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Analysis | What next for Great Western electrification?

Great Western electrification schedule captioned 3to2

The beleaguered project to electrify the Great Western Railway edged closer to completion this week but there is still a long way to go.

New Civil Engineer takes a look at the history and what is to come for the project which is now hopefully on track.

The project to electrify the line from London Paddington heading west to Cardiff and beyond has promised to shorten journey times, stimulate economic growth and modernise the route which was built over 150 years ago. But improving the connection between the capitals has not proved to be easy.

Spiralling costs have dogged the project. At the beginning of 2013, the cost was put at just £874M, a mere snip of the current £5.58bn estimate.

A damning report by the National Audit Office at the end of 2016 put the blame for increases in costs squarely at the feet of the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail. The department’s failure to plan and manage the collection of projects which makes up the complete programme in a “joined up way”, and a “weakness” in Network Rail’s management of the infrastructure programme had led to additional costs to the taxpayer, it said.

In 2015, Network Rail re-planned the programme in an attempt to control the costs, but the damage appears to have already been done. In November 2016, the government announced it was deferring the electrification of four of the sections of the line to the next five year control period (CP6) to free up around £165M in the current control period.

But the bad news was still flowing, and in July this year transport secretary Chris Graying delivered a bitter blow by cancelling the electrification of the Cardiff to Swansea section altogether.

Currently, the only section to be running electric trains is the section from London Paddington to Maidenhead. So what is still to come?

In January last year Network Rail chairman Sir Peter Hendy published the dates for the remaining sections of the line.

The section from Maidenhead to Didcot Parkway will be the first to be completed in December 2017. Network Rail said it was currently testing the overhead line equipment which has now been installed.

Four more sections will follow in December 2018: Didcot Parkway to just after Swindon at Wootton Bassett Junction; Wootton Bassett Junction to Bristol Parkway; Bristol Parkway to Cardiff Central (to be built by Balfour Beatty, as announced this week); and the spur from Reading to Newbury.

However, the sections from Didcot Parkway to Oxford; Wootton Bassett Junction to Bristol Temple Meads; and Filton Bank between Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads, have all been deferred to CP6.

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