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On 23 July 2009, the then transport secretary Andrew Adonis announced an ‘immediate’ start of detailed planning for electrification of the Great Western Main Line. But according to the National Audit Office report ‘Modernising the Great Western railway’ (9 November 2016), Network Rail was still “determining the most appropriate way of meeting the Department for Transport’s requirements” four years later.

National Audit Office report on Great Western rail modernisation, Nov 2016, showing cost changes

[Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, 9 November 2016]

“The modernisation of the route has potential to deliver significant benefits for passengers but this is a case study in how not to manage a major programme. The Department’s failure to plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western Route Modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined up way, combined with weaknesses in Network Rail’s management of the infrastructure programme, has led to additional costs for the taxpayer. It is encouraging that since 2015 the Department and Network Rail have a better grip and put in place structures to manage the programme in an integrated way. However significant challenges to the timetable still remain and there is more to do to achieve value for money.”

The NAO mentioned the design of overhead line structures for 225 km/h running (rather than 200) as one source of confusion and increased cost.


Network Rail did not initially understand whether the Department wanted trains to run at a maximum speed of 125 [200 km/h] or 140 miles per hour [225 km/h]. This has implications for the strength of the steelwork supporting the electric wires.

In January 2014 the Department instructed Network Rail that the maximum speed should be 125 miles per hour. By this point, design work was well underway and Network Rail expected to complete it in March 2014.

In September 2014, the main design contractor was still working to a specification of 140 miles per hour.

According to HS2 Ltd, ‘high speed infrastructure’ for 300+ km/h, is only ‘10% more expensive’ to provide than conventional infrastructure (200 km/h). But in the case of the Great Western electrification, a speed increase of just 25 km/h appears to have had costly ‘implications for the steelwork’. What ’18 trains per hour at 360 km/h’ means for HS2 overhead line support, is yet to be revealed.

It seems likely that if the government proceeds with HS2, the modernisation and electrification of classic lines will be downscaled massively, to pay for it.

Written by beleben

November 10, 2016 at 12:04 pm

Posted in HS2, Planning, Politics

One Response

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  1. At that time, ‘they’ were lauding themselves for committing a ‘massive £800m’ for The Northern Hub, since de-scaled as too expensive.

    The South West has more Inter-City traffic than England’s North West yet Ministers will not resource the decades of neglect. The government will claim that are new trains arriving but their costs are to be covered by the franchisee TOC (and hence the passengers) on what is already the slowest and most expensive IC line.

    Network Rail, totally under-resourced and managed despite the current £39bn 5 year “investment” (sic joke), has clearly too many irons in the fire and, being pulled in all directions by an array of puppet masters and projects and having to bend over backwards to accommodate HS2, will end up burning itself out.

    Ministers will step in ‘to sort things out’, scrapping all small but useful projects, yet always ring-fencing the Grand Vizier’s dream.

    CLaud Adonut-Know

    November 11, 2016 at 12:01 pm

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