Auditors slam £2bn rail electrification overspend

James Harrison

Failures by the Department for Transport have left improvements to railway lines through Maidenhead running three years late and more than £2bn over budget.

A scathing report by the National Audit Office (NAO) has found that work to modernise the Great Western railway is now expected to cost the taxpayer £5.58bn.

The line, which runs from London Paddington to Wales and the west of England through Maidenhead, Slough and Reading, is one of the most overcrowded in the country, with numbers in 2018/19 predicted to be almost double those in 2013/14.

According to the paper published yesterday (Wednesday), electrification of the line between Maidenhead and Cardiff is now expected to cost £2.8bn – £1.2bn more than the estimate given in 2014. It also calls the original figures, which were calculated by Network Rail, ‘unrealistic’ and criticised the organisation’s planning and delivery of projects.

The final total cost of the modernisation programme, including electrification, is now expected to be £5.58bn up by £2.1bn since 2013.

The NAO report also fired a broadside at the Department for Transport’s (DfT) ability to coordinate the overall scheme. It highlighted the fact the DfT had failed to produce a business case for the project until March 2015 – a year after work started on electrifying the route and more than two years after it had ordered the trains to run on the line.

The report followed a speech by rail minister Paul Maynard on Tuesday in which he announced the deferment of four electrification projects, including the Windsor branch line, between Slough and Windsor, and the Henley branch line, between Twyford and Henley.

A review by Sir Peter Hendy published in November last year, found there had been ‘inadequate planning’ and ‘poor cost estimating’ on a number of major rail projects throughout the country, but particularly relating to line electrification.

In a statement, rail operator Great Western Railway, which runs services on the line, said: “Customers will be disappointed at these further delays to parts on the electrification programme even following Sir Peter Hendy’s review earlier this year.

“However, we are determined our customers should not wait a day longer than absolutely necessary to see the benefits they’re expecting from what will be the biggest fleet upgrade in a generation.”

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