uk sheffield tram

MPs criticise UK’s first tram-train scheme for being late and over budget

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC ) has said the UK’s first tram-train scheme is a lesson in “how not to” manage a rail project.

The Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train scheme will see vehicles run across the local tramway and the national rail network for the first time in the UK.

But Meg Hillier, PAC chair, said “unrealistic costings” went unchallenged and doubts remain over whether the pilot will improve the delivery of similar programmes.

Network Rail’s works to modify the national rail network have encountered “unacceptable cost increases and delays” PAC said in a news post.

“It seriously under-estimated the scale and complexity of the works, and failed to factor-in the risks involved in delivering new technology.”

The tram-trains were initially expected to begin running on street tracks and railway lines between Sheffield and Rotherham in December 2015, but the work is at least two-and-a-half years behind schedule.

In addition, Network Rail’s costs rose exponentially from an initial budget of £15m to over £75m and PAC claims that the body has failed to properly quantify the benefits expected from the project.

It is intended to be a pilot scheme to test the concept for possible wider roll-out across the UK to reinvigorate under-used rail lines, improve access to city centres and release capacity at mainline stations.

Modification of the national rail network is part-funded by the government and managed by Network Rail.

The PAC compared the project to Network Rail’s delayed and over-budget electrification of the Great Western rail line, which ultimately led to the scrapping of plans to electrify a number of other lines. 

It recommended the government-owned company improve its ability to produce realistic cost estimates and ensure it makes appropriate allowances for risk and uncertainty.

Hillier 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.”

Hillier noted that “not for the first time” the PAC heard evidence intended to reassure Parliament and the public that lessons learned would ensure the failings identified would not arise again.

“We will be expecting government to back this up with a meaningful review of the way it manages such projects,” she added.

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