A PROGRAMME to modernise the Great Western railway route between London and the west of England has descended into farce, with soaring costs, delays, and bad planning by the Department for Transport, the National Audit Office (NAO) revealed yesterday.
The watchdog detailed a catalogue of inefficiency and incompetence, including a rise in costs from £2.1 billion to £5.58 billion and delays in an electrification programme of up to three years costing the taxpayer an extra £330 million.
In a letter, Transport Minister Paul Maynard announced the deferment of the electrification of four key Great Western routes: between Oxford and Didcot Parkway, Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads), west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads) and the Thames Valley branches (Henley and Windsor).
NAO head Amyas Morse described the Department for Transport’s handling of the modernisation as “a case study in how not to manage a major programme.
“The department’s failure to plan and manage all the projects which now make up the Great Western route modernisation industry programme in a sufficiently joined-up way, combined with weaknesses in Network Rail’s management of the infrastructure programme, has led to additional costs for the taxpayer.
“It is encouraging that, since 2015, the department and Network Rail have a better grip and put in place structures to manage the programme in an integrated way.
However, significant challenges to the timetable still remain and there is more to do to achieve value for money.”
Train drivers’ union Aslef general secretary Mick Whelan condemned the delays, calling them “another blow to Britain’s railway industry and another example of the Department for Transport’s incompetence.”
He asked: “Who’s asleep at the wheel this time?
“The government decided to sneak out the decision by means of a written statement by Paul Maynard, so we know they’re embarrassed. And so they should be.
“Passengers and businesses desperately need the government to deliver what it promised, and help build the modern railway Britain needs. We need the investment to provide more services, faster and more reliable services, to reduce the problems of overcrowding and stimulate economic growth.”