Caroline Pidgeon writes…What has gone wrong with Crossrail?

I don’t know what the Queen is doing today.

However, I know for certain what she is not doing.

Many months ago it was agreed that Crossrail (the Elizabeth Line) would officially be opened by the Queen today.

The Elizabeth Line, will cover 100 km from Reading and Maidenhead to the west of the capital and Heathrow, through new tunnels under Central London to Woolwich and Abbey Wood in the south-east of the city and Shenfield in Essex.

It will transform rail transport in London and the surrounding region, increasing passenger capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the capital. It will, when finally open, deliver wonderful new trains, 200 metres long, the same length as two football pitches. It will also deliver 10 new stations and key improvements to many others, making all the stations on the route step-free and therefore accessible for everyone.

Yet, sadly all these benefits have been put on hold, while the cost of completing it (and lost passenger income for Transport for London) simply soars.

The costs of completing the project were already escalating earlier this year, but then on the 31 August, barely three months before the official opening of the line, it was suddenly announced that its actual opening date would be sometime in ‘Autumn’ 2019.   We still have no exact revised opening date.

For a project to be delayed, by such a magnitude and so close to its official opening, is quite incredible.

It doesn’t take the greatest forensic mind to realise that severe problems were taking place before the official announcement of its delayed opening.

Yet I imagine some readers might be wondering whether this is really important in the grand scheme of things.  Have there not been dozens of construction and infrastructure projects which have overrun their budgets and which have been completed far later than first planned?

And it could even be argued that a bit of patience is hardly unreasonable.  We have after all been waiting a very long time indeed for Crossrail.  The first serious proposals for the line were made as far back as 1974, when I was just two years of age. That was the year Edward Heath was replaced by Harold Wilson as Prime Minister and Richard Nixon stood down as US President over Watergate – and for those less interested in political history, it was also the year Mud were in the charts with Tiger Feet and Bagpuss was first aired on UK television.

So yes Crossrail does have a long history. However just shrugging our shoulders and accepting that delayed opening dates and increased costs are somehow inevitable is the very last thing we should be doing

Firstly, the implications for Transport for London’s budget are immense.  Even before the problems with Crossrail its budget was in dire straits.

However, if you don’t live, work or visit London, or live in Berkshire or Essex, there are other good reasons to be concerned about Crossrail’s delayed opening.

We actually need far more rail and other infrastructure projects in all parts of this country however the escalating costs of Crossrail hinder the case for other projects.

Crossrail’s governance arrangements (set in legislation by the last Labour Government) have clearly not worked.   We now have the embarrassing situation that both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Mayor of London are completely failing to take any responsibility.

The Mayor of London even claims he was not properly briefed about mounting problems facing the project.  Yet he has repeatedly failed to publish briefing documents he was given by Sir Terry Morgan, who after a decade heading up the project resigned as chairman of Crossrail this week.

Getting to the bottom of what has gone so seriously wrong is important to Londoners who have contributed significantly to the funding of Crossrail.  But ensuring lessons are learnt is important to everyone.  If we want to see new transport infrastructure in this country lessons urgently need to be learnt.

* Caroline Pidgeon is the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee

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10 Comments

  • Laurence Cox 9th Dec '18 - 12:22pm

    Caroline,
    I agree that the delay to Crossrail is very concerning and it makes the case for not continuing with HS2, while the sunk costs are still low and minimal environmental damage has been caused to the countryside.

    One other proposal I have seen is that the Kent branch of Crossrail should be extended to Ebbsfleet to link with HS1. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-44601963 It puzzles me that this was not considered in the design of the original line as it would greatly improve connectivity to Eurostar from west of London.

  • The problem concerned with actually running trains through the tunnel appears to be not the track, not the trains but the software on the trains for serving three different signalling-systems.

    So… can the central section for now be used with only one of those systems, at worst by having trains run within the central section only, at next best, running within that section and onward to one of the other sections? Perhaps this temporary arrangement could provide service Mon-Fri days, and testing of the perfect, 3-system arrangement could be done only on nights and weekends. In this way some RoI could start to be received now.

  • At some stage we have to look at the real problems that we face the fact that we need to start to adjust our thinking to the present day. It is not a question of things like nationalisation v private companies, but of having people with the skills to run large projects and people trained to co-operate rather than compete. There is a hospital site in Liverpool still not being progressed. I passed through Berlin Schönefeld Airport a few months ago, and saw the results of a major failure in project management, as there was supposed to be a new airport opened some years ago.

  • Nonconformistradical 10th Dec '18 - 10:35am

    Quoting from the BBC item to which Laurence Cox linked:
    “Proposals for one million new homes and potential creation of 1.3 million jobs by 2050 in the Thames Estuary are to be considered by the government.

    The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission has published its vision for Kent, Essex and London.

    It also wants to see the extension of the Crossrail project to link up with High Speed One at Ebbsfleet.

    It is calling on the government to provide £20m for the development of the rail link to be built by 2029. ”

    Why would building large numbers of homes and creating large numbers of jobs in the Thames Estuary be a particularly good idea in the face of rising sea levels? Or is that just someone else’s problem for the longer-term future?

  • Mark Smulian 10th Dec '18 - 3:58pm

    This TfL press release, issued since Caroline made her posting, throws some light into previous dark corners:

    https://tfl.gov.uk/info-for/media/press-releases/2018/december/new-financing-agreement-confirmed-for-crossrail-proje

  • For anyone who wishes to know more Crossrail I would highly recommend this excellent article:

    https://www.londonreconnections.com/2018/crossrail-breaking-down-the-crisis/

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