MPs have said they are ‘sceptical’ that Thameslink can be delivered to the revised 2018 deadline following a string of delays.
A new report compiled by the Public Accounts Committee has highlighted a number of concerns with the programme, believing that Thameslink’s management team is too small for the size of the project and the public finance initiative (PFI) funding model for the new rolling stock too ‘risky’.
As well as new trains, Thameslink has involved a major programme of infrastructure improvements, with work currently focussed on extending platforms at London Bridge.
Delays in delivering the £6 billion project will have left passengers waiting over 30 years for the improvements by the time work is complete, the report states.
The Rt Hon Margaret Hodge MP, chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, said: “It was clear as long ago as 1989 that the Thameslink route needed to be upgraded but passengers will not start to see the benefits until the 2020s.
“The first proposals to modernize the route and increase capacity were developed by a succession of rail industry sponsors but nothing much happened until the Department for Transport became sponsor in 2005. The Department has done well to deliver the first phase of the infrastructure project under budget and on time.
“The other two aspects of the programme are going less well. The procurement of new trains through a £1.6 billion PFI deal has taken over three years longer than expected. And the timetable and approach for letting the new franchise have been revised.
“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.”