UK: Significant cost increases and delays to the UK’s pilot tram-train project are detailed in a report published by the National Audit Office on July 4.

NAO found that while the Department for Transport and Network Rail have established new technical standards and shared the lessons learned with other tram-train project promoters, it is too early to determine whether the pilot scheme will realise the hoped-for strategic benefits.

Announced in September 2009 and approved by ministers in May 2012 with an expected infrastructure cost of £18·7m, the pilot project involves modernising and electrifying a NR freight line and linking it to the Sheffield Supertram network. This would enable a fleet of Vossloh tram-train vehicles to run through from Sheffield to Rotherham.

While DfT accepted from the start that the financial benefits of the scheme were uncertain, the Treasury give the go-ahead on an ‘exceptional’ basis to allow a more detailed evaluation of the costs associated with tram–train projects, including practical and operational issues and required changes to technical standards.

This would help inform decisions about proposals for tram-schemes in locations including Greater Manchester, Glasgow airport and the Cardiff Valleys, where promoters envisage that through running between tram lines and under-used heavy rail lines could improve public transport penetration of city centres and release main line rail capacity at busy stations.

The NAO’s report focuses specifically on the modification of NR infrastructure; vehicle procurement and tramway works are outside the scope.

NAO found that NR did not have a full understanding of the costs at the start of the project. It revised its forecasts upwards as it discovered that existing assets were in poorer condition than expected and that the work would be more complex than anticipated. Changes were made to signalling specifications, and the characteristics of the tram-train vehicles differed from the agreed design assumptions. DfT’s decision to electrify the main line railway at 25 kV 50 Hz in the future required the proposed 750 V DC tram-train electrification equipment to be redesigned to accommodate the future switch over, adding £5m to the costs.

DfT and NR now expect the works to cost £75·1m, an increase of 401% on the original budget, and completion is envisaged for May 2018, allowing the tram-train service to begin in summer 2018.

Responding to the NAO report, NR’s London North Eastern & East Midlands Route Managing Director Rob McIntosh said there were ‘a significant number of unique issues’ that the pilot scheme had to overcome, and while the project ‘continues to be complex and challenging’, a new team was in place and ‘good progress’ was being made.

  • In May 2017 DfT agreed a £2·5m settlement with Supertram operating concessionaire Stagecoach to cover its costs and loss of revenue associated with delays to the tram-train project.