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Letter to pubilc Accounts Committee

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3rd November 2015
 Wp Ref: PAC 01
The Public Accounts Committee
The House of Commons

Dear Sirs,


I see that Mr Carne appeared before you following the “astonishing” cost escalation of the Great Western Electrification; up from an original £874 million to £2.8 billion and rising. 

That reminds me of the scandal of the West Cost Main Line Modernisation programme.  It was to cost £2.35bn in 1997, £2.95bn in March 1999, £4.75bn in October 1999, £5.56bn in January 2000 and £5.8bn at the start of the Public Inquiry in February 2001.  The price rose to £6.3 bn during the inquiry when there were press reports that it would cost £9bn.  By August 2002 the press was reporting £13bn, but that was cut to £10bn after the Regulator struck out the enhancements required for 150 mph speeds.  (Pity, such trains would have negated the “need” for HS2. ……).

Worse still, and among other, Mr Carne said that the reopening of the Borders line in Scotland had been completed on time and within budget.   Rubbish, the original capital cost was £72m, at Parliamentary approval, £155m.  Now nobody knows because £60m of land acquisition and preparatory costs were taken out and all the quite massive road realignments shifted to the roads budget. Statements of "over £360m" are not challenged by the rail lobby.  On budget?  On bodger more like it – the man must be “joking”.

Separately from costs, Bombardier said to the Transport Committee of the House of Commons, during an Inquiry into the Future of the Railway that, “To give a few figures. To carry 50,000 people in one direction we would need:

  • A 175 m road used by cars, or
  • A 35 m wide road used by buses, or
  • A 9 m wide track bed for a metro or commuter railway”

(Ev 479 in Volume 2 of the Seventh Report of Session 2003-04).

In contrast, in New York we have a contra flow express coach lane 11 feet wide and 4 miles long, including 1.5 miles in tunnel.  It carries close to 700 45-seat coaches in the peak hour, offering 30,000 seats.  The coaches may as well be 75-seaters.  At 100 kph and with 1,000 per hour the headways would average 100 metres, or over 80 bumper to bumper; more than is commonly seen on motorways.  That would provide 75,000 seats per hour.  Hence, rather than the metro providing the greater capacity, it is the express coach with a dedicated track.  That combination would provide seats for all in place of the metro’s standing and crushed conditions and at a fraction the cost.

Against that background why does anyone believe anything that the railway lobby says?

Yours faithfully

Paul F Withrington

Letter widely circulated

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