Published 29th May 2013
Wolverton station, mid way between London and Birmingham, opened in 1838 and so celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. The new station building is the fourth in this long history but is the most troubled. It was declared open in June 2012 but has only just been completed following a huge wrangle between Network Rail, London Midland, the local council and the contractors – over where a drain should be located in the car park and when it should be constructed.
The £2.1 million project started in June 2011 and was expected to take a year. It has now cost over £3million and taken two years to complete because of poor project management by Milton Keynes Council. This has led to a loss of many car park spaces for a year and a local road has had to be used as a linear car park to help commuters.
The contractors walked off the job and left two vital parts of work to be completed, the completion of the new pedestrian access and car park and the second part was at the car park entrance to refurbish this area and build the drainage connection to the foul sewer. These activities were announced as taking around 10 weeks to complete and to be completed by Easter. They weren’t as work carried on into May.
Milton Keynes Council decided to project manage the new building whereas the norm is that Network Rail manages projects like this. Since 1991 when the 1882 built wooden station was demolished by Network SouthEast without warning, the council has always wanted a ‘landmark’ station to replace the old one to mark the long heritage of Wolverton and the railways. So after 20 years of planning, it decided that the building should include a buffet and retail areas which given Wolverton’s core business is commuter traffic was not an economically sustainable vision.
London Midland has now reduced the opening hours and the retail space remains unlet and station facilities unusable for most of the day when the booking office is closed.
The council appointed Andrew Jackman as project manager and has apologised several times about the delay and hassle during the project’s late running. The Council Audit Committee has criticised the project and suggested that councillors were not given accurate information and are now looking at what they can learn from this given that the revised completion plan also did not go as planned.
Peter Marland, Labour councillor for Wolverton, said; “I am frustrated it has taken so long for the full scale of the losses to the taxpayer of Milton Keynes to become apparent.
“As a Wolverton ward councillor, I first requested the report on Wolverton Station nearly six months ago, not only with those involved in the council but also external bodies. I’ll be asking searching questions on behalf of the residents of Wolverton in regards to exactly why we still don’t have a fully operational station after all this time. This should have been a new start, instead it’s been a millstone.
The council’s internal audit had previously criticised the council, contractors and consultants asking why the it took the project on in the first place suggesting it would have been simpler to make a financial contribution and let the rail industry manage it all.
The Audit Committee said the project’s inception phase as “rushed” and the budget was “unrealistic” with a ‘lack of transparency” over the decision it made. In particular the decision not to have on-site supervision was identified as a crucial error as contractors cannot always be relied on. The audit also identified the budget as a key problem, never being large enough to deliver the project specification.
First Great Western (FGW) has announced a £2.9 million improvement scheme at Theale Station to commence in October. The station will benefit from a new ticket office, a new footbridge and associated lifts to improve access, as well as the development of park and rail facility and a new pedestrian entrance. The project is due for completion by mid February 2014.
FGW’s General Manager East Claire Mann said:
“First Great Western pride’s ourselves on putting our customers first and supporting the communities we serve. We recognise the key role that rail travel has in supporting the local and national economy and we are delighted to be working with West Berkshire Council and Network Rail to develop this exciting multi million pound project.
MP for Reading West Alok Sharma said:
“Together with the Theale’s Future organisation, I lobbied hard to win funding for the upgrade to Theale Station and so I am very pleased to hear about the progress being made with the project.
Amanda Hoyland, Network Rail Route Enhancement Manager, said:
“Improving access to stations is an important part of building a bigger and better railway. The new lifts and footbridge will achieve this and help to better meet the needs of passengers and businesses at Theale.”
£1.127 million of the funding has come through a joint bid by West Berks and Reading Borough Council for the Department for Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund.
Written by Phil Marsh