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Thameslink rolling stock delivery ‘demanding and risky’ – MPs

The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee has said the timetable for delivering new trains onto the Thameslink route is “demanding and risky” and calls it “alarming” that no public sector option was considered to fund the new trains.

But the MPs on the Committee praised the DfT as sponsor for delivering the first phase of the infrastructure project “under budget and on time”. That work is being delivered by Network Rail and its contractors (which have included Balfour Beatty, Atkins, Costain, Laing O'Rourke, Skanska, Carillion, Volker Fitzpatrick, Invensys Rail and others on various aspects of the upgrade) on behalf of the Department.

The MPs say in a new report that of the scheme’s three core components – infrastructure, rolling stock and franchise – only the infrastructure element is doing well, with delays to the other aspects and particular concern over the rolling stock element.

Disquiet about Siemens’ victory in the competition to provide the new trains for the route has been ongoing for years, especially for those who think the work should have gone to Bombardier’s Derby facility, but now the Committee has announced a new examination of the contract.


(Click here to zoom in on this image)

Chairwoman Margaret Hodge MP said: “The planned completion date has been put back to 2018. But meeting the timetable for delivering the new trains will be very demanding and risky. We are also sceptical about using PFI to fund this project. It is alarming that the Department compared the PFI option against only one other private sector option and did not construct a public sector comparator to understand better the relative costs, risks and rewards of choosing a PFI funding route over a public one. We intend to examine the contract which the Department has recently awarded to Siemens and Cross London Trains.

“Another source of worry is the small size of the Department’s core Thameslink team – just five people for a programme of this size and complexity. We question whether the Department has enough people with strong project management and commercial skills necessary to take forward its very ambitious portfolio of big projects. The impression that there is a scarcity of these skills is reinforced by the apparent need to move the key civil servant leading the Thameslink team, the man whose experience, skills and continuity have been crucial to the delivery of the programme, over to the High Speed 2 team.”

The PAC is recommending that on similar future projects, the DfT considers more options when evaluating rolling stock and franchising options.

The full report, including a transcript of oral evidence given by DfT permanent secretary Philip Rutnam, and its director of Rail Projects, Michael Hurn, as well as Network Rail chief executive Sir David Higgins, is available here.

In accompanying written evidence, Thameslink’s deputy director at the DfT, David Blackall, confirmed: “The Thameslink programme is now working to the Rev 40 cost estimate last updated in December 2012. This is a significant step forward from Rev 37 as it:

— Is based on GRIP 4 (single option development stage) for constituent projects other than High Capacity Infrastructure.

— Reflects the agreed planning permission received for London Bridge.

— Is based on the final London Bridge track layout agreed with the train operators.

— Is based on an agreed access strategy for the construction of the KO2 works.

— Benefits from a full Quantified Risk Assessment.

— Is supported by contracts reached with the supply chain (covering 76% of the value).

— Has been peer reviewed within Network Rail and by EC Harris on behalf of the Department.

“In Rev 40 the London Bridge Station and Bermondsey Dive Under Civils work package AFC is £735,238,000 and the Railway Systems (including the High Capacity Infrastructure Works to deliver the 24tph train service) work packages AFC is now £413,243,000, a further reduction of £15,053,000 from Rev 37. Of greater importance to the Department – the Rev 40 cost estimate as a whole remains within the budget for the programme.”

(Image shows Thameslink workers on the London Bridge construction site in October 2013 during Patrick McLoughlin’s visit. Jonathan Brady/PA Archive/Press Association Images)

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