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Carne says no successors yet to botched train-tram pilot

Sheffield Tram

Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne has confirmed there are currently no more train-tram schemes lined up following the botched pilot project in Sheffield.

During questioning by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Carne was asked whether there were any benefits to be had from the £75M pilot. He said that although schemes have been mooted in Glasgow, Cardiff, Manchester and Newcastle, no projects using the new technology have been confirmed.

“I don’t think there’s anything on the slate to be delivered in the very short term, but I think we have learnt a lot and we have developed technology that would enable us to move ahead much more quickly if people did want to pursue this,” he said.

In July a National Audit Office (NAO) report found that costs on the pilot project linking Sheffield and Rotherham had rocketed 400% from an initial £15M to £75M.

The plan for a train-tram project in Sheffield was approved in 2012 and was supposed to finish in 2015. It will now finish in May 2018 and the first section of a three-part analysis into what went wrong will be released at the same time.

Much of the delay and extra cost is due to more electrification work after the scheme became more complex than it had appeared during the design stage. Tram-trains can travel on both tram lines and national rail tracks, better linking public transport routes. As a result the scheme required a dual voltage system of 25,000 volts AC and 750 volts DC, which was unique in the UK.

Carne added that at the time the project was approved in 2012, the regulatory system for approving project costs was “perverse”.

“In those days, in 2012, it didn’t really matter, if I put it in that way, if the the cost estimate wasn’t particularly good at that very early stage because later on we would agree with the regulator what the actual cost was, and if they agreed with it that it was efficiency it would go on to the RAB [Regulatory Asset Base], and that was it,” he said.

“So the incentive structure, actually in the industry as a whole, was in a way a bit perverse.”

Department for Transport (DfT) permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly said that the DfT would have been more rigorous when assessing the scheme if the final costs had been known.

“Would we have looked even more sceptically if we had known then the BCR [benefit-cost ratio] was 0.3 as opposed to 1? I guess it would’ve been challenged a little harder,” she said.

“Without question we would provide much greater challenge and seek far greater assurance now of these project costs than we may have done back in 2012,” she said.

The initial cost of the project approved by the DfT was £15M, scaled down from £18M to take into account expected efficiencies on the scheme. The pilot project is being delivered by South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE), Stagecoach Supertram, Network Rail, Arriva Rail North and the DfT.

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