Passengers pay for ‘staggering’ Great Western overruns

Written By: David Hencke
Published: March 8, 2017 Last modified: March 11, 2017

Millions of rail passengers are going to have to pay out for worse services across Britain because of a “staggering and unacceptable” failure to control expenditure on the electrification of the Great Western Railway, MPs have revealed.

A report by the public accounts committee reveals that the lack of control of the £2.8 billion scheme has already seen costs overrun by £1.2 billion in a year and suggests that other major electrification projects such as the Midland mainline and Trans Pennine scheme could suffer similar problems.

But the most damning revelation is that taxpayers will be paying out an additional £330 million to keep old rolling stock in use and adapt newly ordered trains because the scheme will also be two years late and the lines will not be fully electrified in time.

A National Audit Office analysis of the delays reveals that it will have a knock on effect on rolling stock with people living in Devon, Cornwall, Bristol, the North of England and Scotland having to put up with old rolling stock which would have been replaced.

Under the original plan:
*?Electric trains from Thameslink would replace diesel trains in the Thames Valley from May providing more capacity to reduce overcrowding;
*?Thames Valley could then release diesel trains to the west, providing more capacity for passengers on the Bristol, Exeter and Cornish networks;
*?West Devon and Cornwall routes would then release diesel trains to support service improvements on Northern franchise routes;
*?New Super Express Trains from the Department’s Intercity Express Programme would replace ageing diesel High Speed Trains on the London to Swansea line, cutting journey times from London to Cardiff;
*?The London to Swansea route could then release diesel High Speed Trains to increase capacity on intercity routes in Scotland;
*?An additional fleet of diesel and electric (Bi mode) trains recently ordered by Great Western Railway  would be introduced in the south-west, providing more capacity and faster journey times on London to Plymouth and Penzance routes.

Now, however:
*?Diesel trains due to go to the west in 2017 will be retained until 2019 as electrification is completed and new electric trains are phased in;
*?Passengers in the west (Bristol, Exeter and Cornwall routes) will now have to wait almost two years later than scheduled to see benefits such as more capacity;
*?Passengers on Northern franchise routes may have to wait an additional nine months as trains are retained in the west to protect services.

Great Western Railway has also had to make additional orders of new bi-mode  trains to prevent the cancellation of services on busy Oxford to London routes.

The result according to the NAO will mean higher costs as diesel trains cost more to maintain, lower revenue because of lack of capacity and a bill for converting older trains to comply with stricter laws on helping disabled passengers that would not have been necessary if they had been replaced.

About David Hencke

David Hencke is Tribune's Westminster Correspondent