Our Crossrail columnist DAN HARVEY charts the causes of the delay to London’s new line

THE OPENING of the Elizabeth Line has been postponed from December this year until autumn 2019.

At an extraordinary meeting of the Crossrail Ltd Board on 29 August members agreed it was no longer possible to deliver a safe and reliable railway for passengers in time for the planned 9 December opening. A partial opening was considered but deemed impractical.

Delays to the programme of dynamic testing – testing with Class 345 trains on the infrastructure inside the tunnels – has been cited as the main cause of the delay. Test teams have struggled to rack up the necessary miles with access restricted because of unfinished works in tunnels and at stations.

In addition to this train supplier Bombardier and signalling contractor Siemens are struggling to get train and tunnel systems to communicate effectively. Software that allows the Aventra trains to switch between Communications Based Train Control in the central section and European Train Control System (ETCS) west of Paddington and Train Protection Warning System (TPWS) east of Liverpool Street has been described as ‘immature’, with extensive development work still required.

The project faced a setback last autumn when the explosion of an underground transformer halted train testing and investigations had to be carried out to determine the cause of the explosion. However, even without this hold-up testing would have been impacted by incomplete infrastructure which has limited the number and length of test runs.

Although overall Crossrail works are 95% complete, activity continues at stations and it has been confirmed that the new Bond Street station would not have been completed in time for the planned December 2018 opening. In running tunnels work still to finish includes removing temporary services and the remaining installation of permanent lighting and drainage pumps. Highlighting the disparity between the scheduled opening and current progress, Crossrail Chief Executive Simon Wright told a London Assembly plenary meeting full testing will not start until October, at which point the construction schedule will no longer impact on testing. Mr Wright said several months of full-time testing will be required before trial operations – timetabled services without passengers – can begin.

No passenger trains until next year: westbound Elizabeth Line platform at Tottenham Court Road.
Courtesy Crossrail


Services on London’s new underground railway had been scheduled to start on 9 December with the Queen due to open the line that bears her name, delivering stage three of the five-stage Crossrail opening. This long-planned phased opening has been left in tatters by the decision to postpone Phase Three, which means Phase Four in May 2019 can no longer be delivered on time. With Crossrail still following a staged opening strategy it seems doubtful Stage Five will be delivered as planned in December 2019, with the full Elizabeth Line service unlikely to begin before 2020. TfL, which owns Crossrail Ltd, says it remains committed to opening the full network at the earliest opportunity but, as Crossrail reviews its opening strategy, at the time of writing there were no dates for opening any stage of the project.

Long live TfL Rail: with the Elizabeth Line opening delayed, the temporary branding for services east and west of the capital is set to stay until next autumn. Unit No 345006 runs into London Paddington on the 17.17 from Hayes and Harlington on 28 June 2018.
Tony Miles

Delaying the start of Elizabeth Line services leaves a hole in TfL finances with its business plan predicated on the new source of revenue. Transport Commissioner Mike Brown told the London Assembly he expected this to be a ‘manageable’ figure of £20 million during 2018-19. In future years the amount of lost revenue could be significantly higher if delays to opening of the full Elizabeth Line network emerge as explained above.

Crossrail’s Simon Wright said: ‘The Elizabeth Line is one of the most complex and challenging infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK and is now in its final stages. We have made huge progress with the delivery of this incredible project, but we need further time to complete the testing of the new railway.’

But in a letter to The Times Rob Holden, the former Chairman of High Speed 1 who was Chief Executive of Crossrail between 2009 and 2011, described the delay as a national embarrassment which could have implications for Crossrail 2, for which TfL is currently seeking funding from government.

Mr Holden continued: ‘The problems with Crossrail arise from a decision taken in 2011 to delay the procurement of new rolling stock – a decision that has affected the commissioning of those trains, the infrastructure and the all-important signalling system. The signalling was always going to be the single biggest risk to the Crossrail project, and so it has proved.’

At the London Assembly plenary meeting Crossrail Chairman Sir Terry Morgan disputed this. He said the decision in 2011 to switch from a PFI-style train procurement, similar to the Thameslink Class 700 fleet, to a TfL financed order, was fully supported by himself and the programme.