Train from Thomas the Tank Engine in barn

Rail electrification project delayed further, Network Rail admits

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The delayed rail engineering project blamed for inflicting chaos on commuters in the North will not be completed until November 2018, the Press Association has reported.

Network Rail announced in January that it was not on track to meet its deadline of electrifying a key route between Manchester and Preston via Bolton in time for the crucial timetable change scheduled for 20 May 2018.

As a result of these delays, train operators Northern Rail and Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) hurried to rewrite and implement their schedules in a rush that culminated in fury-inducing chaos for commuters as 20 May rolled around and hundreds of trains services were cancelled or delayed every day.

Network Rail has been accused of not giving the operators sufficient time to roll out their new timetables.

In an appearance before the Common Transport Committee, Nick Brown, COO of GTR, told MPs that new rosters were written with three weeks to spare and deployed to drivers just two days before the introduction of the new timetable. David Brown, MD of Arriva Rail North (which owns Northern Rail) said that when Northern had found out about the scheduled delays, it had requested that the introduction of the new timetable be delayed until after the electrification project was complete, but Network Rail had declined.

According to Brown, Northern faced further complications when another engineering delay in April left hundreds of its drivers requiring additional training.

As a result of the disruption, transport secretary Chris Grayling faced a vote of no confidence called by the Labour Party. He survived by a small margin of 20 votes.

At a meeting in Manchester in which rail companies were forced to explain how the disruption had occurred, Patrick Cawley, Network Rail’s director of route sponsorship, commented that Network Rail would have a stable network in place “very soon” and added that “we have pretty much broken the back of the North West electrification programme.”

“In September we’re looking to complete the work and we’re looking to enter into service in November, I think it’s the 20th. That’s when we’ll have the infrastructure ready,” he said.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Labour MP Lisa Nandy revealed that she had acquired emails demonstrating that government officials had been forewarned about the possible rail chaos two years ago, but had largely concluded that these routes in the North of England were unimportant.

The next major timetable overhaul is planned for December 2018, following the predicted completion of the electrification project.

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