The initial budget for the tram-train scheme was £15m and it was expected to be completed by December 2015. It is now expected to be completed in May 2018 at a cost of £75.1m.
The National Audit Office (NAO) has today published the findings from its investigation into the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train scheme1, which is intended to provide the first transport service in the UK to use both the street tramway and national rail network. The programme involves modifying the existing national rail infrastructure, modifying the tram network and depot, and purchasing vehicles capable of operating on both networks. The NAO’s report focuses specifically on the works to modify the national rail network, which the Department for Transport (DfT) part-funded and Network Rail managed.
The Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train scheme was always intended as a pilot project to test the viability of operating tram-trains in the UK. The DfT’s approval of the project was based on the wider strategic benefits of rolling-out schemes to other cities to reinvigorate under-used rail lines, better penetrate city centre markets and release capacity at mainline railway stations. The DfT and Network Rail agreed that a pilot project was the best way to test whether the tramway technology could be extended onto national rail lines, and to develop new industry standards.
The DfT accepted the project’s wider financial benefits were uncertain. The benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 1.0 fell into the ‘low’ value-for-money category. In May 2012, the Treasury approved the project ‘on an exceptional basis’ to allow a more detailed evaluation of the value for money of tram-train schemes.
The DfT and Network Rail initially agreed a budget of £15m to modify the national rail infrastructure for the scheme. In May 2012, Network Rail estimated the project would cost £18.7m but expected to make efficiency savings. By November 2014, Network Rail established that costs had increased to £44.9m, an increase of 199% against budget. In July 2012, the DfT announced the national rail line would be electrified after 2019 and asked Network Rail to undertake additional works to adapt the tram-train service.
The NAO sets out the wrangling between senior civil servants, ministers, Network Rail and the Rail Investment Board over continuing with the project. Officials said it should be scrapped. Ministers – elected politicians – saw the need to press on.
Network Rail now expects to complete the works in May 2018, allowing the tram-train service to begin in summer 2018. As at June 2017, Network Rail had achieved a number of construction milestones, including installing new track, the power supply and a tram-train platform at Rotherham Parkgate. It has also changed the way it is managing the project.
It is too early to determine whether the project will realise any wider strategic benefits, the NAO says. The Department and Network Rail have begun to capture the operational issues involved in using tram-trains in the UK and have, for example, established new technical standards for the signalling. Network Rail has shared lessons learned with other tram-train promoters. The DfT has not yet evaluated the value for money of the pilot project or the extent to which it will reduce the costs of introducing similar schemes in other cities.
Network Rail responds
Rob McIntosh, Network Rail’s London North Eastern and East Midlands route managing director, responded: “Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train is an ambitious pilot, a UK first, that will bring new travel choices to people of South Yorkshire when services begin in 2018. The project continues to be complex and challenging but will deliver real benefits for thousands of daily commuters.
“Costs and timescales have moved as the project itself has grown in scope and complexity and has had to incorporate more significant infrastructure changes than originally planned. Good progress is being made and a new project team is now in place and driving the scheme to its conclusion.”
Over the past year all of the track and junctions connecting the tramway and railway have been installed and the erection of overhead masts between Tinsley and Parkgate, completed, he said. Work has also started on the construction of the new tram-train platform at Parkgate, and work continues to raise College Road bridge to allow the overhead power lines to pass underneath.
Mr McIntosh continued: “The project has learned from tram-train systems in Europe that have encountered their own challenges but there were still a significant number of unique issues to the UK that had to be overcome.”
An example of this is the electrification system, which uses DC power as opposed to the AC system which is used across the majority of our network. The pilot has deliberately taken significant time to robustly test and investigate the best way to provide this system.
Similarly the project has been extended to include additional work to future-proof the tram-train electrification system for later conversion to the national rail standard system that was not part of the original scope. Such factors have added time and cost to the pilot.
Mr McIntosh concluded: “As acknowledged by the NAO, significant changes have been made to the management of the project, with a number of construction milestones achieved, new expertise has been added to the project team and a new, more robust schedule of works created.
“Upcoming milestones include the completion of the tram-train stops at Rotherham Central and Parkgate and the completion of the overhead line power system. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners to enable the introduction of a full tram-train service for passengers in 2018.”