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Wales electrification cancellation a 'failure of management'

Network Rail

The cancellation of rail electrification in south Wales was a “failure of management” by Network Rail, a government committee has been told.

University of South Wales professor of transport Stuart Cole told the Welsh Affairs Committee that work done by the operator was a “desk exercise” that failed to estimate increasing costs. The electrification of the Great Western route between Cardiff and Swansea was scrapped in July this year in favour of bi-mode trains. The Welsh Affairs Committee begin its inquiry into the cancellation of planned rail electrification in South Wales on Tuesday where Cole was speaking. 

The Modernising the Great Western railway report published in November last year by the National Audit Office said the increase in cost of £2.1bn since 2013 to £5.58bn, delays of at least 18 to 36 months and changes to the new trains order meant the programme’s value for money had to be reassessed and the extent of electrification reconsidered on the London to Cardiff route.

Cole said: “The original work done by Network Rail…was a desk exercise and therefore quite a number of costs, quite significant costs as it turned out to be,, such as the reconstruction of bridges, were not in much of that initial figure.

He continued: “From a desk exersize to an actual on site analysis of what’s there and we are in some areas going through so quite difficult areas of geology.

“There are underground workings, many of which are not known about because the plans have been lost over the years…once the engineers go there to do their site analysis they start to find elements of the geology and elements of the understructure of the land to be an expensive proposition.”

He said the decision to cancel the electrification could prevent investment in Swansea and west Wales.

He added: ”If an international investor sees that the electrification of the line stops at Cardiff the first question would be why did it stop at Cardiff? Why is the British Government not prepared to invest west of Cardiff? It becomes a criterion in their minds about, are we investing in the right place, if this other investment isn’t taking place?”

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Philip Alexander

    Please see my previous comments about the clowns doing cost estimates on the backs of envelopes for railway projects. This is classic railway industry practice for at least the last 50 years whereby the advocates dream up a cost which they think the politicians can swallow then do the minimum possible to produce an estimate to support their figure. They know that once the project is underway and has reached a certain stage, then they can come clean on the real cost knowing that the politicians haven't got the grunt to call their bluff and cancel it. After all, what good is there in a half-finished railway project? What concerns me (amongst many others) is the gullibility of Ministers over the years who continue to accept such trashy estimating from industry professionals. It really gives the railway industry a bad name (although they do it so often that it clearly doesn't bother them as long as they get their projects built) and the broader civil engineering industry an equally bad name. It's about time that the ICE campaigned and lobbied Ministers to require a bit more rigour around cost estimates before committing scarce resources to totally uneconomic projects.
    And of course, what are the lessons learned from the GW electrification fiasco for the biggest white elephant of them all, HS2? Only that the cost estimates are about half what the real cost will be. And that the project will only benefit a few people living in the south east who want to do a day's business in Birmingham or Leeds so they can have more drinking time on the train on the way home. What do they think the benefits are going to be? Saving 15 minutes to Birmingham? Only to waste it by waiting for a taxi outside Curzon Street station to get to where you really want to go. The quality of infrastructure decision making in UK is woeful.

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