THE OPENING of the Jubilee Line Extension was put back by a further six months this week. Completion of the beleaguered 16km railway will now be 18 months late.
US construction giant Bechtel has been brought in by London Transport chief executive Denis Tunnicliffe to manage the scheme. Project director Hugh Doherty - in charge of the JLE since October 1991 - has left.
The JLE's opening will now be phased. On 30 April, the stretch of line between Stratford and North Greenwich will begin carrying passengers. Services will be extended into London Bridge by 31 August. The final link to Green Park will be complete by 30 September, three months ahead of the opening of the Millennium Experience at Greenwich.
The JLE's new project chief executive, Bechtel's Clifford Mumm, said: 'The best way of guaranteeing that it works is to throw real people at the system as early as possible and see where it falls down.'
Tunnicliffe said: 'The decision to bring in Bechtel was taken in light of the absolute necessity to deliver the JLE in time for the Millennium Experience.'
He confirmed that the current cost estimate of pounds2.75bn was now the subject of ongoing review but added that the final cost 'would not be significantly more than we have already spent'.
A complete overhaul of the project - which will see up to 30 senior Bechtel staff join the team - followed a review of the scheme by the contractor last month. This is thought to have recommended that without changes, the project risked missing its millennium deadline.
Tunnicliffe added that on a project of the JLE's size it was not unusual to bring in a new team at the final stage. He said around a dozen of the existing management team would also leave the project as Bechtel brought in the 'magic' needed to complete the job.
However, Tunnicliffe maintained that there were no specific new problems that had pushed the project back further: 'The rate of completing stations over the summer has been disappointing. One of Bechtel's tasks is to improve this performance.'
He confirmed that plans had been abandoned to install the problematic moving block signal technology as the 24 trains an hour allowable under the fixed block system was sufficient for present passenger forecasts.
Mumm was most recently Bechtel's managing director of special projects in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and South West Asia. He claimed that Bechtel was 'putting its name at risk' by guaranteeing the new opening dates for the project.
Although he was unable to reveal any of the specific findings of the Bechtel report, he said that, in his experience, projects the size of the JLE should always be commissioned in stages.