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Rail electrification costs slashed in 10-year plan

3118148 electrification

The cost of rail electrification projects could be slashed by as much as 50%, if the government commits to a 10-year pipeline of work, according to the Railway Industry Association (RIA).

In its Electrification Cost Challenge report, the RIA claims that lessons learned from the Great Western Electrification Programme (GWEP) – which went £1.8bn over budget – could result in project cost savings of between 33% and 50%.

The RIA said one of the main reasons the GWEP cost rose from £1bn in 2009 to £2.8bn in 2016 was because of the “feast or famine” approach taken by the government to electrifying the UK’s rail network.

“With only 150km of new electrification work since 1993, in 2009 the supply chain was expected to start delivering over 2,000km of electrification,” the report says. “Although there had been previous gaps, this 20 year gap (by the time work started) was the longest on record.

“Inevitably it was going to take [time] to reacquire the necessary capabilities to deliver the schemes, incurring costs which were expected to be recovered over a long-term programme of work.

“The rapid ramp up and then stalling of electrification projects has only helped increase uncertainty in the sector, also escalating costs. If electrification is not restarted then the investment and hard-won experience of recent projects will soon be lost.”

To tackle this, the RIA recommends the establishment of a 10-year electrification project pipeline to ensure a steady flow of work and cut costs.

The report also recommends allowing more time for enabling and clearing works before overhead lines are installed. One of the report’s 26 recommendations, states: “Wherever possible, future projects should secure all necessary consents, such as via a Transport Works Order, and undertake route clearance in advance of overheaed line equipment works, even if this means extending the programme.”

The RIA claims innovations such as Freyssinet’s ElevArch jacking technique is a way of reducing the cost of maintenance work.

ElevArch allows bridges to be jacked up rather than demolished and rebuilt. It was successfully used in 2016 to lift a 160 year-old single span, 220t masonry arch bridge 900mm using 10, 50t jacks.

RIA technical director David Clarke added: “The Railway Industry Association’s Electrification Cost Challenge shows how rail electrification can be delivered at 33% to 50% of the cost of some past projects if the government commits to a rolling programme of work.

“Electrification is clearly the optimal solution for intensively used railway lines, and should be seen as the priority choice in a hierarchy of options if the government is serious about decarbonising the rail network by 2040. A rolling programme of electrification would allow rail businesses to build up and retain expertise, further reducing the cost of future schemes.

“The lessons from previous projects, including the Great Western Electrification Programme, are clear but we should stop using these projects as a benchmark for the cost of future schemes.

The RIA is to discuss the report with MPs and Network Rail in the coming weeks. 

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