West Coast Main Line fiasco to cost taxpayers £50m

26 February 2013

Posted by Satvir Bhullar

A new report claims the West Coast Main Line fiasco will cost UK taxpayers at least £50 million.

The Public Accounts Committee found that a "complete lack of common sense" on the part of the Department for Transport (DfT) was responsible for the scandal surrounding the franchise for the rail line.

Margaret Hodge, the chair of the committee, warned that due to delays in investment on the line and the effect on other franchise competitions, the final cost to taxpayers could be "very much larger".

She said the franchising process was "littered with basic errors" and the DFT got fundamental aspects wrong when calculating the amount of risk capital that bidders would need to present.

The committee found that "no single person" was responsible for the fiasco from beginning to end, but there was a lack of leadership with no one in charge at all for three months.

Ms Hodge commented: "Senior management did not have proper oversight of the project. Cuts in staffing and in consultancy budgets contributed to a lack of key skills."

She added there are now serious concerns over how well the DfT will deal with future projects such as the HS2 high-speed rail line and the Thameslink main line.

The Labour MP concluded: "The department needs to get its house in order and put basic principles and practices at the heart of what it does, with an appropriately qualified and senior person in charge of the project throughout."

A spokesperson for the DFT said it has taken measures to ensure there could be no repeat of the fiasco.

However, Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT transport union, claimed this is proof the entire railway system should be renationalised.

He commented: "Fiddling with processes won't work. It's the whole, rotten policy that needs dumping with a return to public ownership."

The West Coast Main Line franchising process collapsed in October 2012, when its current holders Virgin Trains launched a legal appeal against the DfT's decision to award the contract to FirstGroup.

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