Delays due on Chase line electrification work
The electrification of the Chase line is at 'risk' of missing its December 2017 completion date while costs have soared to £100 million, it has been revealed.
Network Rail has confirmed the mine shafts underneath parts of the 15-mile stretch of track being upgraded between Rugeley and Walsall, has hit the project.
It comes as London Midland has issued an extraordinary plea for passengers not to use their services in the next two weeks leading up to Christmas.
The operator's woes on its Chase line services have come under heavy criticism recently after Cannock Chase MP Amanda Milling raised the issues of overcrowding in Parliament after experiencing the problems first hand.
It is hoped long-term the problems will be solved by the electrification of the Chase line. The scheme is scheduled to 'go live' for testing in December next year with the first passenger trains pencilled in for May 2018 benefitting from faster services and longer trains with more seating. But that timeline is now in jeopardy.
Network Rail has installed hundreds of bases along the route for overhead cabling infrastructure but revealed many have had to be redesigned because of the mines.
Richard Dugdale, from the authority, said: "The period after December 2017 will be for testing and we anticipate the first passenger trains from May 2018.
"The challenges and risks we face are the historic mineworkings, the documented ones and the many undocumented mines.
"That's hurt us. We have redesigned a lot of the bases. The December 2017 completion is at risk." The rail boss said another stumbling block would be upcoming work on the overhead electrification equipment interface in Pleck, Walsall, which dates back to the 1950s and 1960s.
However he said the project had benefited from the premature closure of Rugeley Power Station this summer meaning less freight trains using the line, which may 'balance out' the problems.
Mr Dugdale spoke while delivering an update on the work to Cannock Chase District Council members where he confirmed the cost of the project had now risen to £100m from the most recent figure of £76m – originally the scheme was quoted as £30m.
Despite the setbacks substantial progress has been made in the last three years.
The next substantial part of the scheme will see the Bloxwich road crossing – the only one on the line – closed for improvement works.
Councillors remained positive about the progress of the electrification project overall.
Councillor Christine Martin said: "Even though the cost has gone up it will be much more valuable to me than HS2 will ever be."