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NAO criticises DfT and NR failure to manage GWML electrification

The modernisation of the Great Western railway will need to be reassessed after recent setbacks to ensure that it still offers value for money, a National Audit Office (NAO) report has stated today, after the DfT revealed four deferrals to the project yesterday.

The cost of improving the route, which connects London with west and south-west England and south Wales, has increased by £2.1bn since 2013 and up to three-year delays to the electrification of the route will cost the DfT a further £330m.

The modernisation of the route, due to involve infrastructure works, new Intercity Express trains and service changes, aims to improve what is already one of the most overcrowded lines in England and Wales and is seen as necessary in order to accommodate forecast further passenger growth of 81% by 2018-19.   

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The modernisation of the route has potential to deliver significant benefits for passengers but this is a case study in how not to manage a major programme.

“The department's failure to plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined-up way, combined with weaknesses in Network Rail's management of the infrastructure programme, has led to additional costs for the taxpayer.”

The NAO criticised the DfT for not bringing together a business case outlining all elements of the programme until March 2015, more than two years after it initially ordered new trains. This led to Network Rail re-planning the infrastructure programme when it became clear that the initial schedule could not be met.

The report has also blamed Network Rail for its “unrealistic” cost estimate of the project in 2014, which overestimated the impact of new technology, and its failures in planning and delivering the infrastructure programme – such as a minimum feasible schedule for the work and sufficiently detailed site surveys. Electrification between Maidenhead and Cardiff is now expected to cost £1.2bn more than the 2014 cost estimate.

DfT now intends to vary its order of Intercity Express trains so that they can operate under both diesel and electric power. However, the NAO has cautioned that the budget and schedule for electrification may still be over-optimistic, as the DfT will receive less money from the Great Western franchise prior to 2019 while the operator bears the costs of the delays.

“It is encouraging that since 2015 the department and Network Rail have a better grip and put in place structures to manage the programme in an integrated way,” Morse said. “However, significant challenges to the timetable still remain and there is more to do to achieve value for money.”

Due to budget constraints and delays, it is now envisaged that Great Western passengers in the north and west of England will have to wait for up to two years to start seeing benefits. Some stretches of the route will also not be electrified until the next rail investment period, which runs from April 2019 to March 2024.

Mick Whelan, general secretary of Aslef, the train drivers’ union, said: “The decision to defer the electrification of the line between Oxford and Didcot Parkway; of Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads); west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads); and the Thames Valley branches (Henley & Windsor) is another blow to Britain’s railway industry and another example of the DfT’s incompetence.”

(Image: FGW GWR class 43 c. Nick Rice, Flickr)

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Huguenot   11/11/2016 at 15:23

"it is now envisaged that Great Western passengers in the north [and west] of England will have to wait for up to two years to start seeing benefits." Is this a new push by GW north of Birmingham? They did reach Birkenhead and Warrington, of course, but never Manchester, Leeds. Seriously, though, here are some of the obvious cost overruns in this farce: * over-engineered OHLE. * High Output Plant System too inflexible and not fit for purpose. * failure to record trackside cablling, leading to damage by excavations. * unnecessarily extravagant clearances for overhead wiring. * failure to seek derogations for bridge parapet heights. * unwise decision not to work outwards from London and electrify suburban services first (as was done with MML and ECML) and so reap suburban benefits early on. * premature ordering of IEPs (DfT's fault, not NR's).

Roger Capel, Sheffield & Glossop   14/11/2016 at 12:49

Huguenot, there is GWR electrification from Chester to Birkenhead, only it's DC 3rd rail. Not much hope of extension there then-------. Seriously though, your last point goes a lot deeper. Never EVER AGAIN should any sane person order a fleet of rolling stock & then expect to fit a major electrification round it. I've lost count of the people who've said that IEP should have been "ECML First", with somewhere ready to operate it & iron out the wrinkles. As for the over-engineered OHLE, I'm a regular traveller on the stub of the Manchester - Sheffield - Wath, with its fairly bomb proof LNER/BICC ex-1500v overhead line (see also GE Suburban, but without the compound catenary). What's going up on the GWML makes the MSW look like Meccanno. What was BR telling us in the 60s about 25Kv being lighter & cheaper? One of their engineers proudly told the press that their arch structure cross beams can move up & down, as though that was new. May I direct anyone who thinks it is to Structure MH11-22, at the west end of Dinting viaduct. It's a 70 year old design & it's called a subsidence structure, mate.

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