Great Western electrification

Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group

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Published: 11th November 2016

This Article was Written by: Richard Furlong - City Surveys Group


The government has announced that part of the plan to electrify the Great Western line has been deferred indefinitely.

The project to electrify the line between London to Cardiff by 2018 has already suffered a string of setbacks.

In a written statement issued on the 8 November, Transport minister Paul Maynard confirmed the Department for Transport (DfT) and Network Rail joint project was still on schedule to complete electrification between the UK capitals by 2018 but that certain lines on the route would be affected. These include:

  • Didcot Parkway – Oxford
  • Bristol Parkway – Bristol Temple Meads
  • Bath Spa – Bristol Temple Meads
  • The Twyford – Henley-on-Thames and Slough – Windsor and Eton Central branches

The decision was made before a damning report from the National Audit Office was released. The report pinpointed significant problems within the electrification programme and criticised Network Rail and DfT project for poor communication and management.

The report stated that the full cost of the project was £5.6bn, and warned that the soaring budget meant that the DfT ought to reconsider whether completing the rest of the work would represent value for money.

However, Andy Mcdonald, Shadow Transport Secretary, claimed that businesses and commuters were being made to pay the price for the government’s incompetence.

He said that it was “unacceptable for ministers to renege on promises to deliver electrification of lines time and time again. The secretary of state must reverse this decision and make clear that the government will keep to their word and deliver the upgrades as planned.”

According to BBC Transport Correspondent Richard Westcott: “Network Rail had pinned their hopes on a multi-million pound factory train that digs holes, puts up overhead wire supports, and then fills the holes with concrete and hangs the wires.”

He added: “It was meant to put in 120 piles a week, but for a long time, I’m told it only managed about 30.” This consequently caused significant delays. The project was originally planned to be completed by 2018.”

Paul Maynard MP said that: “we have always been clear that there were difficulties with this programme”.

He acknowledged that the modernisation was ‘ambitious and challenging’ but that real progress was being made.

Maynard added that the decision “underscores the government’s approach to wider rail investment; the passenger outcomes must be delivered in conjunction with achieving the best value from every pound spent.”

There are hopes that the money saved by deferment (estimated to be between £146m and £165m) will be used to deliver additional benefits to passengers through the rail investment programme, without requiring ‘costly and disruptive electrification works’.

Mark Langman, Network Rail’s Western Route Managing Director, said that although the project has been deferred, ‘good progress’ was being made on the investment programme overall, which will offer new and upgraded trains with higher capacity and faster journeys, as well as more services and better stations.

He added that the changes made would “deliver these benefits to the greatest number of passengers in the shortest possible time.”

A spokesperson for the Great Western Railway apologised for the inconvenience, claiming ‘customers will be disappointed at the further delays’, but confirmed that the franchise was determined to show customers the benefits as soon as possible, with the introduction of ‘the biggest fleet upgrade in a generation’.

Maynard claimed that the programme had been placed on a more efficient footing, but a completion date for the full electrification of the line is yet to be confirmed. Industry pundits believe Network Rail are now aiming for completion by 2024 with many wondering aloud whether it will ever be completed.

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