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National Audit Office highlights Thameslink risks and budget overruns

Words: Huw Morris

The Thameslink programme has a realistic prospect of delivering value for money but key risks still remain for the Department for Transport and Network Rail, said the National Audit Office (NAO).

The £7 billion scheme includes two major infrastructure works costing £5.5 billion and a fleet of 115 new trains. The NAO revealed the department is delaying the full introduction of new services by up to a year to improve its ability to manage the risks of each service change. 

The first major works, which included the redevelopment of Blackfriars and Farringdon station, was completed on time and budget for £2.4 billion. The second, which began in 2013, comprises rebuilding London Bridge station alongside new track and signalling technology, has a budget of £3.1 billion.

Network Rail’s total spending on infrastructure works has increased from its 2012 budget by £474 million to £5.5 billion. The budget for phase two increased by 18 per cent from £2,629 million to £3,103 million, and was largely associated with the works at London Bridge after Network Rail was forced to make changes to the design.

NAO warned that the wider rail network “cannot yet reliably support the Thameslink programme’s new services”. Between July 2015 and March 2017, 13 per cent of all cancellations and delays of more than 30 minutes have been due to failure of track and other Network Rail assets such as signalling systems.

In 2016, Network Rail estimated that an investment of up to £900 million of maintenance and renewal work was needed to run the new services on the Thameslink network reliably on top of infrastructure investments already planned in that area.

“The Department and Network Rail did not initially make adequate arrangements to manage the introduction of the new services and there is limited time remaining for planning to be completed,” the NAO said. “Development of these plans also requires a high degree of collaboration across the rail industry, and clarity over who has the authority to make decisions on how the rail network operates.

“However, the Department and Network Rail did not fully consider what arrangements they would need to manage the transition to bringing the enhanced services into use.”

Image credit | Thameslink