Network Rail has taken over the management of the late running £250M Evergreen 3 rail upgrade project from Chiltern Railways.
Four months late
The move comes after a report commissioned by the rail regulator confirmed that the project was running four months late.
The regulator expressed concern about the project last year and commissioned consultant Halcrow to report on progress. Its report said that there was “zero probability” of the project finishing in time for the 8 May completion deadline.
Work to upgrade the line between London Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill stations is now expected to finish in September.
The project suffered badly from delays in getting design approval.
Network rail ‘concern’
Network Rail expressed concern about the quality of designs it had received from Chiltern Railways for approval. It told Chiltern that the designs were “increasing the workload of Network Rail engineers” and “creating significant amounts of rework and re-review that otherwise would not occur”.
This week Chiltern Railways insisted that the plan it put together at the start of the project “was robust”, but admitted that it was “kept under constant review”.
Chiltern said the decision to postpone completion to late summer focuses on using August, when traffic levels are low to complete critical works.
Doubts cast about reform
Contractor Bam Nuttall said it was still working for Chiltern Railways to deliver the project. Senior industry sources said the move casts doubt on the government’s plans for railway reform, which are likely to hand control of maintenance and upgrades to train operators.
The Department for Transport (DfT) had praised the Chiltern franchise in its consultation on rail franchise reform in July 2010, saying it had delivered ” substantial investment programmes”.
Capital investment during the operator’s 20 year franchise was seen as the model for longer franchises across the board.
“Chiltern has done some good things but this project hasn’t been one”
This longer franchises policy will be accompanied by reforms by Network Rail to give greater power to its regions to work closer with the train operators.
The McNulty review of the rail industry, to be handed to ministers next month, is expected to recommend that some franchises be integrated with rail operations and maintenance (NCE 3 February).
But industry sources have told NCE that problems with Chiltern’s Evergreen 3 project “does rather bring into question whether this is quite the long term way forward”.
“The pièce de résistance of long term franchises has had a project hauled back off them to Network Rail. Chiltern has done some good things but this project hasn’t been one and because it’s the direction of travel for the post McNulty rail world, it’s waved a bit of a red flag,” said one source.
However, the DfT said the move to involve Network Rail “does not represent a failure either in the project or the franchising policy”.
Rail reforms risk warning
Reforming Network Rail could distract the track operator from the day to day business of maintaining the railway, consultants warned this week.
A report by Arup, commissioned by Network Rail and the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), says that Network Rail has “significant efficiency and economy targets to achieve to meet its Control Period
4 [spending] obligations”.
These include making 21% efficiency savings by the end of 2014. Efforts to achieving this mean that “Network Rail is a company in transition with a significant number of business changes being implemented,” says the report.
The ORR said the report highlights several areas of concern including the absence of formal lifecycle planning for structures including bridges, tunnels, retaining walls and earthworks and the fact that there is no evidence of a comprehensive “unconstrained workbank” of the total amount of work at route or national level.