Friday, December 15, 2017

News: Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train pilot - "how not to run a rail project"

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The Government and Network Rail have come in for more criticism over the innovative Sheffield-Rotherham tram-train service that is scheduled to reach the borough in 2018.

The Public Accounts Committee looked at the issues of cost increases and delays, the under-estimation of the scale and complexity of the works, and the risks involved in delivering new technology. It said that it had all the makings of a "how not to" seminar for future projects.

The committee is made up of MPs and scrutinises the value for money of public spending and generally holds the Government and its civil servants to account for the delivery of public services.

The inquiry follows on from a July report from the National Audit Office (NAO) that revealed that by December 2016, the cost of the works for the project, which had been given an initial estimate of £15m, had quadrupled to £75.1m, pushing the overall cost of the scheme over £100m.

The business case for the proposed scheme was based on the benefits to local transport users, such as reduced journey times. The project's benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 1.0 fell into the Department for Transport's (DfT's) "low" value-for-money category. As costs increased, this slipped further to 0.31, in terms of the local public transport case.

The NAO report revealed that the pilot project was close to being cancelled altogether as costs spiraled, but it was saved, mainly due to the interest in the development of further tram-train schemes with greater potential elsewhere in the country.

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Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "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 £15mn spiralling to some £75m. 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."

First mentioned in 2009, the project has always been considered a pilot scheme, the first of its kind in the UK, and was only approved on an exceptional basis.

The DfT is the client in the project, with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) responsible for the delivery of all of the light rail modifications, rail replacement and procurement of the vehicles. Network Rail is separately responsible to DfT to deliver the heavy rail modifications required for the project.

Since 2016, Network Rail has achieved a number of milestones, including installing new track at Tinsley, the power supply and a tram-train platform at Rotherham Parkgate and work on the College Road bridge at Rotherham Central. It also said that it has changed the way it is managing the project.

The innovative CityLink vehicles are now in service, but only on the existing Supertram network in Sheffield. They will eventually run as tram-trains between Sheffield city centre and Parkgate via Meadowhall South and Rotherham town centre, sometime in 2018.

DfT website
Network Rail website

Images: SYPTE / Network Rail

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