Damning report released into tram-train pilot

It has been delayed, it is well over budget and now the tram-train pilot – which will eventually run between Sheffield and Rotherham – has been heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee. As well as being very critical of the way the project has been managed the Committee also have concerns over the benefits of the project and lessons for the future.

Network Rail come out of the report very badly with the project having “encountered unacceptable cost increases and delays”. They are accused of having seriously under-estimated the scale and complexity of the works, and failed to factor in the risks involved in delivering new technology. The Department for Transport are not absolved of blame either as they are accused of failing to scrutinise or Network Rail’s plans at the outset and then didn’t challenge hard enough as the costs rose from £15 million to £75.1 million. These are the same failings which had been seen in the similarly badly managed project to electrify the Great Western mainline.

One of the main reasons for introducing this pilot was to learn lessons for future similar projects across the UK but the Public Accounts Committee remain to be convinced that the project will achieve the wider benefits originally envisaged. Neither Network Rail or the DfT are said to have done enough to learn the lessons from the pilot project, including whether the technology is useable elsewhere and calculating the likely costs of developing new tram-train schemes.

Meg Hillier, Public Accounts Committee Chair, didn’t hold back in her comments: “This project promised great benefits for passengers and, importantly, a potential model for similar schemes in cities such as Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow. Instead the reality is another rail project with all the makings of a ‘how not to’ seminar for senior civil servants. This pilot was trialling technology new to the UK, yet neither Network Rail nor the Department for Transport properly considered the high level of risk and uncertainty. Unrealistic costings went unchallenged, resulting in an initial budget of £15 million spiralling to some £75 million. There have been long delays, and it is still not clear how, or even if, the experience of running this pilot will reduce the costs and improve delivery of any future tram-train schemes. Not for the first time, we heard evidence intended to reassure Parliament and the public that lessons learned on this project will ensure the failings identified will not arise again. We will be expecting Government to back this up with a meaningful review of the way it manages such projects, from calculating cost estimates through to transparently evaluating results. Actions speak louder than words and on behalf of taxpayers we will, if necessary, recall witnesses responsible for current and future projects and hold them to account for their performance.”

The project continues to progress and it is hoped that tram-train services will commence by the end of 2018.

* The full report can be viewed at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/453/45302.htm

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7 Responses to Damning report released into tram-train pilot

  1. Peter Watts says:

    For comparison, in 1991 the tram-train project in Saarbrucken Germany was announced, and opened 6 years later. Not only is this a tram-train, but part of the journey crosses the French border to terminate in Sarreguemines. Therefore there had to be agreement between the German and French rail authorities as well as introducing the new technology for the project. The actual construction time for the initial network (it has been extended twice since to cover now 44km) was 2,5 years, and was completed within the budget foreseen. This included the purchase of 26 Flexity Link trams which still provide a good and confortable service today.

    Similarly in 2004, the French city of Mulhouse announced their tram-train project, and after a construction period of 3 years, the first tram-train ran in 2010.

    Both systems uses tram sections in the centre of the cities, coupled to sections on railway lines still used by heavy rail as well as the tram-trains, and therefore can be compared to the project in the UK.

  2. KenW says:

    I wonder how much of the delay and increased cost is down to the DfT’s demand made part way through the scheme that the OHL must be suitable for use by main line 25kv trains if they decide in the future to electrify the main line – which in itself is laughable considering the amount of authorised electrification they have scrapped in recent months. The number of years that they have dithered and dallied since tram-trains were first proposed will also have led to escalating costs, just as happened with Metrolink phase 3.
    Why do we have to re-invent the wheel every time we create something which is new to the UK but widely in use in many other places? Are we really so incompetent? The DfT certainly seem to be. Still, they’ve always got Network Rail to use as a scapegoat.

    • Peter Watts says:

      The Saarbrucken system actually has the same issue, in the fact that on the line down to the French border it is electrified at 15kV AC, whereas the rest of the system is at 750V DC. On leaving the tram section on the south side of Saarbrucken, there is a neutral section which the trams coast through whilst the driver switches from 750V DC to 15kv AC.

  3. Kevin says:

    Isn’t Stadbahn technically Tram/Train? therefore we’ve actually had one since 1992! Just pop over to Manchester and see how its done! OK on this occasion its not sharing heavy rail but easily could.

    • Peter Watts says:

      Not quite. Under German law, Stadbahn is a rapid light railway to Metro standards, and do not under normal operating conditions venture onto street running sections, but integrate into the tram networks. The Stadbahn systems are also completely independent from the German national rail system, and are controlled by a separate body unlike the S-Bahn which is a commuter railway controlled by the German equivalent of the UK’s Network rail. The closest UK system to a “pure” German Stadbahn is the DLR or Newcastle’s Metro, whereas Manchester’s Metrolink is a mix between a stadbahn and tram network. Germany now tends to mix other terminology such as U-bahn, tram, regionalbahn, some of which are stadbahn, some are S-Bahn. The complication came from the fact that the German government never ratified a legal definition of “stadbahn” before many systems opened, hence the mix and confusion.

      Neither the DLR or Metrolink can be considered as a tram-train, which by EU definition is a tram network which shares tracks with heavy rail and can be operated by either. A tram-train system used vehicles based on tram design. Again in the UK the only network where this came close was in Newcastle, where the Metro shared tracks for some time with BR services (either freight or passenger).

      Just to cloud matters more, technically there is also a train-tram, which is similar to a tram-train but the vehicles are based on heavy rail which then runs though onto a tram network. This is more common in North America. In the past such a system existed on the Weymouth tramway when the heavy rail trains went through to the ferry terminal.

  4. Nigel Pennick says:

    Kevin is right – Manchester trams running on standard railway track from 1992. They did it in the United States before World War I. But Britain always has to reinvent ways of doing things – it’s the old ‘not invented here’ syndrome of suspicion and hostility to ideas from elsewhere. It took 29 years for our leaders to fund the Wednesbury to Brierly Hill tramline, so we are not to expect anything to be done on time. There is little evidence we do things well in the UK. One could write a book about it. No doubt this over-reach will lead to any new tram-train schemes being cancelled ‘just in case’.

  5. mikestone says:

    I cannot understand why this scheme wasn’t done at 25kv – had the Sheffield scheme been more succesful, we would probably have gone through the whole thing again as any other scheme would surely involve a 25kv route.
    A far more useful trial route would surely have been for Manchester Metrolink to run to Warrington Central, to remove the CLC stopping services from Oxford Road before the Ordsall link opened.