Carne draws Tram-Train and Western wiring cost parallels
NETWORK Rail (NR) Chief Executive Mark Carne has said that the root causes of inaccurate cost estimates with the Sheffield TramTrain project are similar to those experienced on the Great Western Route Modernisation (GWRM).
Carne was speaking to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee on October 30 when he made the parallel.
“On the GWRM, we talked about cost estimates being inadequate. Network Rail’s funding regime led to a culture of agreeing to costs before proper design work was done. The critical difference is that this (Tram-Train) was a pilot project looking at new technology and developing technology for the first time – there was an additional technical risk,” he said.
Network Rail London North Eastern and East Midlands Route Director Rob McIntosh pointed out that the UK’s version of TramTrain is unique in its application of dual-voltage trams, which initially will run under 750v DC overhead wires but are capable of working on 25kV catenary should the Midland Main Line north of Sheffield be electrified. He later added: “In 2014, we began to get a greater depth of understanding about the demands of dual-voltage technology… we should have been clearer with the Department for Transport about the level of risk associated with the technology.”
Later in the hearing, Department for Transport (DfT) Director of Rail Network Services Brian Etheridge said that when the decision was taken to make the overhead catenary on NR metals capable of handling 25kV there was “A very realistic proposition that that part of the line would be electrified in the future. We would accept that given this was a trial, this introduced additional risks and costs.” However, he also pointed out that a later conversion to 25kV would have also added a “considerable cost.”
DfT Permanent Secretary Bernadette Kelly denied that costs for the project – which now stand at £75.1 million – were deliberately underestimated, and she was backed by Carne, who criticised NR’s previous project costing regime: “There was no rigour or requirement to get it [the estimate] much better because the regulatory process allowed you subsequently to ‘catch up’”, he said.
Kelly added that from 2014 a great deal more rigour was attached to cost estimates, but reasserted the fact that tram-train was a pilot project and that, as such, there “was a level of risk associated with it.”
Etheridge said that if the TramTrain project was begun today, the department would ask for an independent assessment of project risks and schedule.
On the subject of Treasury concerns about rising costs, Carne told the committee that the Treasury was not initially involved as Network Rail was able to borrow money in private markets, with regulatory scrutiny acting as checks and balances. “This was not an appropriate way to run a major capital programme,” he said.
But while there was acknowledgement of the project’s cost failings, Carne said that with the technology developed for the pilot scheme, any future tram-train projects could “move forward with a greater degree of confidence.” He highlighted interest from Blackpool, Cardiff, Glasgow and Manchester, adding: “We have learnt a lot and we have developed technology that will enable us to move ahead more quickly if people wanted to pursue this.”
Tram-Train is expected to carry its first passengers in September 2018, after which detailed evaluation into its benefits will take place.
Cost estimates on the Sheffield Tram-Train trial due to start in 2018, which is more than 400% overbudget, have been compared to those of the Great Western electrification scheme. There have been a series of Sunday engineering possessions in the Rotherham area during October and November for overhead line electrication installation and assorted infrastructure upgrades. This image shows work underway at Rotherham Central on October 15.