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PAC: GWML electrification a ‘stark example of how not to run a project’

The management and overspending by Network Rail (NR) on the Great Western electrification programme has been described as “staggering and unacceptable” by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) after it was found that £330m was wasted on the project.

In a report published today by the influential committee on the GWML route electrification scheme, MPs found that the estimated cost of the works had risen by a whopping £1.2bn in the space of a year, and that it was unclear whether the infrastructure owner would still be able to finish the changes by the revised target of December 2018 and budget of £2.8bn.

The findings comes after the National Audit Office published a similar report last year warning that the project would have to be reassessed. PAC also raised concerns about the ability of the DfT and NR to manage similar projects in the future, such as TransPennine and Midland Main Line electrification, both of which have been subject to delays and ‘pauses’.

MPs also said that there were now serious questions regarding whether full electrification was even an appropriate option for the Great Western route, especially considering the DfT’s announcement that passenger benefits and taxpayer value could be achieved without electrification – a view which is delaying the works and costing taxpayers £330m.

Major concern was raised about the management of the project. PAC told NR that it must improve its ability to “produce realistic cost estimates” after the company had previously admitted that “every single part of the programme is absolutely on the limit”.

The report identified “significant failings” in the design, planning and cost estimation of the project, going on to say that accountability arrangements were overly complex and that there was little assurance for DfT that NR could be an effective client to deliver the changes.

The committee made various recommendations to ensure that the works could be successful going forward, including arguing that the department needed to reassess the case for electrification section by section and only allocate funds where there was clear benefit to customers.

DfT and NR were also urged to bring together trains, infrastructure works and the operation of services when making future plans for the project.

Meg Hiller, chair of the PAC, said that the mismanagement of the programme had “hit taxpayers hard and left many people angry and frustrated”.

“This is a stark example of how not to run a major project, from flawed planning at the earliest stage to weak accountability and what remain serious questions about the reasons for embarking on the work in the first place,” she added.

“The sums of public money wasted are appalling – not least the £330m additional costs the DfT will have to pay to keep the trains running because of delays to electrification.”

Hillier also criticised the government for failing to hold NR to account on electrification, whilst also “casting doubt” on the need for it.

“Network Rail admits there are still very significant risks in the Great Western scheme and it is vital these are fully identified and carefully managed” she argued.

She called on the DfT to urgently review plans for electrification on the Great Western route, as well as similar projects on the Midland Main Line and TransPennine routes.

“Electrification was heralded with the promise of benefits to passengers but the government has a duty to determine if, in fact, these benefits can be delivered in a more timely and cost-effective way,” the chair concluded.

But rail minister Paul Maynard defended the project, saying: “The modernisation of the Great Western Railway is the most substantial programme of work undertaken on the railway since the Victoria era and will deliver better services for passengers, with new trains and thousands more seats.

“We continually assess our investment decisions to ensure they deliver maximum value for the taxpayer. As the report acknowledges, since autumn 2015 we have overhauled the way the department commissions and oversees work from NR – including a clear structure of accountability, with new governance processes that include independent assurance on cost and deliverability.”

A spokesperson from NR agreed that the infrastructure owner and department have learnt the lessons from the “poor early planning of this project”.

“Today we do not take forward major projects until they are properly scoped, properly planned and we have a robust estimate of what the cost will be,” they added.

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Thames Valley Traveller   03/03/2017 at 12:00

May be the answer is to stop work on MML & Trans Pennine, concentrate resources to complete GWR properly, including the branches. GWR have new trains parked up because the electrification is so far behind. Looking at the wiring between RDG & Hayes, bits are complete, yet other sections do not even have the vertical posts even started, and at Slough one post has been placed totally blocking a bay platform - Fred Carnos circus.

Henry Law   03/03/2017 at 12:14

I was the co-author of an article in the Railway Magazine in 1985, suggesting that the GW main line should be electrified on the 3-rd rail system, starting from Paddington and working out from there. Given its physical connections with the London Underground, and the Southern, and North London lines, it would have provided useful opportunities for through running as soon as electrification had reached Ealing Broadway. There would have been no problems with historic structures - this was proposed for a World Heritage Site, for heavens sake. It could have been completed 20 years ago and would have cut the cost of Crossrail into the bargain.

Roland Harmer   03/03/2017 at 13:10

The photograph tells a sad, sad story - just look at the clumsy overhead support structures. The baleful impact of these ugly structures will be apparent for decades to come. What would Brunel have made of it all. Yes electrification is vital (ignore the minister’s spin) but perhaps there should be a pause until more a more robust cost estimation system in place and more elegant overhead can be developed. British Rail’s catenary was really quite neat. Just how did British Rail manage to electrify the East Coast line on time and to budget?

Huguenot   03/03/2017 at 13:46

I agree with Roland H. about the GW electrification structures. These are reminiscent of the old 1500kV post-War electrification which had to support much heavier catenary due to the lower voltage. ECML was, however, done 'on the cheap' and intensive use over the years has taken its toll with many OHLE failures. The 'headspan' method means that if one wire comes down then they all do. Nevertheless, the GW system is vastly over-engineered and could have done with lighter, less expensive structures. Stopping electrification short of the original limits (Oxford, Swansea, Bristol TM, Newbury), however, will cost dearly in the long run. The Class 700s running on diesel do not have the power to improve journey times compared with electric traction and so over non-electrified stretches timings will be no better than existing HST125s, and could even be worse for trains with frequent stops.

Andrew Gwilt   03/03/2017 at 14:08

So why did Great Western Railway and Network Rail postponed the electrification to Newbury and other planned electrification that were also postponed. Plus Network Rail also postponed the Midland Main Line electrification North of Bedford to Sheffield, Nottingham, Derby and Leeds which may not start until after 2020.

JPG   03/03/2017 at 15:03

One of the major cost increases has been HS going overboard short possesions on all previous schemes lines would be used for electrification whilst others remained open on 4 track railways. Naive Engineers signing to european standards added £billions and to make retrospective of Projects already designed and signed off. The RSSB board not allowing deferment of the new structure gauge requirements. I could go on??

Duncan Stewart   03/03/2017 at 17:44

I was a Regional Transport Consortium Project Manager in Wales for 11 years to 2014 when Welsh Goverment, for all their fine talk, sent public transport development back to the 22 counties in Wales. But we dealt with milllions a year, not billions. If I had screwed up for 1000th of the amount of the GWR fiasco, my feet wouldn't have touched the floor on the way out. Has anyone at NR been sacked, resigned, required to retire? If not, why not?

Lutz   03/03/2017 at 20:25

It's staggering that this is still not under control and people still have their jobs.

Blessed   03/03/2017 at 20:31

It's a shame that everyone gets caught in the negative press. Some people deserve to still have their jobs because they work flat out all week. Perhaps a little consideration for the supply chain who are exhausting every avenue to deliver!

Chris@Chesterfield   03/03/2017 at 21:14

I'm very familiar with railway electrification structures, and with the NR/RIBA competition for the electrification structures of the future, and have never seen anything quite as clumsy as the picture of the new GWML works. I don't think it will be inspiring talented designers to join the railway - or to enhance the railway's image in general.

Jimbo   03/03/2017 at 21:23

This project was originally awarded to Amey construction at a price of £700m in 2012. It is true that the project has been caught in a whirlwind of changing standards, increased safety requirements and poor project planning, but even so, the cost is now over three times the original cost, and still not under control. Yet, there is still not real breakdown of where the extra cost has come from - I suspect it would cost several more £m to find out and no-one wants to pay that much more. This comes barely 10 years after the West Coast Mainline modernisation had a similar cost over-run - £2b to £8b. How can you screw up 2 big projects within 10 years of each other. So a prediction for the future, this fiasco will stop any further electrification for another 10 or 15 years, after which everyone will have forgotten all the problems. The next big electrification project will then kick off and follow the exactly the same pattern of cost over-run because time gap is such that no-one remembers the lessons learnt from the previous projects.

HTG1927   03/03/2017 at 21:41

Forgetting Series 1....A quest for numbers rather than sensible sequential production regardless of cost. Lack of true partnership and investment with supply chains. Crazy KPI's with no thought of consequence with our friends from over the pond.Oh and Hops

Simhedges   04/03/2017 at 12:01

The govt should set aside £600m a year (increased by inflation) for electrification over a 20 year period. Network Rail can then continue work, with the ability to plan on a long term basis, with a known budget, increasing efficiencies. This would allow the building up of proper planning systems, skills, etc. The electrification to Cardiff should be followed by Swansea, then the Spine, then North Wales, then the South West, then Perth and Dundee, and then infilling the remaining lines.

Peter Jarvis   04/03/2017 at 12:49

I am sorry to see Thames Valley Traveller take such a view. In railway matters, for the last two hundred years, progress has started in the North and worked Southward. Perhaps we should look again at historical precedent?

Michael King   05/03/2017 at 17:17

Largest project since Victorian times?! These young Ministers.

Christopher Noble   05/03/2017 at 19:10

What a fiasco! Here in Germany the structures are not ugly. New schemes are not so costly as in UK. Corruption? Perhaps we should have paid the Germans to deal with this from the start. Network Rail is clearly not fit for purpose.

Andrew JG   05/03/2017 at 19:31

Why cant Network Rail crack on with the Midland Mainline electrification (north of Bedford to Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, Leeds, Leicester and other possible electrification in the East Midlands). Just like they are currently electrifying the Great Western Main Line. Shotts Line in Scotland (as part of the Edinburgh-Glasgow electrification project (EGIP)). Electrification in North-West England. Chase Line electrification (Walsall-Rugeley Trent Valley) in the West Midlands and other AC 25kv OHL electrification on other lines in the West Midlands. Gospel Oak-Barking line (GOBLIN) electrification in North London and the North Downs Line DC 750v 3rd Rail electrification (Reading-Redhill via Dorking/Guildford) with some sections of the North Downs Line already electrified with 750v 3rd Rail including the Redhill line (London-Brighton route).

Andrew JG   05/03/2017 at 19:41

I do not know why Network Rail has cancelled or postponed the proposed electrification on the Midland Main Line north of Bedford. Will the Midland Main Line north of Bedford finally get the go ahead to be electrified with AC 25kv OHLE. When will it happen?!

Lesf   06/03/2017 at 00:20

And then there's HS2.

Banklineman   06/03/2017 at 11:51

All large electrification projects pre (GWML) were managed by professional career railway engineers of all disciplines who knew what problems would be encountered on a live railway, the present method of working is ok for a green field site. I hope lessons have been learned.

Gregor Baddley   06/03/2017 at 12:14

Awful structures. The Woodhead electrification gantries of the early 1950s were neater.

Pwt   06/03/2017 at 13:12

Sure the GWML catenary doesn't look great in the article's photo but what doesn't help is the media's obsession with compressed telephoto shots giving the impression of complexity. Interestingly you can see the very same Small Parts Steelwork and insulators etc. hanging off very much more elegant structures in Switzerland (home of Furrer and Frey, the supplier of much of the Series 1 catenary components).

Banklineman   06/03/2017 at 18:21

Please note MSW (Woodhead Route) was a pre war LNER / BICC designed OHL project construction commenced before the war, and still waring well, between Mcr Picc & Glossop.

Pauline   07/03/2017 at 13:57

my husband works on the electrification project and constantly remarks on how money is being thrown away by using incompetent staff that do not have the planning knowledge to carry out the works let alone deliver, it is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt or heaven forbid incur a fatality surely its time to regroup look at experience in the railways and use it .

John Gilbert   08/03/2017 at 21:15

Because the GW scheme is a total and, frankly comic, cock-up, that does not mean that future schemes should not go ahead, just that they should be properly conceived, designed and executed. If Russia can electrify to Vladivostok many years ago then it ought not to be beyond our ability to electrify to Sheffield from Saint Pancras and on to Leeds. Or are we so stupid??? (Mind you, if there had been a cock-up like the GW scheme in Russia under Stalin I think we all know what would have happened to those charged with building it!)

Lee   09/03/2017 at 14:35

If experience with Highways England is anything to go by, I can imagine the GWML electrification fiasco could in part be attributed to an institutional process-driven obsession. In order to minimise risk, these companies seem obsessed with following a one-size-fits-all process that often seems to produce pointless outputs at great expense because 'the process demands'. For goodness sake, the WCML and ECML have both been electrified, as has HS1 and the Channel Tunnel, what has changed between completion of those projects and now?

Andrew G   11/03/2017 at 20:32

@Gregor Baddley Not forgetting the Great Eastern Main Line OHL that were first installed in the 1950's and were electrified as 1500v DC before being converted to 25,000v AC (25kv). Same with the Shenfield-Southend Victoria line which has been replaced by brand new overhead wires and new overhead line structures as Network Rail along with Furrer+Frey are currently renewal-ing the GEML with new overhead equipment because of new trains that are to be ordered and also because of the Elizabeth Line since TfL took over the Liverpool St-Shenfield line in May 2015.

Ryan   11/03/2017 at 21:24

What the hell is "renewal-ing"

Andrew G   11/03/2017 at 23:47

Why do I even bother with some people trying to take the advantage on what I commented. Goodness sake.

Ryan   12/03/2017 at 21:49

Not sure what your comment had to do with the Great Western anyway.

Michael Swansea   12/03/2017 at 22:50

The concept of the IEP has caused major problems from the beginning. Their performance so far running on diesel does not inspire confidence. It would have been easier to have used off the shelf Pendolinos for the electiriied sections London Bristol Swansea and modified Voyagers on the Wiltshire Somerset Devon Cornwall routes. The latter with pantographs added (as suggested recently in Modenr Railways) would have allowed the Supervoyager to run on the non electrified sections as well as the electrified sections in the eastern section of the GWML. Both these options would have cut costs early on. Going forward the Swansea section needs to be electrified as the lack of acceleration with the IEP on diesel could lead to journey times to London from Swansea no better in 2019 compared to 1989 having spent billions so far. With Brexit the rail authorities can now decide on more sensible overhead line clearance (with lower costs) if they want. The Welsh government has been given £50 M for infrastructure in the budget. Now is the time for vision from the Welsh Labour government. Spend the money in one big bang and kick start the electrification project by rebuilding some the bridges needed to allow the electrification to proceed. The governrment in Cardiff can now do something immediately for electrification rather than wait endlessly for London to progress the Swansea Cardiff electrification project.

Banklineman   13/03/2017 at 10:12

A good Loco (Possibly Bi Mode) a good rake of coaches a DVT job done, but that's too simple

Andrew Gwilt   24/03/2017 at 14:55

Ryan. Stop being stupid ok.

Boris   02/04/2017 at 23:13

1500V DC electrification has nothing to do with the Great Western, so I'm not sure why Ryan is being the "stupid" one here.

Jasmin   01/05/2017 at 13:38

Sitting on a train on the GWML now, and looking at the support structures, it's clearly massively over engineered for the conditions it's in, and incredibly clumsy. While the east coast mainline might habe gone too far the other way in terms of cost cutting and lightweight structures, there is surely a middle ground solution. Truncating the line to manage costs is going to be a major headache in the future, as the hybrid trains are a cludge and will wind up making running costs far more expensive, and will slow up journeys, especially on the twisty part of the line with lots of stops between Cardiff and Swansea. It would be best to finish the job now it's been started, and also get the Valley lines electrified, where it really will have a big impact on giving Cardiff the decent commuter network it needs. This makes me wonder what kind of nightmare the Goblin line electrification on London Overground is going to be like. It's all viaducts and bridges....

Tony Huckin   22/05/2017 at 20:53

Does nobody try to learn from what is done elsewhere especially in France where the OHL structures function well and are almost Art Deco in design, certainly on many twin track TGV routes. The design of the supporting structures on the London to Didcot four track section may well need to be more substantial but I agree that a less clunky design should have been possible. As for the suggestion that substantial sections of the western network should not now be electrified, again look at how most European countries are decades ahead of us with the adoption of almost universal electrification. The other disastrous consequence of the current turmoil is the apparent abandonment of the Southampton to Birmingham electrification, surely something which needs to be addressed urgently.

Redman   06/06/2017 at 15:08

I worked on this project for almost a year and the lack of planning and design held up works so many times that it became almost impossible to keep within the agreed time frame and budget. The principal contractor seemed to have a laisser faire attitude towards budget and brought in so many contractors on ridiculous day rates that it is little wonder that the budget spiraled out of control.

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