Network Rail has ‘lost grip’ on train electrification in North

Preston Railway Station is in need of improvements says a reader. See letter
Preston Railway Station is in need of improvements says a reader. See letter
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SPEEDING UP journey times on key rail routes in Yorkshire faces ‘far too much uncertainty’ as Network Rail is criticised for having ‘lost its grip’ on overhauling transport in the North.

Electrification of both the TransPennine route and the Midland Main Line would make commutes to work around the region far quicker however there is still a lack of clarity over cost and eventual delivery dates of the schemes, according to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

Today the committee is recommending that the Department for Transport and Network Rail go back to the drawing board on how they will deliver their promised electrified train travel plan, which means original completion dates of 2022 and 2023 could be pushed back due to re-evaluated costs.

MP Caroline Flint, a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said there was evidence of ‘poor’ project management and financing, as well as inaccurate timescales for when schemes could realistically be finished.

She said: “A number of projects and works had to be either delayed or were just not happening.

“It’s really important that Network Rail does look at these big projects and make sure that we can have certainty on the costs around both train routes.

“It’s really important that there’s a revised programme and rail electrification improvement as soon as possible because lots of different partners in the region have been probably working and liaising and consulting, and this sort of thing is a set back for them as well.

“We want the Northern Powerhouse, we want good connections between one part of the region and the other but public money is a big part of all of this and we have got to make sure that the costings are right and delivery times are right to get the benefit out of this scheme.”

The report recommends that the Department for Transport and Network Rail look closely at Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy’s review of electrification due before Christmas and publish a revised programme of rail improvements, which give a clear prioritisation between projects, with updated cost and delivery forecasts.

It also found that the Department for Transport, Network Rail and the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) agreed an unrealistic programme of rail investments for the 2014-2019 period.

Furthermore there are calls for a fundamental review of the effectiveness of Network Rail’s regulatory body Office of Rail and Road in planning rail projects.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, 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 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 judgment 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.”

Comment: Page 12.