Cost of Biggleswade train station's Access for All project 'increased by eye watering amount'
'My colleagues on the BRAN team and I are bitterly disappointed about the delay and what seems to have been a period of nine months where nothing has happened'
The cost of Biggleswade train station's step free access has increased by an "eye watering" amount claims Bedfordshire Rail Access Network (BRAN).
The campaign group alleges that it was initially told by Network Rail that the cost of the Access for All project would be around £2.4m but claim that this has now increased "substantially" by "more than double".
The Access for All project will see new ramps and lifts installed at the station, but BRAN is disappointed about the lack of progress and worried that the cost increase could change the scope of the design.
However, Network Rail told the Chronicle that the early estimate was for "construction costs only", and that the new estimate better reflects "all costs associated with the design, delivery and project management process".
BRAN representative Julian Vaughan, claimed: "£2.4m million sounds like the right figure for a [step free] project, so if it had increased to £3m due to inflation I could understand that.
"However, it is an eye-watering increase, more than double £2.4m.
"Network Rail is now going back to other contractors to get a cheaper deal but what will happen if they can't?
"We have had no explanation as to why it has taken most of 2021 for a contractor to provide a vastly inflated estimate and nothing else. There's been no real explanation to councillors and BRAN."
He added: "They [Network Rail] didn't really give a reason for it. I suspect, if you can use the 'B' word it's to do with Brexit, and the shortage of workers and the pandemic as well. I understand that across the board labour costs have gone up significantly.
"Our concern is that during the last meeting we had in May, there were no red flags raised about anything. It is clear that Network Rail knew about this beforehand [before the Oct 4 meeting] and chose not to tell us. I can take bad news, but just let us know about it, that's all."
BRAN participated in a Microsoft Teams meeting on October 4 with Govia Thameslink Rail, Network Rail, Central Bedfordshire Councillors, Biggleswade Town Council, and Richard Fuller MP.
The group claims it was originally told that the lifts and ramps would be installed in September 2022, but that it now won't be until 2023.
Julian alleged: "My colleagues on the BRAN team and I are bitterly disappointed about the delay and what seems to have been a period of nine months where nothing has happened. As a group representing the interests of disabled people, we have worked very well with Network Rail on the project for step-free access at the station to date.
"However, with a new Network Rail team in place and talk of discussions about 'value engineering workshops' which may potentially alter the scope of the project, we have serious concerns about changes to the original plans and a lack of meaningful engagement.
"We will be insisting that the views of disabled people are taken on board throughout the rest of the project, not just as a tick box exercise, but to avoid design errors that prove very difficult to remedy at a later stage. The residents of Biggleswade, particularly wheelchair users, those with restricted mobility, and parents with young children are getting a rough deal and BRAN will continue to campaign for the lifts to be installed as soon as possible".
Julian told the Chronicle that during the October 4 meeting they discovered that other features that face delays (although these are not part of the Access for All lifts and ramp costings).
He claimed that the disabled toilets within the train station building will be delayed until at least the end of March 2022, after originally being told that they would be installed in September 2021.
He added: "Although no firm date was given for the cycle scheme installation [to the left of the train station], the impression was that it would take place around the same time as the toilets."
The next meeting will take place in December.
Ed Akers, Principal Programme Sponsor for Network Rail, said: “We remain committed to improving accessibility for passengers at Biggleswade. During 2021 we’ve been working hard on the initial design and contracts required for the project.
“We follow a robust process to make sure we get the best value for public money on all the projects we deliver, including frequently reviewing cost estimates for projects.
“A very early estimate for construction costs only was shared for the Biggleswade Access for All scheme. Now that more information is available, we’ve updated that estimate to better reflect all costs associated with the design, delivery and project management process.
“We’re now working with our supply chain, so that we can deliver the project in full – including lifts, ramps and improvements to the station forecourt – making it easier for passengers to move around the station.”
The government launched its Access for All programme in 2006 to "address the issues faced by disabled passengers and passengers facing mobility restraints (such as heavy luggage or pushchairs) when using railway stations in Great Britain".
The funding is used to create "an obstacle free, accessible route from the station entrance to the platform", which generally includes "providing lifts or ramps, as well as associated works and refurbishment along the route".