Huge increases in Tram-Train pilot costs

A report released by the National Audit Office has shown that the costs involved in the Tram-Train pilot, which will eventually see services run between the Stagecoach Supertram network and Rotherham on the national rail network, has increased five times from the original agreed budget. It is now expected that it will cost £75.1 million for the Network Rail modification works against the agreed budget of £15 million.

It has long been known that the project has suffered from severe delays – the latest estimate suggests summer 2018 for a start in services – but this report really shows just how the work seems to have spiralled out of control. With the continued delays and increased costs it has also been revealed that the Department for Transport seriously considered abandoning the project on two separate occasions.

The second of these was in July 2016 when a recommendation was actually made to abandon the project “as many of the lessons of using tram-trains in the UK had already been learned”. However the Rail Minister at the time didn’t accept this recommendation and asked Network Rail to meet the funding shortfall (the DfT had capped their contribution to £45.3 million in 2015). This was agreed and work continued on the project.

The aim of the project has always not just been about a Sheffield to Rotherham service but to see if the idea of tram-trains in the UK is a viable proposition. As a result the benefit-cost ratio has always been at the lower end of the scale, starting off at 1.0 in May 2012. However the increased costs have seen this further reduce to 0.31.

The NAO report concludes that lessons have been learnt by the DfT and Network Rail from the pilot (presumably that it seems to have been badly managed!) but that it is too early to determine whether the project will realise the wider strategic benefits.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of how the project has progressed – and whether a full pilot was truly needed as tram-trains are a known phenomenon across Europe – work now needs to be completed as soon as possible so that services can finally begin. Work should be completed by May 2018 with a start in service in the summer. Before then it is planned that the Citylink vehicles will enter service on the traditional Supertram network.

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14 Responses to Huge increases in Tram-Train pilot costs

  1. 510Dan says:

    Very frustrating and may also be unhelpful to further extensions of the Supertram network.

  2. Combustible No 2 says:

    I sincerely believe that a full scale pilot was not needed. As stated in the article, the technology, infrastructure and buildings have been well and truly proved across Europe. But, from the reaction of BR to Manchester Metrolink encroaching anywhere near their mainline stations to the point we are now at, it appears Network Rail has inherited the hatred of trams, light rail and tram trains. Why else would the costs of this exercise suddenly spiral from £15 million to £75 million? Surely no-one is inclined to believe that an estimate can be so far off the mark, can they?

  3. Paul J Smith says:

    I invite fellow visitors to this site to consider how the 60 million overspend might have been better used elsewhere to the benefit of the nation’s public transport. The worry is how much more overspent is the project going to be by the time it is completed?

  4. Nigel Pennick says:

    Considering that they were running interurban trams on the Chicago Elevated Railway over a hundred years ago and onward via The North Shore line to Milwaukee, where there was street running. Add to that the Blackpool to Fleetwood Tramroad which is essentially a railway and Manchester Metrolink, where trams ran on heavy railway tracks from the beginning, it seems that a pilot project was put into action because Network Rail ignored these historic examples. Tram train connections could have been built where they are needed without any pilot project to delay them for more decades until NR decides whether they work or not. Of course they do. Network Rail electrifying this line with heavy rail techniques when a wire strung on classic tramway overhead poles would do is symptomatic of over-engineering. NR’s inability to complete the electrification of the Gospel Oak to Barking Overground line in London on time is an organisational failure that is fully demonstrated on this short line in South Yorkshire overrunning by three years (and counting!) and four hundred percent costs.

    • Combustible No 2 says:

      Not really that good as examples Nigel. Manchester Metrolink runs, in part, on some former BR alignments but the two never shared the tracks as envisaged in Sheffield. Metrolink runs adjacent to heavy rail between Altrincham and Woodlands Road and by the little used freight only line to the waste disposal plant but literally for a few yards at Newton Heath. Blackpool and Fleetwood never shared track with heavy rail vehicles, though the tramway did own a small electric loco mainly for the movement of coal at Thornton (I believe). But, as previously pointed out by a variety of contributors there are many examples on mainland Europe and elsewhere.

      • Nigel Pennick says:

        Part of the delay seems to be over wheel standards. Metrolink used BR track, albeit, as you say, not shared, but clearly the wheels were compatible. The Fairfield Shipyards in Glasgow operated electric locomotives and freight wagons on the tramlines, so the sharing of heavy and light rail was being done a long time ago in the UK. Karlsruhe to Baden and Heilbronn were put into service years ago as we all know. It seems only in the UK ‘we have a problem’.

  5. Combustible No 2 says:

    Nigel, I respectfully believe you are missing my original point. I do not dispute that there have been shared operations between trams and heavy rail vehicles. But the point is none of these has been during the current regime, Network Rail, and the predecessor BR imposed ridiculous conditions upon Manchester Metrolink during the planning stages that required absolutely over-engineered protection for their trains at mainline stations shared with trams. The “Berlin Wall” was of straw construction compared to the structure required by BR at Manchester Victoria Station. Whilst the Network Rail approach appears to have softened to some extent in favour of light rail/trams they still seem hell bent on the fact that they do not want such vehicles anywhere near their infrastructure.

    • Nigel Pennick says:

      I agree completely with your original point. It’s NR I’m criticising, not you. BR and now NR’s current regime have been over-cautious either through fears of legal action if something might go wrong (what precisely is not clear), or just the ‘not invented here’ syndrome. My point is that they have ignored both the historic mixing of heavy and light rail and the contemporary practise from mainland Europe. They could have learnt a lot, but it seems they are bent on ‘reinventing the wheel’ as great cost to the public finances.

  6. KenW says:

    Why has the joint running on Tyne & Wear Metro between Newcastle and Sunderland not provided Network Rail with the necessary experience and information on integrating light rail and heavy rail I wonder.

  7. mikestone says:

    It is interesting that the NR responses in part states that it was complicated by the fact that DC was being used, which surely should have simplified matters, not complicated them.
    That’s quite apart from the fact that the NR portion should have AC to start with, bearing in mind that any widespread use of tram trains would inevitably have involved AC traction.

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