Re­vealed: In­quiry launched as cost of up­grad­ing busiest rail line soars by £116m A

Elec­tri­fy­ing Ed­in­burgh to Glas­gow will cost at least £858m

The Sunday Post (Newcastle) - - NEWS - By An­drew Picken APICKEN@SUNDAYPOST.COM

trou­bled scheme to cut jour­ney times on Scot­land’s busiest rail route has soared by more than £110 mil­lion.

We can re­veal the es­ti­mated cost of the plan to cut 10 min­utes off the train trip be­tween Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow has climbed from £742m to £858m.

The price hike comes as pas­sen­gers are al­ready wait­ing longer for plans to in­crease the num­ber of seats and in­crease the fre­quency of ser­vices be­cause of a string of de­lays to the re­vamp of Scot­land’s busiest rail line.

Rail reg­u­la­tors de­scribed the cost in­crease as “deeply con­cern­ing” and re­vealed they have launched a probe into the de­lays and bud­get over­runs on the Trans­port Scot­land elec­tri­fi­ca­tion project.

The Of­fice of Rail and Road said: “The ORR can con­firm the lat­est es­ti­mated fig­ure re­ceived from Net­work Rail for Ed­in­burgh G l a s g ow Im­prove­ment Pr o g ra m m e (EGIP) is £ 8 5 8 mil­lion.

“This in­crease in cost, aligned with Net­work Rail’s de­lay in de­liv­er­ing EGIP is deeply con­cern­ing.

“We will pub­lish a lessons learned sum­mary re­port later this year fo­cus­ing on the elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the Ed­in­burgh to Glas­gow line and the un­der­ly­ing causes be­hind cost in­creases and pro­gramme de­lays.”

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment have blamed man­age­ment “weak­nesses” by Net­work Rail for the in­crease but the track op­er­a­tor in­sisted it will de­liver the scheme as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Scot­tish Labour’s trans­port spokesman Colin Smyth said: “Scot­land’s hard pressed pas­sen­gers are al­ready pay­ing ever in­creas­ing fares for trains that are

de­layed, over­crowded or can’t even be guar­an­teed to stop at the sta­tions they are sup­posed to. We have trains run­ning late be­fore they have even been built. Pas­sen­gers de­serve bet­ter and Trans­port Min­is­ter Humza Yousaf needs to get a grip.”

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment re­fused to re­veal the cur­rent price for the EGIP but Net­work Rail and the ORR – the in­de­pen­dent safety and eco­nomic reg­u­la­tor for rail­ways – both con­firmed the scheme now stands at £ 858.6m. This is an in­crease from the last es­ti­mate of £ 742m and up from the bud­geted £650m in 2012.

Rail in­dus­try in­sid­ers say some of the in­creased costs are down to changes de­manded by Trans­port Scot­land but also the cost of mak­ing changes where the route’s over­head wires and rail­way bridges were too low to meet safety stan­dards. Orig­i­nally sched­uled to be com­plete by last year the EGIP scheme has faced a num­ber of de­lays with both Net­work Rail and the ORR con­sis­tently rais­ing doubts about the de­liv­ery of a 42-minute jour­ney time, with eight- car ser­vices, be­tween Ed­in­burgh and Glas­gow by De­cem­ber this year.

Alit­tle good news about Scot­land’s rail­ways has been in short sup­ply in re­cent years.

Abel­lio has been widely crit­i­cised for its per­for­mance and han­dling of the Sco­tRail fran­chise since tak­ing over in 2015, and the soar­ing costs on the flag­ship elec­tri­fi­ca­tion project re­vealed to­day hardly in­spires con­fi­dence.

So is it time to take a step back and look for a more rad­i­cal way of run­ning our rail­ways?

Do pas­sen­gers re­ally care who is in charge if their train turns up on time and they can get a seat?

Full na­tion­al­i­sa­tion of the rail­ways is be­ing strongly pushed by Labour but the truth is we are al­ready half­way there as track op­er­a­tor Net­work Rail is pub­licly owned.

The Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment be­lieves Net­work Rail should be de­volved to Holy­rood and it is a view shared by think tank Re­form Scot­land.

For­mer Labour MP and trans­port min­is­ter Tom Har­ris, a board mem­ber at Re­form Scot­land, said: “There has been al­most con­stant dis­cus­sion about na­tion­al­is­ing Sco­tRail for years, and it con­tin­ues un­abated.

“But it is a mean­ing­less dis­trac­tion. Sco­tRail is re­spon­si­ble for only around onethird of the de­lays on the rail­ways, whereas over half are down to Net­work Rail – the pub­lic body re­spon­si­ble and al­ready na­tion­alised.

“What would be in­ter­est­ing to ex­plore is whether the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment could do a bet­ter job of run­ning Scot­land’s rail­way in­fra­struc­ture than the West­min­ster Gov­ern­ment.

“Scot­land’s rail prob­lems are more fun­da­men­tal than the cur­rent de­bate would sug­gest. In 30 years’ time, do we re­ally want to be in a sit­u­a­tion where it could take less time to reach Lon­don by rail from Ed­in­burgh than it does to reach In­ver­ness?

“While rail links to Lon­don are im­por­tant, so too are links within Scot­land, links which are sadly lack­ing at present.”

Be­fore Holy­rood’s sum­mer re­cess, Trans­port Min­is­ter Humza Yousaf is ex­pected to out­line de­tails of plans to al­low a pub­lic bid for the next Sco­tRail fran­chise in 2025. It is ex­pected to take a model sim­i­lar to Cal­Mac, the Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment-owned but arm­slength com­pany which runs the west coast fer­ries.

How­ever, the move has thrown up a raft of le­gal headaches and costs, and will still leave a sit­u­a­tion where a pub­lic bid­der which has never run a rail­way be­fore will be putting in a ten­der against ex­pe­ri­enced train op­er­a­tors come 2025.

Robert Samson, se­nior stake­holder man­ager at pas­sen­ger group Trans­port Fo­cus, said most peo­ple will only care about what sort of dif­fer­ence it will make to the ser­vice of­fered. He said: “The model the gov­ern­ment are look­ing at is not so much re-na­tion­al­i­sa­tion but al­low­ing a pub­lic sec­tor bid along­side a pri­vate one.

“Our po­si­tion on this is if there is an in­creased pool of bid­ders then that in­creases com­pe­ti­tion and, at the end of the day, pas­sen­gers want the best bid which de­liv­ers the best level of ser­vice in terms of fre­quency and punc­tu­al­ity.

“Peo­ple will have a po­lit­i­cal view but we take it from a con­sumer point of view, where what are the pri­or­i­ties for pas­sen­gers? That is fre­quency of ser­vices, re­li­a­bil­ity, can you get a seat. These are the sorts of is­sues which will de­ter­mine if peo­ple will keep us­ing the rail­ways or look else­where.”

The is­sue of de­volv­ing Net­work Rail is likely to come to the fore in the com­ing year as there is a loom­ing bat­tle be­tween the UK and Scot­tish gov­ern­ments over fund­ing.

SNP min­is­ters say the UK Gov­ern­ment al­lo­ca­tion for rail im­prove­ments in Scot­land for 2019-24 is £460 mil­lion short and stepped up ef­forts to get Net­work Rail de­volved.

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said the move would “de­liver proper ac­count­abil­ity and in­creased ef­fi­cien­cies in the man­age­ment of our rail­way in­fra­struc­ture”.

“We fund it, we set its ob­jec­tives but we’ve no di­rect in­flu­ence over its op­er­a­tions be­cause it is ac­count­able to the De­part­ment for Trans­port.”

Net­work Rail and Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment have re­sisted the de­vo­lu­tion calls so far, point­ing out the rail­way net­work’s cross-bor­der na­ture makes a UK- wide ap­proach to op­er­at­ing the tracks more sen­si­ble.

Crit­ics also claim the calls to de­volve Net­work Rail are a dis­trac­tion from what should be the more im­me­di­ate task of get­ting the track op­er­a­tor and Abel­lio to stick to the prom­ises they have made to im­prove the lot of weary pas­sen­gers.

The elec­tri­fi­ca­tion of the Ed­in­burgh-Glas­gow rail line has gone over bud­get and over-run, much to the con­cern of the rail reg­u­la­tor

Net­work Rail is pub­licly owned. Right, Trans­port Min­is­ter Humza Yousaf

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