Network Rail and DfT urged to learn from Great Western electrification’s failings

Photo: Joe Dunckley/

Network Rail and the Department for Transport have been told they must learn from the issues that have dogged the Great Western electrification project as they move forward with future schemes.

A report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said issues with the design and planning of the electrification of the Great Western Main Line raised concerns about the organisations’ ability to successfully deliver future programmes, such as the Midland Main Line and Transpennine upgrades.

The committee also said it was unclear whether the Great Western electrification project would be delivered in 2018 within the revised £2.8 billion budget.

Meg Hillier MP, chair of the PAC, said Great Western was a “stark example of how not to run a major project”.

She added: “Government accepts it got this project badly wrong and must now demonstrate it has learned the lessons. Network Rail admits there are still very significant risks in the Great Western scheme and it is vital these are fully identified and carefully managed.”

Highlighting the budget and schedule overruns, the committee said Network Rail needed to improve how it estimates project costs and ensure that works are properly planned before construction starts, something Network Rail says it has already improved on.

Network Rail’s chief executive, Mark Carne, said: “I very much welcome the PAC’s conclusions. The modernisation of the Great Western line was always going to be a hugely complex job on the world’s oldest long-distance railway. Yet in 2009 it was committed to, then started, long before the scale of the work was properly understood.

“Network Rail and Department for Transport have learnt the lessons from the poor early planning of this project. Today we do not take forward major projects until they are properly scoped, properly planned and we have a robust estimate of what the cost will be.”

Carne went on to point to some of the positive milestones that have been achieved, including the launch of the first electric train services between Paddington and Hayes & Harlington at the start of this year.

In the report’s conclusions and recommendations, the committee also said the DfT should reappraise future electrification plans and only look to fund them where cheaper alternatives, that offer the same benefits, aren’t available.

In the same statement, Hillier said: “The Department failed to adequately challenge Network Rail’s plans to carry out the infrastructure work and, even now, casts doubt on whether electrification work on this and other lines is even necessary.”

Responding to the report, Rail Minister Paul Maynard said the department continually assesses its investment decisions and since 2015 has made significant changes to the way it works with Network Rail.


  1. We should be electrifying our entire network, over time, on principle. The important thing is to just keep on going, by setting aside £0.5bn each year, every year until the job is done. Follow up the Great Western line to Cardiff with the Electric Spine, then the line to Holyhead, then the line to Cornwall, and then infill.

  2. I believe Patrick McLoughlin, the former Secretary of State for Transport, made the big mistake of signing-off too many electrification schemes at once, as a pre-election gimmick. These promises then backfired on him when all costings were calculated and problems with the GWR scheme first raised their heads. Of course, he was removed from the post in Theresa May’s re-shuffle. As others have said, schemes such as Midland Main Line and TransPennine should now be put on hold, until the problems with GWR are finally sorted out and the full network – including branches – is wired and energised.

    • @MikeB; Midland Main Line and TransPennine have already been put on hold following the delays to Great Western. They were subsequently restarted, having taken the time to learn the lessons. Let’s remember that while the GW problems have unfolded, electrification projects continue in the North-West and whilst not without their problems, appear to be going reasonably well. There is a risk that we throw the baby out with the bathwater here.

      • Yes, Midland Main Line and TransPennine were “paused” and then “un-paused” after a very short time but my gut feeling is that Network Rail now wants to get Great Western up and running before sending the electrification gangs to the other two projects. Perhaps they may not be put on hold but I can definitely see Midland Main Line and TransPennine further delayed. The North West schemes are indeed progressing but even they are delayed, mainly due to the change of contractor : Manchester-Preston now December 2017 and Preston-Blackpool May 201.


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