Delays to electrification of rail line due to new EU rules

Scotrail trains leaving Edinburgh Waverley Pic: Jane Barlow
Scotrail trains leaving Edinburgh Waverley Pic: Jane Barlow
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Delays to the electrification of the railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow were caused as a result of negotiating a legislation “minefield”, MSPs have heard.

Project leaders admitted they could have reacted faster to changes in European standards that had a major impact on the work.

They appeared before Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee to explain why the scheme has been delayed by seven months to July 2017.

Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, told the committee: “We’re doing quite a lot of work to try and better that and improve that and to turn that situation into a success.”

He said the majority of rail projects in Scotland have been completed on time but changes to international standards for rail electrification “has added critical cost and time” to the Edinburgh-Glasgow Improvement Programme (EGIP).

Karl Budge, regional director of infrastructure projects for Network Rail, compared electrification to a “minefield” covered by multiple legislation.

He said in early 2015 a European standard was updated which changed the distance away from the wires that was considered safe for bridges or railway platforms.

Mr Budge said: “That doesn’t mean it was a complete rewire of EGIP and everything that had been put up, which is what the media suggested several weeks ago.

“What it meant was redesign in certain areas and localised changes around structures where we had to change the wire height or risk-assess through to prove that we didn’t need to.

“So, that was an ongoing process that started in 2015 along a project the length of EGIP and with as many structures as it has – it has been really quite complex to do that.”

Changes to standards for boundary wall measures also meant thousands of metres more fencing was needed while parapet heights along the line had to be raised.

Mr Verster said: “There was this attempt by Network Rail to keep costs down and say ‘this new specification is really high, can we risk-assess it so that we get a derogation and therefore not have to comply?’.

“So, we made a decision last year when all of the shenanigans started to become really clear about the cost issues, it became also clear to us and to me that if we don’t comply with these standards the ORR (Office of Rail and Road) will not sign off that this line goes live.

“I made the decision in around the March period of time and asked the project team . . . ‘stop the debate, move to the new standard. The railway has a life of hundreds of year into the future, fix this now’.”

Asked whether enough notice is given when standards changed, he responded: “I dare say it’s reasonable notice and I dare say the debate on risk assessments went on too long.”