Delays to work on the West Coast Mainline over Christmas were entirely predictable, the surprise was it overran by just four days
Hands up all construction folk who are surprised by all that railway work being four days late. Not many hands, huh? And I confess to being a tad wide-eyed at the idea that £415m worth of work at Rugby Station was to take place over nothing more that a few days and finish spot-on not just a particular day but a particular hour.
And the Rugby bit was only a part of the whole adventure. Every, yes every, construction industry wallah would have laid money with Bet Fred that the work would run late.
Oh that’s is not a criticism of Network Rail nor project managers Bechtel nor the contractors nor the subcontractors or sub-subs nor the bloke that wheels the wheelbarrow or slings a pick. The reason why construction work runs late is... it’s the way of things.
If you are constructing a £400m job or £1000m, or an extension on my kitchen for four pounds, nineteen shillings and sixpence things will not go to plan. Why? Because of “events” old boy , just “events”.
Right down at the work face, I bet you that "events" mean that if 400 men were planned to wheel 400 wheelbarrows on Christmas day, 180 wouldn’t turn up.
Yes, yes, they promised to turn up. But constructors know full well that the blokes are as likely not to turn up.Some just change their mind. The money isn’t that important. Some have had a skin-full the night before and, well, are worse for wear. Some have wives at home who prefer their man to carve the turkey. Some just want to say up-yours to the bosses.
And right down at the work face I bet no-one wanted to pay for a load more blokes than were needed on a “just in case” basis. If the job needed 400 men, who would dream of arranging 600 knowing 200 wouldn’t turn up to work? Bechtel would have a blue-fit at the very idea.
Construction, building, civil engineering, digging, carting is plagued with events. Diesel freezes, power fails, fingers get cold, tempers get frayed. Men tell bosses to go to hell and walk. Getting a job done on time to budget and make a profit happens by pure luck.
I bet all these managers, planners, surveyors, engineers and architects used all their intellectual skills to plan the work to meet the programme. Only those who are complete amateurs would honestly believe it would all work. I still can’t see many hands up... they were damned lucky to only run over by four days.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator and regular columnist in Building's legal pages