Revealed: Inquiry launched as cost of upgrading busiest rail line soars by £116m A
Electrifying Edinburgh to Glasgow will cost at least £858m
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