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Faster trains cost an extra £65m on West Coast line

Network Rail has spent over £100 million more than expected on parts of its scheme to revamp the West Coast Main Line between London and Glasgow.

Project manager Bechtel and main contractor Jarvis have been working with Network Rail’s in-house team since 2002 on the £9 billion job, due to be completed in December.

The rail operator originally budgeted for enhancement costs - changes that allow trains to run faster - to total £179.7 million. But its figures predict they will now exceed £245 million.

According to its annual return, it blew its budget on like-for-like renewals. These included a near £23 million overspend on electrification work for the project, which ended up costing £91 million due largely to additional work at Rugby.

The figures also reveal plant and machinery costs, which are also under the renewals budget, increased by £13.3 million. This was due to internal transfers planned for 2007/08 that actually took place in 2006/07.

But these overspends were partially offset by the reclassification of track renewals work at Milton Keynes and the re-phasing of signalling work at Northampton, which resulted in savings of £45 million and £6.9 million respectively.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “The extra costs are down to the fact that we had to make our plans more robust to complete the job by December. We have to pay for extra resources to work more weekends and we had to pay compensation to train operators.”

Virgin Trains, London Midland and freight operators received £40 million in compensation for over-runs on the West Coast line over the C-hristmas holiday period.

Earlier this year the rail operator was fined a record £14 million by the Office of Rail Regulation after the problems that engulfed its projects at Rugby, London Liverpool Street and Shields Junction near Glasgow.

To get the West Coast project completed by the network operator’s 28 December deadline, contractors will be asked to bring in extra staff to carry out work at Rugby almost every weekend until the end of the year.

Network Rail, which has built up its in-house staff of overhead line engineers, will have a heavy on-site presence as part of its new strategy of command announced in the wake of last year’s debacle.

A ‘gold commander’ has strategic overview, while a ‘silver commander’ from Network Rail is on site in charge of all the resources and implementing the strategy. Further operator staff, or ‘bronze commanders’, will work directly with the staff on the job. In the case of the West Coast work, this will cover overhead lines, track -renewals and signalling.

Analysis: Over-runs are a lesson to be learned

By Alasdair Reisner

In the grand scheme of things - and £9 billion certainly means a grand scheme - the £50 million or so of extra spending above Network Rail’s forecast for the West Coast Main Line may seem like small beer.

The rail network operator will claim the extra spending was unforeseen, stemming in part from the well documented problems experienced with upgrade work at Rugby earlier this year.

But whether this is the case or not, the money for this extra 10 per cent spend will need to be found from somewhere.

When you consider the industry whipping boy the Highways Agency became when it lost its ability to control its cost estimates, Network Rail might want to make sure it keeps a rather closer eye on its sums in future.