Lessons of Thameslink critical to success of future rail projects

23 February 2018

The Public Accounts Committee report says programme raises questions over Government’s approach to planning and its understanding of the network.

Programme delivery has progressed well since 2013

The Thameslink Programme is a highly complex investment in infrastructure, trains and new services for passengers.

The delivery of the programme has progressed well since we examined it in 2013, but there are still substantial challenges that will need to be carefully managed to ensure that the programme as a whole is delivered successfully.

The Department has now announced that it is delaying the full introduction of the new services by a year, to December 2019, to reduce the risks of disruption to passengers. The Department and Network Rail must ensure that the Thameslink programme does not suffer from further delays.

Discovery of extra £900 million of maintenance work

The Department and Network Rail have 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 £900 million of maintenance work is necessary to deliver reliable Thameslink services also raises concerns about Network Rail’s understanding of the performance and condition of the network.

Whilst we acknowledge that the programme has progressed, this is yet another example of a rail project which has been delayed and will cost the taxpayer more than originally expected.

Chair's comment

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"Passengers and the practicalities of running services should be at the heart of public transport planning.

On Thameslink these considerations came too late and 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.

Government’s performance on recent rail infrastructure projects, such as its programme to electrify the Great Western route, has been poor.

Overall progress on Thameslink compares favourably but the project is not over yet and requires significant additional public funding.

Unforeseen but essential maintenance is expected to cost £900 million and, if passengers are to get the services they have been promised, the timetable must not slip further.

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."

Further information

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