Rail improvement projects behind schedule, report finds

Scotrail Image copyright PA

Major rail improvement projects in Scotland are behind schedule with costs spiralling, according to a new report.

Analysis of Network Rail's performance found the electrification of the line between Edinburgh and Glasgow is unlikely to be completed by December.

It has also made "slow progress" on improvements to the Highland mainline and the Aberdeen to Inverness route.

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf said he was "concerned and disappointed" by the report.

He has ordered Transport Scotland officials to carry out a review of the governance of major rail projects.

'Financial efficiencies'

In its annual assessment of Network Rail, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said it had concerns "regarding the ability of key projects to meet their obligations and regulatory milestones".

Chief executive Joanna Whittington said: "Network Rail has successfully delivered some major enhancement projects in the past year, including Scotland's first new rail line in over 100 years, the Borders Railway.

"However, there are cost and delivery issues on other projects which need to be addressed.

"Over the course of the next year, we need to see evidence that Network Rail's initiatives are delivering financial efficiencies and noticeable performance improvements for passengers while achieving gains in health and safety."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Humza Yousaf said he was "concerned and disappointed" by the report

The report revealed that electric services will not run on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line until July 2017 - seven months behind schedule.

Mr Yousaf said the cost of the project had also increased beyond the previous £742m estimate.

He added: "I am not prepared to simply accept the long-term cost implications, nor the revised programmes that Network Rail have set out.

"I will also be doing everything possible to ensure that Network Rail deliver the full programme in Scotland by March 2019 and without any extra funding from the Scottish government."

Mr Yousaf said he expected the Transport Scotland review to be completed by September, after which he expected senior Network Rail officials to come before Holyrood's rural economy and connectivity committee to answer questions.

Image copyright Borders Railway
Image caption Network Rail said the Borders Railway was completed "on time and under budget"

Scottish Green MSP Patrick Harvie said the delay to the electrification of the Edinburgh-Glasgow line would be "frustrating" for rail users.

"For too long governments have put their greatest efforts into road building, desperate to be 'on time and on budget' whenever it comes to keeping motorists happy," he said.

"We should expect nothing less when it comes to much-needed improvements to our public transport system.

"Scottish ministers must hold Network Rail to account so that the travelling public are not left behind."

'Valuable lessons'

Phil Verster, managing director of Network Rail Scotland and of the ScotRail Alliance said: "Our Network Rail project teams and their suppliers have a strong and proud track record in Scotland of delivering on-time and on-budget. We need look no further than the Borders Railway line to see evidence of that.

"The programme impacts highlighted today will not delay the introduction of our exciting new fleet of faster, longer, greener trains - nor will they impact on our ability to deliver the 200 new services and 20,000 extra seats promised in the Revolution in Rail timetable change.

"Very importantly, our teams have learnt valuable lessons from the circumstances, decisions and programme impacts over the last months."

He added: "The Edinburgh-Glasgow improvement programme is still progressing well and, as the ORR indicated today, the costs have risen due to extra compliance requirements, complicated interfaces with other projects and other unforeseen factors such as severe weather impacts.

"Despite this, I am pleased to confirm that we are committed to still deliver the overall railway enhancement programme for Scotland by March 2019, and within the agreed funding limits."

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