Great Western Electrification Woes

gwr-800The Great Western Electrification project has been going badly off the rails for a long time, running massively late with knock-on effects on subsequent electrification projects such as the Midland Main Line.

Now several sections are being deferred:

We have been clear that there have been difficulties with this programme. These were set out last year in the review of Network Rail’s delivery plan by Sir Peter Hendy. Following the re-planning of work that followed this review, the programme has been placed on a more efficient footing. A key part of this is the ongoing assessment of investment decisions so that passengers and taxpayers get maximum value.

As a result of this scrutiny from the Hendy review I have decided to defer 4 electrification projects that are part of the programme of work along the Great Western route. The 4 projects being deferred are:

  • electrification between Oxford and Didcot Parkway
  • electrification of Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification of Thames Valley Branches (Henley & Windsor)

This is because we can bring in the benefits expected by passengers – newer trains with more capacity – without requiring costly and disruptive electrification works. This will provide between £146 million to £165 million in this spending period, to be focused on improvements that will deliver additional benefits to passengers. We remain committed to modernising the Great Western mainline and ensuring that passenger benefits are achieved.

This looks worse that it is. Since the new class 800 trains are bi-mode they can run on diesel power for the last few miles into Bristol. The one deferment that makes less sense is the Didcot-Oxford section, which would prevent the use of GWR’s new class 387 EMUs on Paddington-Oxford semi-fasts. Will these trains terminate at Didcot with a DMU shuttle to Oxford in the interim?

The reasons for the delays in the Great Western electrification are many, but the biggest has got to be the fact that there hasn’t been a major main line electrification project in Britain for a generation, and the knowledge base has been lost. The people who managed the East Coast Main Line electrification in the late 1980s have long retired.

Commenter “Phil-b259″ on RMWeb (There are an awful lot of knowledgable people on that forum) lays out some of the reasons why the project has run into so many difficulties:

  • NR having hardly any experience in undertaking electrification projects thanks to Governments of all colours not undertaking any such schemes since privatisation.
  • NR not having key historic data due to much if it being thrown out as ‘not needed’ by Railtrack and the IMCs who were supposed to manage the infrastructure in the years immediately after privatisation.
  • NR making lots of mistakes (sometimes repeatedly) as it tries to re- learn all the skills necessary or rebuild its route knowledge to overcome (1) and (2)
  • The fact that most of the work all has to be contracted out leading to extra interfaces and potential sources for delay / dispute compared to 30 years ago when the work was all done ‘in house’
  • Poor project management on the part of NR and the seeming inability to get on top of things – though this again is in part due to the sheer size of the project.
  • Health and Safety regs having got tougher since the late 1980s with knock on effects on costs and what can be achieved in any given possession, etc.
  • The various big railway contractors (e.g. Balfour Beatty) having no recent experience of electrification work in the UK – for the same reasons as NR, i.e. a lack of Government action for over 20 years.
  • The Government dumping several big electrification schemes on NR within the space of six months and not taking into account its lack of action in the previous 20 years.
  • The Government pushing ahead with train procurement themselves resulting in the most expensive to lease in the Uk trains being delivered before the wires will be ready for them.

Is anyone else getting flashbacks to the 1955 Modernisation Plan?

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