Saturday, 27 June 2015

Network Rail

This is the official announcement about the shunting into the sidings of Network Rail's electrification projects in England. Note that although the government post-election still sees the Great Western electrification as "a priority", Mr McLoughlin carefully backtracked from any commitment to a date of 2018 for the wires to reach Swansea. We are fortunate that orders for the train sets to operate on the upgraded line have already been placed. The Department of Transport would look rather foolish with electric trains on its hands with no lines to run them on. Cancelling the contracts would not only be expensive but also do no good to the employment figures in the north-east. As it is, the Conservatives had better not drag their feet too much or their seats in south-west Wales may be in jeopardy.

According to news reports on BBC Radio on Thursday, Network Rail blames its failure to keep to plan on the "ambitious" Midland electrification on a lack of qualified staff. But the shortage of appropriately-trained engineers has been known about for three years or more, so that the timetable could have been adjusted well before the election. Another factor is said to be that Network Rail is employing new techniques (presumably to reduce track occupancy time) on the GWR electrification which is already under way and these have proved problematical.

It seems to me that another factor is Network Rail's debt burden, £34bn before the election and likely to exceed £50bn by 2019 according to this report. This shows on the government books. Spreading the £38bn of the electrification programme over five or even ten years is going to look better than concentrating it in three.

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