It has been delayed, it is well over budget and now the tram-train pilot – which will eventually run between Sheffield and Rotherham – has been heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee. As well as being very critical of the way the project has been managed the Committee also have concerns over the benefits of the project and lessons for the future.
Network Rail come out of the report very badly with the project having “encountered unacceptable cost increases and delays”. They are accused of having seriously under-estimated the scale and complexity of the works, and failed to factor in the risks involved in delivering new technology. The Department for Transport are not absolved of blame either as they are accused of failing to scrutinise or Network Rail’s plans at the outset and then didn’t challenge hard enough as the costs rose from £15 million to £75.1 million. These are the same failings which had been seen in the similarly badly managed project to electrify the Great Western mainline.
One of the main reasons for introducing this pilot was to learn lessons for future similar projects across the UK but the Public Accounts Committee remain to be convinced that the project will achieve the wider benefits originally envisaged. Neither Network Rail or the DfT are said to have done enough to learn the lessons from the pilot project, including whether the technology is useable elsewhere and calculating the likely costs of developing new tram-train schemes.
Meg Hillier, Public Accounts Committee Chair, didn’t hold back in her comments: “This project promised great benefits for passengers and, importantly, a potential model for similar schemes in cities such as Manchester, Cardiff and Glasgow. Instead the reality is another rail project with all the makings of a ‘how not to’ seminar for senior civil servants. This pilot was trialling technology new to the UK, yet neither Network Rail nor the Department for Transport properly considered the high level of risk and uncertainty. Unrealistic costings went unchallenged, resulting in an initial budget of £15 million spiralling to some £75 million. There have been long delays, and it is still not clear how, or even if, the experience of running this pilot will reduce the costs and improve delivery of any future tram-train schemes. Not for the first time, we heard evidence intended to reassure Parliament and the public that lessons learned on this project will ensure the failings identified will not arise again. We will be expecting Government to back this up with a meaningful review of the way it manages such projects, from calculating cost estimates through to transparently evaluating results. Actions speak louder than words and on behalf of taxpayers we will, if necessary, recall witnesses responsible for current and future projects and hold them to account for their performance.”
The project continues to progress and it is hoped that tram-train services will commence by the end of 2018.
* The full report can be viewed at https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmpubacc/453/45302.htm