improvement plan.

GWML electrification

However, it says the electrification of the Great Western Main Line remains “at risk”. The regulator says the key measure will be whether Network Rail is able to test and commission the ‘Series 1’ overhead line system between Tilehurst and Didcot by 20 September. This will provide evidence as to whether Network Rail will be able to successfully complete electrification to Wootton Bassett by December 2017.

The ORR is not currently implementing an incentive mechanism for efficient project delivery, because the cost of the Great Western electrification programme is already substantially greater than the baseline set. But the regulator is in the process of developing a new mechanism fir for purpose.

Network Rail overspend

The assessment also said that Network Rail’s financial problems are largely due to higher than expected costs of enhancements.

It overspent its £4.9bn budget by £718m in the past year, partly due to enhancements costing £67m more than expected and an overspend of £95m on Crossrail because of delays, extra station works and more signalling contractor works.

However, the ORR warned that Network Rail’s spending on implementing more reliable infrastructure such as new tracks, signals and overhead lines has not yet led to improved performance with the UK rail industry experiencing its worst performance and punctuality measures in a decade.

Network Rail revealed it has failed to meet key targets in its annual report, published yesterday.

The ORR has asked Network Rail to set out more precisely how it will assure itself that its enhancements will deliver real improvements across the country, and how it will be able to demonstrate that the intended benefits have been realised.

Joanna Whittington, chief executive of the ORR, said: “Britain's railways have seen sustained investment in recent years, supporting a further rise in passenger numbers.

“Network Rail is making good progress on health and safety and its programme to improve asset reliability. However, while its track and signals are now more resilient, this cost more than expected and network performance has not improved. 

“Over the course of the next year, we need to see evidence that Network Rail’s initiatives are delivering financial efficiencies and noticeable performance improvements for passengers while achieving gains in health and safety.”

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Hugh Terry   06/07/2016 at 15:14

Why is electrification on this line taking so long? I guess this is the 64-million dollar question (or however much it costs). Suffice to say, in my view it's about 50 years overdue.

N King   06/07/2016 at 22:46

Behind-scenes it's well known the UK electricity supply system is really not ready for the massive loads consumed by extra transport. When the wind is blowing, a useful 8GW can be fed to the Grid, but in calm weather, this drops to almost nothing. Coal-fired power stations have been shut, and nuclears are approaching end-of-life. Realistically we need more power stations first, especially before anything like HS2.

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