Ballooning budget for Great Western electrification jeopardises expansion to other lines

The Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail must learn from significant flaws in an upgrade of the Great Western rail line, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

The plan involved electrifying the line between London and South Wales, but difficulties faced in the implementation have cast doubt over other schemes scheduled for the Midland Mainline and TransPennine routes, the MPs in PAC have warned.

Committee chairwoman Meg Hillier said: "Mismanagement of the Great Western programme has hit taxpayers hard and left many people angry and frustrated. This is a stark example of how not to run a major project."

The scheme's budget rose from £874m in 2013 to £2.8bn in 2015.

Hillier said "the sums of public money wasted are appalling" and accused the DfT of failing to adequately challenge Network Rail's plans.

Some sections will not be electrified until 2019-2024, despite the project being due for completion next year.

Trains powered by electricity rather than diesel can have more seats for the same length and be faster, quieter and result in fewer carbon emissions.

The DfT has claimed that many of the passenger benefits of electrification can be obtained without electrifying the whole Great Western route.

This raises questions about whether full electrification is the most appropriate action, the PAC found.

The department should reassess the case for electrification on a section-by-section basis and only support schemes where the benefits could not be achieved at a lower cost, according to the report.

Mark Carne, chief executive of Network Rail, said the Great Western scheme was agreed in 2009, "long before the scale of the work was properly understood".

Network Rail and the DfT have learnt the lessons from the poor early planning, he insisted.

"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," said Carne.

Rail Minister Paul Maynard said: "The modernisation of the Great Western Railway is the most substantial programme of work undertaken on the railway since the Victorian 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 Network Rail - including a clear structure of accountability, with new governance processes that include independent assurance on cost and deliverability."

In October, the Commons’ Transport Select Committee said the number of trains running on the UK’s railways could be boosted by using digital traffic management technology. 

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