Crossrail opening slips again to 2022

Getting construction work finished: work in progress on the routeway at Crossrail’s Bond Street station on 5 August.

Opening of the central section of the Elizabeth Line between Paddington and Abbey Wood has been delayed again and is now scheduled for the first half of 2022. A further cost increase means the project will need up to £1.1 billion on top of the previous financing package agreed in December 2018.

Crossrail Ltd issued an update following its August board meeting. Originally due to open in December 2018, the previous forecast had been for the central section to open as early as possible in 2021. However, at its board meeting in July Crossrail Ltd confirmed it could not meet a summer 2021 opening, with the latest assessment that the line will be ready to open in the first half of 2022. The company suggests there may be an opportunity to review and bring forward the opening, ‘subject to progress during the intensive operational testing phase’.

The next key milestone for the project is to start trial running, which Crossrail is aiming to do ‘at the earliest opportunity in 2021’. It will then take a period of time to fully test the Elizabeth Line, including a phase of trial operations. Once the central section is opened, services will be extended onto the Great Western main line to Reading and Heathrow airport and on the Great Eastern main line to Shenfield, with these introductions aligned with National Rail timetable changes in either May or December.

Crossrail had already forecast it would need further funding in addition to the financing package agreed in December 2018, which provided £2.15 billion in excess of the previous cost estimate. An update in November 2019 confirmed Crossrail was likely to need a further £400 to £650 million on top of this, and this latest estimate adds another £450 million to the upper end of this range.

Explaining the further delay, Crossrail Ltd says the impact of Covid-19 made existing pressures on the programme more acute. It cites lower than productivity in the completion and handover of shafts and portals, revised assumptions concerning the pace at which the 10 central section stations can be handed over to Transport for London, and the effect of the pause on physical activity and social distancing requirements necessitated by Covid, meaning the number of people at Crossrail sites is less than 50% of the number it was pre-pandemic.

To help recover lost time, Crossrail is currently in the middle of a six-week blockade of the routeway in the central section to complete the remaining construction works in readiness for trial running. Once this is complete, testing of the next evolution of the signalling software will begin ahead of an enabling phase for trial running as the number of trains operating in the tunnels is increased. Crossrail will require safety approval from the Office of Rail and Road before trial running can commence.