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Delays to the purchase of new trains for the Thameslink programme threaten the project’s delivery, according to the National Audit Office.
A report published today, Progress in the Thameslink programme, found hold ups to the completion of the £1.6 billion deal to provide new trains for the upgrade to the line that runs between Brighton to Bedford and Peterborough, through London.
“Our principal concern is around the delay in agreeing the contract to build new trains which raises questions about the feasibility of delivering the whole programme by 2018,” said head of the NAO Amyas Morse.
According to the invitation to tender, contracts for the trains should have been awarded by March 2010. This was later revised to October 2011, but the contract has still not been awarded. There have been delays because bidders requested more time to respond and because of the government’s spending review, but the NAO said the bulk of the delay has been caused by protracted commercial negotiations.
“The delay raises questions about whether the department underestimated the scale of work, the time it would take and the skills and resources it needed to negotiate a deal of this complexity,” said the report.
The spending watchdog said because the deal has not yet been signed, it has been unable to look in detail at the cause of the delays or whether it represents value for money.
The government’s expectation remains that the first trains will be delivered by December 2015, giving Siemens less than two years, seven months to achieve something the DfT initially estimated would take three years, three months. Siemens and Cross London Trains – a consortium of finance partners – told the NAO they were confident the schedule was realistic.
A statement from the DfT said: “The procurement process for the new Thameslink rolling stock is complex and it is important that we get it absolutely right in order to ensure the best deal for the taxpayer in these challenging financial times. However, we are in the final stages of the process and we expect to conclude the deal shortly. We have an experienced senior team in place and are confident that we will be able to deliver the remainder of the project on time and on budget.”
The government faced significant criticism when it announced Siemens as the preferred bidder for the Thameslink contract in June 2011, instead of rival Bombardier, some of whose manufacturing is based in the UK.