Posted 20th July 2015 | 4 Comments

Transport secretary admits NR costs are still not clear

THE transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin has admitted that the extent of Network Rail's costs uncertainty will not be known before the autumn.

giving evidence to the House of Commons transport committee, the transport secretary quoted Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne as saying that running NR was like 'open heart surgery'.

Mr McLoughlin said the recalculations of the cost of Control Period 5 projects would only be completed after the summer, and possibly not until November, but he also pointed out that some projects are ahead of schedule and below budget, such as the remodelling of Reading. He did concede that Birmingham New Street is running late, because it should have been completed in CP4. He attributed the discovery of asbestos and 'concrete cancer' on the site to the delay in completing that scheme. The rebuilt station is now expected to open later this year.

He also insisted that he had not known about the problems on the Midland Main Line electrification scheme until 15 June, well after the election, which led to his statement in the Commons ten days later, when he told MPs that the scheme would be 'paused' along with Northern Transpennine.

"Liverpool to Manchester is being electrified ... there is a lot of work going on, but it is challenging ... with 170 bridges to be rebuilt on Great Western alone," he said.

He also said he could not yet confirm that Great Western Main Line electrification would be completed on time, until he had received an update within the next couple of months from the new Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy, but the scheme remained a 'priority', mainly because new electric Intercity Expresses have been ordered for the route.

He explained: "The North is going to get the new IE trains, operating out of King's Cross by 2019. There are many other things going on in the North -- not least, the abolition of Pacers. There is a lot of work progressing ... it's a matter of making sure every area gets its share of investment."

DfT permanent secretary Philip Rutnam warned the committee that there would be a cost if new IE trains were delivered before GW electrification was completed.

"I am not expecting to pay compensation, and I am keen that we do not. It's a complicated project, and it is receiving priority," he added.

He continued: "The government is liable to pay for these trains, and if the infrastructure is not ready the risk falls on us. As we effectively own Network Rail, there would not be much point in expecting Network Rail to pay us. No one is more concerned to make sure that the risk does not materialise than me."

Patrick McLoughlin added: "I don't believe in condemning every single person who is working incredibly hard [at Network Rail] to deliver the infrastructure we need for the future."

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Roger Capel, Sheffield

    The ECML was wired on time & under budget "down to a price" with ropey OLE (for example, it doesn't take a chartered engineer to realise that using steel droppers in a saline atmosphere is a seriously bad idea!) & the last I heard 67 million had been spent making if fit for purpose.

    As for GWML, like BBC's "File on 4" the other Sunday I don't think we've heard a half of what's gone wrong with the much vaunted High Output Electrification Train & whether it was wrongly specd in the first place. As for structure piles being driven through signal cables------

  • David Faircloth, Derby

    As I recall, many BR projects of 40 years ago were completed within budget and to timescales; what was wrong with the rebuilding of the GW main line for HSTs, the HST/Mk III projects, etc?

    Coming a bit closer to the present day, wasn't the ECML electrification scheme completed early and under budget? And as I recall, all Channel Tunnel related schemes managed by BR and the massive DMU replacement programme of the mid 1980s/early 1990s completed on time and to budget when approved variations to contract were taken into account.

  • Melvyn Windebank, Canvey Island, Essex

    What a pity the option of adding an additional carriage to Class 222 trains in MML was not proceeded with as this would have allowed these trains to run as electric trains south of Bedford and once electrification resumes they would be able to run in electric mode further and further as wires spread northward .

    Whether the pause could allow this option depends on how long the pause is expected to last and time it would take to order and manufacture additional carriages with pantograph which could then be used on other part electrified lines when MML is complete or remain on MML .

  • Garth, Dunkeld

    Reading between the lines, the GW electrification is likely to be very late! Bridges require to be rebuilt, certainly, but that is after all normal and to be anticipated. I would have expected detailed plans and programmes now to be in place, with estimated costs =/- 10%, and occupations booked for more than 50% of the work given where we are in the project. I suspect authority was given when many of the costs were either not known or at no more than +/-30%. Shades of BR's performance 40 years ago, which led to the Treasury exercising very detailed control over future schemes!