Many years ago my colleague Pandora wrote this:
"Any builder worth his salt knows that it's the modifications after the contract's been signed that pay for the yacht."
He bemoaned the fact that the DfT - and others who, at a lower level of incompetence, sign contracts for work - fail to heed the message. An article by Roger Ford in the current Modern Railways has stimulated Cassandra to shake her hoary locks in the hope that the message might be heard.
HS2 is the outstanding example. It is 10 years since the enabling Act of Parliament received Royal Assent. Euston was to be rebuilt with a certain number of new platforms; a Y-shaped layout was envisaged; connection was to be made with the West Coast Main Line (WCML). At the time, of course, no-one could have foreseen the effect that COVID would have on both the time needed and the world-wide inflation and disruption to supply chains. These inevitably have added several billions to the original cost estimates, but Cassandra believes that there will have been far more billions added by the folly of changing the specifications once the contract has been signed. Will HS2 go to Euston? Don't know, but probably (after all, decanting long-distance travellers onto the Tube at Old Oak Common is hardly going to encourage them to use HS2 in the first place). Will HS2 go to Leeds? Probably not. Will HS2 connect with the WCML at Golborne? Not if the local Tory MP has anything to do with it, and as he's the Head Honcho of the 1922 Committee he's not going to budge. Will HS2 get beyond Crewe? Maybe, but not for 20 years by which time four or five new Governments will have found it difficult to keep their hands off the "let's-make-it-cheaper" lever.
Roger Ford's article isn't about HS2 though. He describes a plan to re-signal the Welsh Marches line (which needs doing). A like-for-like replacement (ie. using modern kit, but not "enhancing" the infrastructure) would cost £X, but Network Rail (the guilty party this time) has added in a whole lot of extra signal-related work, making the cost almost £2X. Answer: the whole thing is "unaffordable".
At least NR has professional railway people making decisions, one or two of whom will be senior enough to forestall too much in the way of silliness. The DfT isn't so lucky. Bright young chaps fast-tracking their way up the Civil Service ladder will do their couple of years at the DfT before some of them achieve the glittering prize of a job at the Treasury. Few, if any, will be there long enough to understand the railway, its complicated structures and responsibilities, its long leads before a decision - even a wise one unaltered while it's being implemented - delivers an outcome. Few will care; none will be around when it goes pear-shaped - certainly not the Minister.
The answer is simple. Before making a big decision spend as much time as necessary (but no longer) gathering views and information. Think very carefully. Make the decision. Run it by two or three (never more) people whose wisdom and expertise will reinforce your choice, or force you to amend it. Announce your decision. Then go away and get on with something else. Let the builders build, knowing that the yacht is still only a pipedream.