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More rail electrification projects deferred

Installation of electrification equipment in the Severn Tunnel 3to2

Four electrification projects along the Great Western rail route are to be deferred, the government has announced.

The four projects involve electrification between Oxford and Didcot Parkway; at Filton Bank, between Bristol Parkway and Bristol Temple Meads; west of Thingley Junction, between Bath Spa and Bristol Temple Meads; and at Thames Valley Branches, between Henley and Windsor.

The decision will free up between £146M and £165M in this spending period. A spokesperson for Network Rail said the work had been deferred until control period 6 (CP6), Network Rail’s next five year spending period.

Last November, Network Rail said it needed an extra £2.5bn to complete control period five. In October 2015, Network Rail chief executive Mark Carne told the Public Accounts Committee that the cost of electrifying the Great Western railway line between South Wales and London could reach £2.8bn.

A senior rail industry source said today’s announcement “smacks of a complete loss of confidence in the programme”.

In a written statement to Parliament, rail minister Paul Maynard outlined the progress being made on the electrification of the Great Western mainline, including upgrading and electrifying the 130-year-old Severn Tunnel.

However, he added: “We have been clear that there have been difficulties with this programme. These were set out last year in the review of Network Rail’s delivery plan by Sir Peter Hendy. Following the re-planning of work that followed this review, the programme has been placed on a more efficient footing. A key part of this is the ongoing assessment of investment decisions so that passengers and taxpayers get maximum value.

“As a result of this scrutiny from the Hendy review, I have decided to defer four electrification projects that are part of the programme of work along the Great Western route.”

In response, Network Rail’s Western route managing director Mark Langman said: “The Great Western main line is undergoing a huge rail investment programme to enable new and upgraded trains with more seats and faster, greener journeys.

“The changes announced today will deliver those benefits to the greatest number of passengers in the shortest possible time. The programme remains complex and challenging but good progress is being made.”

Commenting on the government’s announcement, campaign group Campaign for Better Transport said it was “very disappointed” by the decision.

“In uncertain times for the economy we need investment in infrastructure and delays or cancellations are not helpful. It’s not fair to tell passengers to expect big improvements in services and then at the last minute decide you’re not going to deliver them,” said Campaign for Better Transport chief executive Stephen Joseph.

“The government should set out how and when services on the lines affected are now going to be improved to cope with growing demand. More generally, passengers need reassurance from the government and Network Rail that there are no more skeletons in the closet and that budgeting is genuinely now under control.”

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