“Uncertainty” over Midland mainline electrification, MPs warn

MPs have raised serious concerns about rail investment in the UK following a series of delays to large-scale projects including the Midland mainline
MPs have raised serious concerns about rail investment in the UK following a series of delays to large-scale projects including the Midland mainline

MPs have raised serious concerns about rail investment in the UK following a series of delays to large-scale projects including the Midland mainline.

The Public Accounts Committee has today published a report into Network Rail’s current five-year investment programme, which has highlighted severe planning and budgeting failures.

The electrification of the Midland mainline was ‘paused’ by Network Rail earlier this year, before it was announced in September that plans are in place to resume the works.

The works would see faster rail journeys from Bedford to Sheffield, a route which takes in Wellingborough and Kettering.

The MPs’ report points to “staggering and unacceptable” cost increases in the project to electrify the Great Western Main Line from London to Cardiff, which is now expected to cost up to £1.2bn more than the £1.6bn estimated a year ago.

The committee says there is still “far too much uncertainty” on costs and eventual delivery dates for the electrification of both the TransPennine route and the Midland mainline – and warns more projects could be delayed in order to balance Network Rail’s budget.

The committee has also called for a fundamental review of the regulator’s role and effectiveness in planning rail infrastructure.

It also urges the Government to publish a revised and re-costed programme of electrification improvements, including the rationale for prioritising different schemes, following a review by Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy.

Committee chairmn Meg Hillier said: “Network Rail has lost its grip on managing large infrastructure projects.

“The result is a two-fold blow to taxpayers: delays in the delivery of promised improvements, and a vastly bigger bill for delivering them.

“The potential near-doubling in cost of the electrification of the Great Western Line is a symptom of seriously flawed control and planning.

“Another is the continuing uncertainty over electrification of both the TransPennine route and the Midland mainline.

“The Government has identified rail infrastructure as a vital part of its economic plans, for example in establishing what it describes as a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.

“It is alarming that, in planning work intended to support these plans, its judgement should be so flawed.

“Our inquiry has found that the agreed work could never have been delivered within the agreed budget and timeframe.

“Yet Network Rail, the Department for Transport and the regulator – the Office of Rail and Road – signed up to the plans anyway.

“Passengers and the public are paying a heavy price and we must question whether the ORR is fit for purpose.”

Based on Government requirements for the rail network, Network Rail sets out the work it will carry out in five yearly cycles.

The Office of Rail and Road reviews these five-year programmes, including the expected costs.

In October 2013 the Department for Transport, Network Rail and the ORR agreed a £38.3 bn rail spending programme covering the period from April 2014 to March 2019.

In June 2015 the Government, concerned that the programme of work was costing more and taking longer than planned, announced three reviews into Network Rail and rail infrastructure investment.

One of these, led by Sir Peter Hendy, is looking at how the enhancements programme can be put back on a sustainable footing.