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JLE: the verdict

Two years ago NCE characterised the Jubilee Line Extension as a heroic endeavour beset by problems not of its own making. With this week's partial opening coming 14 months late, the whole line not due to be operating for at least another five and the project likely to be about 70% over budget, it is time to revise that opinion.

Of course, it is a complex project and one for which the design was perhaps was not really ready when it was pushed ahead of CrossRail and the Chelsea to Hackney Link in 1993. It is also true that the project's realisation incorporated some exemplary engineering, and that the finished product will be an outstanding and hard wearing piece of infrastructure.

But in judging its success, the JLE must be considered as a single project - as Egan tells us, one that starts with client London Transport and ends with the smallest subcontractor. Divisions between LT, the JLE project team and the contractors were wide and left huge gaps in the project management and chain of responsibility. Yes there were reasons, notably the lack of follow-on projects which caused key staff to leave the project in its vital closing stages. When this risked jeopardising the project, steps could have been taken - the problem could have been managed.

So to try and pretend that the JLE was simply a victim of circumstances, and attempt to play down the project's shortcomings as nothing to do with civil engineering, is to run the risk of failing to learn some valuable lessons and to pretend that good project management is not part of civil engineering.

Completion of the Channel Tunnel at the start of the decade saw endless attempts to rewrite history and present the project as an engineering triumph, undermined by financiers and lawyers. Could similar complacency underlie the JLE's problems?

Without doubt, the JLE is a piece of infrastructure to be proud of and it will serve London well for decades, but its construction has done little to promote the profession's contribution to society and suggests that the lessons of Egan have still to be grasped. A balanced view of the JLE is that it belongs both in the long British traditions of engineering triumphs AND heroic failures.

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