PAC highlights Thameslink cost increases

26 Feb 18

Costs increased on the Thameslink programme because Network Rail did not understand the performance and condition of its railway system, the Public Accounts Committee has said.

The MPs said Thameslink had progressed well since the committee last examined it in 2013, but the Department for Transport had delayed the full introduction of north-south services across London by a year. 

The programme is designed to increase the capacity of an existing main rail route under central London from St Pancras to Blackfriars.

Their report said the DfT and Network Rail had been “slow to appreciate the importance of early planning for how the new services will operate, and how they will organise the rail industry to do this”. 

The discovery that another £900m of maintenance was necessary to deliver reliable Thameslink services “also raises concerns about Network Rail’s understanding of the performance and condition of the network.”, the PAC said.

PAC chair, Labour’s Meg Hillier, said poor planning meant: “Government faced a stark choice: delay the roll-out of services or risk additional disruption on the network. Either way, passengers lose out.

“Taxpayers have also taken a hit elsewhere, with budget increases on Thameslink contributing to other rail projects being abandoned.”

The PAC said the DfT and Network Rail “had a poor understanding of the performance of the rail network, and did not monitor the impact that increasing services and failing infrastructure would have on either passenger disruption or the planned benefits of the Thameslink programme”. 

Network Rail’s estimate of the Thameslink programme’s cost “lacked the sophisticated understanding that it needs to manage its wider portfolio of projects effectively”. 

Hillier said the government’s performance on other rail infrastructure projects, such as electrification of the Great Western route, “has been poor”.

She added: “There are critical tests looming for Network Rail and the Department for Transport, not least the redevelopment of Euston station for High Speed 2 - a project set to be more complex than the budget-busting work to prepare London Bridge for Thameslink.

“Government must apply what it has learned here to HS2 and future programmes and in response to our report we urge it to demonstrate how it will do this in practice."

A DfT spokesperson said: “The government-sponsored £7bn Thameslink Programme is an ambitious 10-year programme of extensive infrastructure enhancements, new trains and a new timetable on one of the busiest and most congested parts of the rail network, and passengers are already benefiting from capacity increases on routes.

“The most recent independent assurance review assessed HS2’s readiness to award the major works civil contracts and concluded that the HS2 organisation is ready and fully capable of effectively delivering these key contracts.”

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