Posted 9th November 2016 | 10 Comments

Audit Office calls for GW electrification rethink

THE costs of Great Western electrification have risen by more than £2 billion since 2013 to reach a total of £5.58 billion, according to the National Audit Office, which says the project now needs to be 'reconsidered'.

In response, the RMT union has claimed the report demonstrates that the Department for Transport is not 'fit for purpose'.

The NAO says electrification between Maidenhead and Cardiff alone is set to cost £2.8 billion, plus a further £433 million for the extension to Swansea and some related schemes. The full total also includes other upgrades, such as the £763 million which has been spent on rebuilding and enlarging Reading station. Capability and capacity works for new trains will cost another £258 million, while Bristol area signalling and also track quadrupling at Filton Bank, between Bristol Parkway and Temple Meads, will account for £318 million more.

In a damning report, the NAO accuses the Department for Transport of failing to 'plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined up way'.

In addition, it says the DfT 'did not produce a business case bringing together all elements of the programme until March 2015, more than two years after ordering the trains and over a year after Network Rail began work to electrify the route. When the Department entered into a contract to buy the Intercity Express Trains, creating fixed deadlines for electrification, the infrastructure planning work was still at a very early stage of development. This is illustrated by the fact that Network Rail had only just identified that it would need to develop a new type of electrification equipment. The electrification timetable was not based on an understanding of what the works would involve.'

The NAO, which is the official independent auditor of state spending, is now calling for the extent of electrification to be 'reconsidered', just 24 hours after rail minister Paul Maynard revealed that several schemes within the project are being placed on hold in a bid to save around £150 million. Places left out of the project for the time being include Oxford, Bath and Bristol, but the NAO has calculated that delays to the electrification programme will cost up to £330 million.

NAO head Amyas Morse 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.

“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. However significant challenges to the timetable still remain and there is more to do to achieve value for money.”

RMT general secretary Mick Cash said: "Following on from the daily franchising fiasco on Southern, this NAO report once again underlines that a succession of ministers and senior officials at the Department for Transport have completely lost control of our railways and questions now have to be asked as to whether the Department is currently fit for purpose. RMT firmly believes that it is not."

The first section of GWML electrification, between London Paddington and West Ealing, went live 20 years ago this month. This paved the way for the launch of Heathrow Express in mid-1998, after a further section of main line electrification had been completed to Hayes and energised in March 1997.

Electrification onwards from Hayes to South Wales was announced by the DfT on 23 July 2009. The cost of the work, including the lines to Oxford and Newbury and also a route between Liverpool and Manchester, was put at a total of £1.1 billion. Great Western electrification through to Swansea was set to be completed 'within eight years'.

Reader Comments:

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

  • Michael, London

    IF infrastructure projects were started asap instead of a decade Plus after decision, then the prices would be near the estimate. It will cost X amount more now because it was delays for Y years, It will cost X(annual increases) the longer it takes to be completed. If done yesterday it would have cost less, just as delaying 10,20, another 50 years = will cost substantially More!
    The slow pace from what I have read is due to the speed at which the pile driving machine wagon. So instead of just ONE wagon machine... use 10 or 20 or 100. Cross rail did not use just two TBM's!
    With more equipment, once the GWR is fully electrified, the sooner the rest of the Entire rail network can be fully electrified. Fossil fuels are backwards technology - it is why France did not participate in the building of RN Aircraft Carriers.
    We should Lead the world not be dragged along at the very back of the queue as is always the case.

  • John Gilbert, Cradley, Herefordshire

    In the face of the sheer incompetence displayed in the whole GW electrification scheme (GWML), it is to be hoped that the Midland Main Line scheme will use the (previously derided) East Coast system(ECML), erected in a fraction of the time, albeit with a great deal of work subsequently due to political cost cutting at the outset. At all costs keep away from the GW system which will forever discredit the concept of electrification in the UK. Europe has thousands of miles of electrified railway; here in the UK we seem to specialise in making gross cockups. Pathetic.

  • Sonning Cutting, Andover

    One of the reasons for a re-think of the pace of electrification is related to the expansion of Oxford and Bristol. There is no point in putting-up wires until the basic track arrangements have been finalised. At Oxford in particular plans have not yet been published or certainly cleared for planning.There is a clear need for more platforms to cope with both Chiltern Trains and East/West rail requirements.

  • barry buttigieg, croydon

    the dept transport forecasts on costs are no better than forecasting how many would use a re-opened line or new station.

    they have not got a clue

  • Jim Campbell, Birmingham

    The RMT regularly calls for the re-nationalisation of the railways, yet here we have yet another demonstration of how much of a mistake that would be.

  • Jake, Cardiff

    I think the reason why Cardiff is prioritised over Bristol is political rather than practical - the Welsh Assembly can pressure and lobby Westminster and wields considerably more influence than say, Bristol City Council. You could imagine the headlines now had the Welsh section been paused...

    "Westminster scraps Welsh electrification to fund scheme in England"...

  • barry buttigieg, croydon

    The wires between Airport Junction and Maidenhead are well advanced. When will Slough-Windsor and Didcot-Oxford get electric trains?
    [No revised timescale has been given, but it may not be before CP6, I suspect.--Editor]

  • Roger Capel, Sheffield & Glossop

    Given the sad history of this project, all too predictable. No mention of the Thames Valley branches, either. Do we assume that they are "paused" too?

    Incidentally, in all the coverage of GWML wiring "proper", there seems to be a deathly silence about progress on the rather crucial (to say the least!) section from Airport Junction to Maidenhead. This comes within the remit of Crossrail. Anyone down there know the state of play?

    [The DfT announced postponement to Henley and Windsor yesterday (8 November).--Editor.]

  • david c smith, Bletchley

    Some of the most expensive GW electrification will be through Box and Severn tunnels. Could this be obviated by equiping the new class 800 trainsets with battery banks to store energy whilst under catenary and make use of this in tunnel sections, etc ?

    Or has electrification work already started on these ? I'm also assumng storag e batteries would be cheaper than a bi-mode arrangement (?).

    [The Severn Tunnel was dealt with earlier this autumn. Too late for second thoughts there!--Editor.]

  • Andrew, Birmingham

    In terms of the amount of rolling stock displaced, Oxford and Bristol should have been the priority areas for electrification from the outset, with Cardiff, Swansea, Newbury and the Thames Branches following on in subsequent years. Also, the project resources are too thinly spread out on the ground, with too many separate work sites operating at the same time, leading to the somewhat random sequencing in the installation of gantries. Therefore, a single, intensive work site, starting at Airport Junction and working its way westwards, would've allowed at least the Paddington-Reading section to be live by this point, transferring some Class 165s to the West Country, with the Reading-Didcot-Oxford section possibly being available for electric trains as well. Although the displacement of HSTs and introduction of IEPs would have been more gradual with this method, sending the IEPs to work with VTEC first may have allowed the VTEC HSTs to be sent elsewhere, in lieu of the GWR HSTs, as most of the relevant infrastructure already exists on the ECML.