West of England Rail Electrification Programme, 23 February 2017

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Posted by Catherine Bendell on 20th Feb 2017

The South Wales and West of England branch was pleased to invite back Jill Poyton, Senior Sponsor for the West of England Rail Electrification at Network Rail, to talk about the challenges of the programme.

Jill explained her role of senior sponsor as being the client’s representative, working alongside the programme team to make sure that the project will deliver the required benefits, within budget and timescale.

National rail strategy is ultimately decided by the Department for Transport, (DfT) and the Government, with Network Rail implementing that strategy, as well as implementing some of their own initiatives and also working with the train operating companies (TOC) on their initiatives. Local Councils do not have any direct decision making powers, but they do lobby DfT for local improvements and initiatives. Railway work is categorised as renewals (maintaining like for like operations), enhancements (actual improvements for customers), or ongoing maintenance.

The electrification programme is an enhancement that aims to increase passenger capacity on the existing track. Electric trains are lighter and accelerate faster and will allow an increase from 2 trains per hour to 4 trains per hour between Bristol Temple Meads and London Paddington, with more seats and up to a 22 minute improvement in journey time. Other key benefits of electrification include reduced pollution, reduced running costs, reduced wear on rails and lower maintenance of the trains.

There are 4 main inter-related projects around the Bristol area. A new train care depot at Stoke Gifford with an extra platform at Parkway to enable this. Rationalising the number of point sets NE of Temple Meads. Running 4 tracks through Filton to increase capacity to South Wales and London, and a new signalling system for the whole area. Previously all of these had been run as separate projects, but it was recognised that this was not as effective as needed and so the Greater West Programme has now been put in place to integrate and co-ordinate all the related projects from Maidenhead to Cardiff, a multi-billion pound programme.

There is more focus on stakeholder management with the public, train and freight operating companies, road users and lineside neighbours, as well as the need to maintain an operating rail network. Access to undertake work is always a challenge and the TOCs/FOCs have to be compensated when lines train paths are not available, with a balance between full closure for a period, or working less efficiently at night. There are multiple funding sources with separate lines of accountability that need to be managed, especially if they are combined for specific contracts. Change control is challenging with 3 levels of governance: the DfT, the Network Rail Sponsor, and the Greater West Programme. As sponsor, Jill’s main concern is to keep decision making at the programme and sponsor level and to avoid the need for major change papers to the DfT.

As an example of programme decision making, the Bristol East signal gantry requires to be replaced as part of the remodelling Bristol East junction, but at the same time, the Electrification project requires the gantry to be raised higher. It is obviously cost effective to replace the gantry once to meet the overall requirement and the extra funding for the additional height is supplied by the electrification project.

The National Audit Office reviewed the programme in 2016. The trains had been bought separately by the Government and because of penalty clauses there was pressure to complete electrification asap. There was a realisation of the need to move from an asset procurement focus to a customer benefits focus, specifically that of increasing capacity between Cardiff/Bristol and London. This different way of thinking now sees the projects as key enablers and has helped focus decision making to prioritise funding to enable the delivery of key benefits, i.e. increased capacity.

It was recognised that December 2018 capacity increase can be delivered without completing the Bristol / Bath local electrification because the trains are bi-fuelled and can be switched from pure electric via the overhead gantries to diesel. The intention is to complete the local electrification in the next funding phase; it has only been deferred and not cancelled. But deferring will enable the key benefits of increased capacity to be delivered by Dec 2018. The downside is that some of the benefits of carbon reduction, track wear reduction and reduced maintenance will not be fully achieved until later than originally intended.

Jill summarised the advantages of moving from an asset focussed approach to a programme approach focussed on delivering customer benefits and how that had allowed funding to be prioritised.

The evening finished off with a lively Q&A session.

A copy of the slides is available on the APM Website.

Martin Gosden
SWWE Branch Chairman

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