Costs for upgrading the Great Western Main Line shot up by £1.2bn in one year, according to a scathing report by MPs that criticises both the Department for Transport and Network Rail.
The Commons Public Accounts Committee identified significant flaws in the project, including the ‘staggering and unacceptable’ jump of £1.2bn in the cost of electrifying the line. It is also still unclear whether the project can be delivered to the revised target of December 2018 and budget of £2.8bn
MPs said: ‘The serious management failings evident in this programme raise concerns about the Department and Network Rail’s ability to manage similar projects in the future, such as the planned electrification schemes on Midland Main Line and TransPennine routes.’
Committee chair Meg Hillier MP, said: ‘This is a stark example of how not to run a major project, from flawed planning at the earliest stage to weak accountability and what remain serious questions about the reasons for embarking on the work in the first place.
‘The sums of public money wasted are appalling—not least the £330m additional costs the Department for Transport will have to pay to keep the trains running because of delays to electrification.
‘The Department failed to adequately challenge Network Rail's plans to carry out the infrastructure work and, even now, casts doubt on whether electrification work on this and other lines is even necessary.’
On this point, MPs observed: 'The Department's claim that many of the passenger benefits of electrification can be obtained without electrifying the whole route raises questions about whether full electrification is the most appropriate way to achieve benefits for passengers, and value for money for taxpayers.'
Network Rail told the committee that ‘every single part of the programme is absolutely on the limit’ - meaning there is no margin for error in the timings for delivery.
The committee said Network Rail must improve its ability to produce realistic cost estimates, and make sure robust and detailed plans are in place for infrastructure projects before starting construction.
Among a number of recommendations, the Committee calls on the DfT to ensure suitable assurance is in place before taking decisions on infrastructure investment and other major decisions which depend on infrastructure being available.