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'Poor use’ of GWML midweek access bigger issue than buried signalling

Despite the known issues with buried signalling cables, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is “much more concerned” about Network Rail’s very poor use of midweek access as it tries to make progress on the troubled Great Western electrification programme.

ORR investigators have seen this for themselves on night-shift visits, according to its quarterly Network Rail Monitor for periods 1-7, published this week.

The ORR acknowledged the impact of the line’s unmapped and buried signal cabling on rising costs, but found that the company was not properly using overnight periods – which is when it should carry out most of its work to minimise disruption.

It also blasted Network Rail for the poor quality of information it supplied to the programme’s design contractors.

In October, Network Rail’s boss, Mark Carne, revealed that estimated costs tied to the Great Western electrification programme had nearly doubled since last year, now standing at up to £2.8bn.

Sir Peter Hendy’s long-awaited review of Network Rail’s CP5 programme, published last week, confirmed that buried cables have been a major productivity drain on GWML electrification. Cables were buried beneath the ballast in the 1970s, but not reliably mapped. Mechanical piling methods twice severed the cables – causing expensive disruption to passenger services. So workers are having to dig manual trenches to check for cable location, slowing down progress substantially.

But the ORR said the precise estimate of these extra costs remain uncertain until it can be independently verified. In its Monitor report, it said it is “yet to see the back up to this re-forecast” – but said it is particularly worried about the productivity assumptions the new estimate is based on.

It also cited a series of risks remaining even after the Hendy report, mostly because there have been developments since he started his work that have “materially changed the assumptions underpinning it”.

As well as the greater GWML electrification costs, risks included the government’s announcement of a firm date for the TransPennine electrification programme, “given that the scope is at such an early stage of development”.

The rail regulator also claimed that the “extent of capability weaknesses” that Network Rail must address – through the conclusion of its enhancements programme – has become more apparent, with systemic weaknesses left unresolved.

“These will inevitably introduce uncertainties around the accuracy of such a hurried and complex re-plan,” the ORR added.

Overall, the regulator has found that Network Rail is £58m over budget to date, mostly due to higher maintenance costs from difficulties in achieving targets, higher than expected renewal costs and an overspend in several projects in its portfolio.

It currently expects Network Rail to underperform by £810m in 2015-16, largely because of higher spending than originally budgeted.

RTM has contacted Network Rail for comment but has not yet received a reply.


Terry K   08/12/2015 at 07:39

There is absolutely no reason for the contractors to hit signalling cables, before any groundwork's can be carried out a CAT Scan MUST be undertaken, If they are hitting cables then they have NOT done their job correctly and therefore should bear the cost of any signalling disruptions caused. Poor excuse from Network Rail

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