A major upgrade of the rail line between Blackpool and Preston has been derailed.
Crippled by delays and growing concerns over the cost, Balfour Beatty has revealed it will not continue with the electrification of the lines between Blackpool and Preston.
The bombshell announcement was today described as a significant setback for the Government’s vision of a Northern Powerhouse, as opponents warned Blackpool residents had been misled by “empty promises”.
Balfour Beatty has said it will not continue with phases three to seven of the project. Electrification of the line between Blackpool and Preston and from Preston to Manchester have previously been identified as phases three and four.
Network Rail, which contracted Balfour Beatty to carry our its electrification project in the North West, said it remained committed to the scheme – but gave no assurances over when work will resume.
Blackpool South MP and shadow transport minister Gordon Marsden said the news was a “significant blow”.
It is very clear that George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse is now a disaster.Stephen Brookes
He added: “For all their rhetoric about supporting the North, already this Parliament the Government has threatened to pull the plug on vital North West electrification.
“The upgrade has already been delayed by a year by Network Rail scheduling it as a lower priority than other schemes in the North West.
“Worse still than a further delay would be if Blackpool suffers the same fate of schemes being put on indefinite pause, something the Government has still not discounted.”
He said he would be pressing the Government to come clean about why the electrification project has been plagued by delays.
Balfour Beatty, which has come under fire on the Fylde coast over the demise of Blackpool Airport, said it was “unlikely to meet its stated objectives of delivering the scope of the work on time and to budget”.
As a result, its deal with Network Rail has been terminated, with just two of the seven phases of the North West electrification project complete.
Rail campaigner Stephen Brookes, who has been vocal about previous delays to the project, called for Network Rail to apologise for the latest setback and be more up front with passengers about the project in the future.
He added: “It is nothing less than shocking.
“It is very clear that George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse is now a disaster.”
Network Rail said Balfour Beatty was ending its involvement “by mutual consent”.
A spokesman added: “Network Rail is committed to delivering the benefits of the North West electrification which will provide space for hundreds more trains each day and room for millions more passengers.
“Network Rail has carried out a review to ensure we have the most efficient deployment of resources to deliver the next phases of this key improvement.
“We will be retaining Balfour Beatty’s design services, and a new contractor will be appointed shortly. A full transition plan is in place to ensure that this work continues.
“Network Rail and the Government are fully committed to electrifying the railway in the North West, bringing quicker, greener, more frequent and more spacious trains for customers – along with economic growth and prosperity for the North.
“We continue to progress our commitment to invest in all phases of North West electrification.”
A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “We are fully committed to the North West electrification programme as part of our ambitious plans for the Northern Powerhouse.
“We are clear that we expect Network Rail to deliver electrification to Blackpool as planned so that passengers can benefit as soon as possible.
“It is for Network Rail to manage its relationship with contractors as necessary.”
Last year, rail bosses announced the electrification work on the Fylde coast would not be complete until 2017, rather than 2016 as previously stated.
In July, rail bosses said all its schemes were under review but any decision to delay the project further “would not be taken lightly”.
The first phase of Network Rail’s North West electrification scheme was completed in 2013, between Manchester and Newton-le-Willows.
Balfour Beatty’s departure follows the completion of phase two, between Manchester, Liverpool and Wigan, earlier this year.