Runaway Train: At £300m is Croxley Rail Fiasco [still] Value for Money?

rail link

It has been widely reported that costs for the Croxley Rail Link have spiralled out of all control.  The original cost bid for was £118m.  We reported last summer that this had climbed to £180m and the figure Hertfordshire County Council’s cabinet considered last month was £249m.  They said: “At present there remains a gap between the proposed budget and the resources currently available from all partners.” No kidding!  The Watford Observer reported that London Underground Ltd, which was being asked to take control, had set the budget risk at between £285-298m!  WHAT’S GOING ON??

More to the point – how can this still be VALUE FOR MONEY?

In the Value for Money Annex Report prepared for the Croxley Rail Link project in September 2011 (from which the sensitivity analysis table below is extracted), specialist transport economic consultants Steer Davies Gleeve identified that the benefit:cost ratio for a viable scheme should be at least 1.5:1 and, based on the ‘Best and Final Bid’ (BAFB) of £104.3m received at the time the scheme BCR was 2.61.  This was regarded as a good investment return although in a previous post we questioned the validity of some of the assumptions presented to the public enquiry in 2013.

SDGeconomicSensitivity

With a capital cost increase of 20% to £125m the BCR would sink to 2.1.  With an increase of 135% to £245m the BCR would sink to 1.0 (break-even – over a long period).  However based on London Underground’s latest budget estimates the scheme represents a BCR of less than 1.0 – a loss, in fact!

And the Watford Observer quotes that the scheme will operate 6 trains per hour from Watford Junction to Baker Street at peak times – this compares with 8 trains per hour currently from Watford Met between 7 and 8am.  This is an unmitigated disaster for local people travelling from and to Watford Met for whom the walk to/from Cassiobridge/Ascot Rd will represent a significant increase to their journey times.

Meantime, despite the spiralling costs, our local political contenders still support the scheme and the ill-judged ‘wealth campus’ scheme for over-development in West Watford to which it is seemingly intrinsically linked.

Which candidate in the forthcoming election will be brave enough to stand up and say “Enough is enough! We gave the Croxley Rail Link our best shot but at more than twice the approved cost we can no longer fund it nor be sure it provides an adequate return on taxpayers’ money and there are other transport solutions for Watford and more imprortant ways this money could be invested for wider benefit in Hertfordshire.

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MP announces back-room deal to fund 38% Rail Link cost overrun but still no split service for beleaguered Watford Met users

Watford MP Richard Harrington has written to constituents about his success in securing £50m of additional funding for the Croxley Rail Link from the Department of Transport. Great!  So there can be a split service for residents living around the existing Met Station and for the hundreds of students using the station each day (as recommended by London Travelwatch) despite being told it was unaffordable?

Cassiobridge StationRichard hasn’t said as much but I think he would have done if that were his intention. He says the money, part of the ‘Hertfordshire Growth Deal‘ is “to take the Croxley Rail Link to its next phase” and is “in addition to the £130million already committed to the project”.  We have written to Richard asking what exactly the extra money is for.  Hopefully he’ll tell us it will include a permanent split service of at least 3 trains per hour continuing to serve Watford Met – maybe?  I’m not banking on that just yet.

More likely I suspect he will tell us there has been some kind of budget omission or overrun. Maybe the original budget of £120m just wasn’t enough – there were many sceptics at the time and it sounds like they might have ben right.  The original funding was originally approved in 2013 from the Department for Transport’s ‘Local Major Scheme Process’ and the additional funding is subject to its final approval.  Interestingly the FAQ in the original guidance to bidders stated:

Q23: If you will not be increasing DfT’s funding contribution post Programme Entry, do we need to include optimism bias in our bids?

A23: The previous system for funding cost overruns (the risk layer) no longer applies; the BAFB must include a capped funding bid. However, optimism bias forms an important part of our value for money assessment and it is important that you set out clearly the value of optimism bias you are using in your bids.

Also, the Croxley rail Link was by far the largest scheme approved in the original development pool of 41 projects, accounting for £120m out of £650m available (18.5%). Had the budget been honestly declared at £180m ( 27.7%) you have to wonder if the scheme would have been approved at all, especially in view of it’s shaky business case.

We will also be writing to DfT objecting to this approval without the inclusion of a split service to Watford Met.  If you think

Please write direct to Richard Harrington and to the Secretary of State for Transport asking them to ensure a split service to Watford Met is included in any further funding proposals.

 

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Health Campus? The missing Link…

On Friday 2nd May, Save Watford Met’s Lester Wagman and Sara-Jane Trebar of Save Farm Terrace appeared on the Link4Growth Community TV show, hosted by Chris Ogle & Alex Murray…

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Another good reason not to build 700 homes on land south of Watford hospital

Watford Flood Plain

Excerpt from the Environment Agency’s flood risk map (‘Health Campus’ highlighted in green) published on the same day Watford’s ‘elected Mayor’ vowed to “do what she had to” to get 700 new homes built here!

Yes folks, that’s why no housing was built there before.  The ‘health campus’ development team say a flood relief channel beside the river Colne will be constructed as part of the proposals.  That’s like building a house in the middle of the M1 and saying it’s OK because crash barriers will be built round it!  Sustainable development – hmmm….

You’ll also notice that the proposed new road passes right through the worst flooding next to the river Colne.  Hopefully Hertfordshire has some amphibious ambulances!

Meanwhile, according to the Watford Observer, Watford’s elected mayor Dorothy Thornhill was in a belligerent mood about the beleaguered Farm Terrace allotments, a thorn in her side: “Legal challenge will not hold up health campus”, she says .  The readers’ comments make interesting reading!

Find out what’s wrong with the Health Campus proposals (apart from the fact Watford people have been lied to about in containing any healthcare) and have your say through the official channel.

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Health Campus: Watford’s Political Bulldozer Back in Action

Having cited the needs of the so-called ‘Health Campus’ in the business case for re-routing the Met line away from the established Watford station, with its 1.5+ million users a year, toward the already overcrowded Watford Junction via ‘Cassiobridge’ & ‘Vicarage Road’, the Watford political machine swang back into action this week.

With great fanfare in official channels and social media, the master plan for the much-heralded ‘Health Campus’ was unveiled at Watford Football Club on Friday for public consultation. Taking a leaf out of TfL’s book on public engagement, the way into the event was not entirely obvious!

       Watford-20140117-01389 Watford-20140117-01390 Watford-20140117-01391 Watford-20140117-01392

Nonetheless, having successfully navigated the way through darkened entrances and dimly lit tunnels beneath the stands at Vicarage Road football ground to the subterranean conference room, as some others also did while I was there, an army of suited professionals from planners to transport engineers was on hand to explain the proposals and take questions.  The Master plan itself was laid on wall displays and a large printed mat on the floor, complete with model cars and trucks for younger visitors to play with – nice touch since if the Council gets its way they’d better get used to indoor play!

         Watford-20140117-01396 WHCcons1

Despite the glossy images and artist impressions, the most glaringly obvious ‘revelation’ is, as tactfully observed & explained by chief reporter Mike Wright of the Watford Observer: “Health’ part of ‘health campus’ remains curiously elusive”!

I believe the plans represent a gross and unsustainable over-development of the site and constitute a recipe for exacerbation of the traffic problems around West Watford.  Also calling the development a Health Campus when there is at the current time no plan or even declared intention by the hospital Trust to increase its service provision there is simply misleading and dishonest.  It is far from clear how the two small land parcels in the master plan forming the ‘possible future hospital development zone’ have been identified or sized, or for what purpose?

In their current form I am far from convinced the proposals are in the best interests of the people of West Watford. They represent:

  • The over-development of a back land site in an already densely populated area with
  • Loss of a rare ‘green lung’ and valuable community facility in Farm Terrace allotments
  • Poor sustainability in healthcare, public transport & heavy impact on local roads
  • No improvement and worsening of safety for cyclists travelling north/south
  • The Creation of business floor space for which there is no evidenced demand
  • Loss of rare floor space in borough for ‘bad neighbour’ industrial uses
  • No committed improvement to healthcare facilities despite being called a ‘health campus’

You can read the full text of my objections here – feel free to plagiarise!

But don’t take my word for it.  Read the consultation yourself and don’t miss the opportunity to register your views for the benefit of Watford – takes a few minutes.

This is not to say there couldn’t be some beneficial development on the land behind the hospital – certainly earmarking land for real healthcare proposals must take priority but calling this a ‘health campus’ is disingenuous.  It’s no different from any other development. Arguably, in it’s current form, it’s an unsustainable  gross over-development of back land so let’s hope Watford Council’s role as planning authority is kept respectably separate and impartial from its role as project sponsor and landowner.

Finally, if the development capacity is markedly less than currently proposed, surely this undermines still further the already shaky case for closing Watford Met station based on comparative projected passenger numbers and this case should be reopened!

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Less than 9% of Watford Met Users would prefer to use Cassiobridge/Ascot Rd

If you’re one of the 2000+ people who will tap into or out of Watford Met today as you return to work or school after the summer and don’t yet know, you’ve been sacrificed for Watford’s greater travelling good.

Despite the claims made by TfL and lapped up by the Transport Secretary’s TWA inspector, the online user poll below (conducted over the past 10 days) confirms that 72% of you would rather a reduced service shuttle to Moor Park or Croxley than use the proposed new station at Cassiobridge/Ascot Rd and only 23% will prefer the new Croxley Rail Link options.  There are still a sad minority with a big chip on their shoulders about Cassiobury residents “let the rich folk walk, it’ll do them good” but at least 50% of ordinary people we asked had no idea about the proposed closure!130831 Met users survey

However the Secretary of State for Transport, your Mayor (Dorothy Thornhill), MP Richard Harrington and now the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, have confirmed that on account of the £millions of extra revenue the Croxley Rail Link will [allegedly] bring Watford over the next 20+ years, you won’t mind walking an extra 1.2km to and from the station and crossing two major roads, every morning, rain or shine, light or dark.  Fair?

London Travelwatch tried to fight your corner but in the end the huge political gains at stake for local politicians, their slick PR machinery and the need to spend £118m ‘doing something’ we can all ill-afford appear to have won over.  time to dust down your walking boots!

Ditched by Dotty, deserted by Dicky and shafted by Boris. Case closed?

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CRL public relations – dirty tricks and STiki WikiTs?

Every large project project needs PR handlers. They make sure that correct information is released through the most appropriate media, giving the right message in a way it will best be understood by the public. Often they will give a project some positive spin, you know, talk up the benefits and play down any disadvantages.  Up to a point that’s to be expected. But it looks like the Croxley rail Link PR may have been open to a far more sinister form of manipulation.

CRL consultation process

When dealing with businesses you would expect them to try and use PR to their commercial advantage. But when the message is for public information/consultation and is coming from a public authority like Hertfordshire County Council or publicly-owned concern like London Underground Ltd most of us would expect a higher degree of integrity.

I have set out previously how heinously scant the original publicity to station users was about the proposals and the consultation process.

The public inquiry into the Croxley Rail Link was due to publish its findings in the Autumn of 2012.  The TWA inspector’s report following the inquiry was actually issued  on 30th January (click here to find out why we think it was inadequate and flawed). Presumably the Transport Secretary would have taken a week or two, let’s be generous and say 4 weeks, to consider the findings before publishing the report – isn’t that the point of a public inquiry?  Instead the inspector’s report was published together with the Transport Secretary’s approval to the project.  So the findings of the inquiry, conducted in public, were not subject to further scrutiny by the public.

What’s more the publication of the report was delayed until 24th July, the day before Hertfordshire schools broke-up for the summer holidays. Significantly, of the 2,000+ people who use Watford Met daily, at least 500 of these will be Watford Boys Grammar School students.  The inspector’s report mentioned how (surprisingly) the school had not objected to the proposal but, given the school is run by Hertfordshire County Council which sponsors the CRL project, perhaps some influence was exercised!  Conveniently for the Council, the period for judicial review of the inspector’s decision is 6 weeks which ties in beautifully with the end of the school holidays.  Case closed?

But there are more dark happenings to report on.  Now most people rely on Wikipedia in their internet surfing and, given that it’s open to public contribution and editing, many regard it as neutral and unbiased.  It appears the Wikipedia page for Watford Tube station has been heavily doctored with statements like “Watford Met station remains as the terminus of the line, somewhat remote from the town centre” and “On 2010 data it is the 25th most lightly-used station on the London Underground” (no mention is made that the numbers of entry/exits are twice as numerous as Croxley Tube which would remain open under CRL).

On 26th July, two days after the publication of the inspector’s report and Transport Secretary’s decision announcement, the entry was updated  to read: “As a result of the Croxley Rail Link project, Watford Met tube station will close to passenger services, but may remain operational as a siding”.  I made a fairly innocuous alteration (bold) to read:

As a result of the Croxley Rail Link project, Watford Met tube station would close to passenger services, but may remain operational as a siding. However this is being contested by the Save Watford Met Campaignwhich is lobbying on behalf of local residents for alternative services to be considered to keep the station open.

Within minutes my non-contentious alteration had been undone.  I re-made it and within minutes more it had been undone again by a contributor called Gareth Griffith-Jones. Looking at his contributions history he seems to do nothing but alter and modify a wide range of posts using a tool called STiki.  It’s an automated programme that monitors whether certain Wikipedia pages are being “vandalised” – whether or not this is in ‘good faith’ is down to trusted users who need to have an account.  It is unlikely that the general public has access or know-how to set up and use this technology so it must be deduced that this editing is being done professionally.  Now who would commission such editing?

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