On Thursday 29th March, the UK’s “National Audit Office” released the results of its investigation into why the UK Government, and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling chose to cancel electrification projects. Back at the start of CP5, Network Rail stated that electrification was a strategic top priority, with £3 billion in schemes to be carried out between 2014 and 2019.
In 2017 the Government then decided that three of those schemes were to be cancelled, because:
“… the Secretary of State explained that the projects were cancelled on the basis that it was were no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.”
Perhaps the most telling statement in the NAO Press Release is this one:
“The NAO investigation identifies that that it is too early to determine whether the Department will still be able to deliver the benefits of electrification without these electrification projects in place.”
The lines that the Transport Secretary decided to cancel were:
- The Great Western Main Line between Cardiff and Swansea
- The Midland Main line between
- The Oxenholme to Windermere
For the latter – a short stretch of line – it’s ironic in 2018, since the Lake District is now a UN World Heritage Site, and the growth in tourists is predicted to experience significant growth. The section of the main line between Wales two largest cities not now being electrified is very much a mystery, whilst the former main line to Nottingham and Sheffield also links major population centres.
The Midland route was a particularly bad example of decision making, since at the time the decision was made to cancel, the bi-mode trains with the required criteria to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.
Anyway, having taken the decision the National Audit Office has identified some interesting, and perhaps key points that suggest this was and has been a poor decision, with a lack of foresight.
- It was no longer necessary to electrify every line to deliver passenger benefits.
- Bi-mode trains with the required speed and acceleration to deliver the timetable of the route did not exist.
- Network Rail projects had to be cancelled because the ‘investment programme’ could not be delivered within the available funding.
Plans to raise and retain £1.8 billion to reduce the funding shortfall, through asset sales, were unachievable, so these projects were cancelled to help reduce that shortfall, and according to the NAO Report:
“The Department estimated that cancelling these three projects would save a maximum of £105 million in 2014-19 rail investment period, but would avert £1,385 million of spending in the following 2019-24 period.”
So now we have to wait until 2024 to find out if these savings have been made, and if the wait was worth it – wonder what the impact on passengers will be, or business, or tourists…..