Crossrail delays opening the Elizabeth line once again – and increases the bill

Dynamic testing in the Crossrail tunnels is already underway.

Crossrail has revised its estimate of when London’s new Elizabeth line will open, and also warned that the costs have increased once again, this time by between £400 and £650 million.

In April, Crossrail announced that the line would open somewhere between October 2020 and March 20201. The company has now changed that, ruling out any chance of a 2020 opening and simply saying it will be “as soon as practically possible in 2021”.

According to Crossrail, in a statement issued by Transport for London (TfL) to the London Stock Exchange, the latest projections now show a central cost forecast (including risk contingency) of approximately £15,363 million, which is £400 million more than the funding committed under the last Financing Package. Further modelling scenarios consider even higher levels of risk of £650 million more than the funding committed under the Financing Package.

TfL has agreed with the Department for Transport (DfT) that the Financing Package will remain in place. TfL and DfT are in discussion regarding how funding of these additional costs will be resolved.

Explanation

At the same time, Crossrail announced the delayed opening. Chief executive Mark Wild explained: “The Crossrail project has made good progress over recent months as the new plan to complete the Elizabeth line is implemented by the supply chain.

Mark Wild, Crossrail.

“A key focus during 2019 has been finalising the stations, tunnels, portals and shafts. By the end of the year, Custom House, Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road stations will be complete and the project is on track to finish fit-out of the tunnels in January. The central section will be substantially complete by the end of the first quarter in 2020, except for Bond Street and Whitechapel stations where work will continue.

“The two critical paths for the project remain software development for the signalling and train systems, and the complex assurance and handover process for the railway; both involve safety certification for the Elizabeth line. These must be done to the highest quality standards to ensure reliability of the railway from day one of passenger service.

“Crossrail Ltd will need further time to complete software development for the signalling and train systems and the safety approvals process for the railway. The Trial Running phase will begin at the earliest opportunity in 2020, this will be followed by testing of the operational railway to ensure it is safe and reliable.

Testing and developing the signalling and control system will account for most of the delays.

“Our latest assessment is that the opening of the central section will not occur in 2020, which was the first part of our previously declared opening window. The Elizabeth line will open as soon as practically possible in 2021. We will provide Londoners with further certainty about when the Elizabeth line will open early in 2020.

“Our detailed cost forecasts continue to show that the project’s costs will increase due to programme risks and uncertainties. The latest projections indicate a range of between £400 million to £650 million more than the revised funding agreed by the Mayor, Government and Transport for London in December 2018.

“We are doing everything we can to complete the Elizabeth line as quickly as we can but there are no short-cuts to delivering this hugely complex railway. The Elizabeth line must be completed to the highest safety and quality standards.”

Reaction

Jasmine Whitbread, London First.

Understandably, the reaction has been negative.

Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business group London First, said: “The prospect of a further setback to Crossrail is very disappointing to businesses across the capital, as are the further cost over-runs which go hand in hand with any delay.

“We must not lose sight of the transformational change Crossrail will bring to our city. It has been 40 years in the making and will be worth the wait. But efforts must be redoubled to ensure that the railway opens as soon as practically possible and that we learn the lessons for future projects.”

Manuel Cortes, TSSA.

Meanwhile, TSSA general secretary Manuel Cortes added: “There needs to be a public inquiry into how the costs for Crossrail have escalated in this manner and also why is it that software problems are still preventing services from running the central section.

“This is a vital piece of infrastructure which is badly needed to decongest a Tube network which is bursting at the seams.

“The government must urgently answer questions about whether their original estimates for the cost of this project were overly optimistic and whether penalty clauses for suppliers – such as the company responsible for its software and signalling systems – were fit for purpose.

“Londoners must not foot the bill for the delay in delivering this badly needed new rail line.”

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