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Watchdog savages 401% overspend on late-running tram pilot

Words: Huw Morris

A scheme to boost commuter links into city centres by running trains on tram tracks has descended into farce by running five times over budget and two-and-a-half years behind schedule.

Spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed the original £15 million budget to create the UK’s first tram train between Sheffield and Rotherham – which aims to use both street tramway and the national rail network – has rocketed to £75.1 million, a 401 per cent overspend.

The scheme is not expected to be completed until May next year, long after the original target date of December 2015.

Under the pilot, trains will operate on railway line outside Sheffield before joining tram tracks into the city centre. The project, approved by the Department for Transport (DoT) to boost city centres and release capacity at mainland stations – could be extended to other cities including Manchester and Birmingham.

Network Rail and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive are also responsible for the scheme.

The soaring costs have been blamed on unexpected design complications, worsening railway infrastructure and technological innovations taking more time than originally expected.

The NAO revealed senior civil servants had recommended scrapping the scheme last summer but were overruled by ministers. It said it was “too early to determine whether the project will realise the wider strategic benefits”.

Image credit I iStock