For months Modern Railways has reported on the difficulties facing those tasked with completing the Crossrail programme; discussion of these matters has become a regular feature of private sessions at Transport for London panel meetings. However, the announcement on 31 August that the 9 December 2018 opening of the Elizabeth Line had been abandoned has been met with surprise given the long-repeated mantra from Crossrail Ltd and Transport for London that the opening remained ‘on time, on budget’.
That the revised opening is at least nine months away underlines how far from the truth these assurances have proved. Senior figures at the project have spoken of how in recent months they had been aware of the challenges to the schedule but believed it could still be possible to open on time. But with MPs, the London Assembly and even Mayor of London and Chair of TfL Sadiq Khan apparently told the line remained on course to open in December when this was not the case, questions are now being asked as to whether Crossrail and TfL provided the appropriate information when questions were posed by elected representatives during the summer.
With MPs and Assembly Members returning to business after the summer recess there was clearly a sense of aggrievement among some whose job it is to scrutinise Crossrail. At a London Assembly Plenary meeting on 6 September, Chair Tony Arbour spoke of how the panel had been ‘absolutely taken by surprise’ by the announcement of the delay.
To Crossrail and the sponsors, it was clear something was seriously wrong before the board decision on 29 August to abandon the December launch. Following a scheduled Crossrail board meeting on 19 July the organisation commissioned work focusing on the viability of the December opening. On 26 July the Mayor was informed that an extraordinary Crossrail board had been scheduled for the end of August. The sponsors commissioned an independent review into plans for outstanding construction activities which was due to report shortly before the August board.
The announcement of the delay was made just over a month after it was revealed that additional funding of £590 million will be made available for Crossrail works, taking the infrastructure budget to £15.4 million (p95, last month). With wages to pay for an additional nineplus months and with contractors seeking to secure workers to finish the job amid competition from other major building projects in London, costs are expected to rise further. Sir Terry Morgan, chair of Crossrail Ltd, has met Treasury officials amid concerns that further funding will be required to complete the project.
Funding and schedule overruns are putting the reputations of those leading Crossrail on the line. Last month Modern Railways highlighted former Chief Executive Andrew Wolstenholme’s departure from the project with a pay-off of £97,734. His exit was announced in March, before the cost and schedule overruns were revealed. Chairman Sir Terry Morgan – who now splits his time between Crossrail Ltd and chairing HS2 Ltd – has been asked by the London Assembly if he will resign. Sir Terry responded that he is ‘determined to finish the job’ and will continue in his Crossrail role into 2019.