London transport boss says Crossrail is at "the worrying stage" as design error could throw £14.8bn Elizabeth Line opening off track

Rebecca Smith
The project is 90 per cent completed but issues have cropped up
The project is 90 per cent completed but "issues" have cropped up (Source: Getty)

London's deputy mayor for transport said today that a design error has led to unforeseen troubles with the £14.8bn Crossrail project, putting the pressure on to open the Elizabeth Line on time.

Speaking to the London Assembly Transport Committee, Val Shawcross said: "This is the worrying stage of the project and our commitment is to be honest with people about what's going on and where it is."

City A.M. reported last week that the new railway was facing increasing time and budget pressure, with issues including Whitechapel station works being completed later than budgeted, as well as delayed works at Woolwich station. Construction costs are also £172m over-budget.

Read more: Crossrail trouble: Elizabeth Line faces rising cost and schedule pressures

Today, Shawcross told the London Assembly Transport Committee that an unforeseen issue had cropped up over Christmas, which was causing concern.

"The energisation of the scheme was supposed to be started so that would pave the way for more testing," she said.

But the equipment did not just fail to function, but also made "a bang", according to the transport chief.

The issue was investigated and it appeared there was "a design error in the equipment" that went in before Christmas, which had to be redesigned.

"Crossrail is still predicting that they can meet the overall time targets," Shawcross added, with the plan at present to open the Paddington to Abbey Wood section in December this year.

Mapped: How the Elizabeth Line will open in stages

However, she admitted the troubles did "start to compress the testing time", and it had reached "the worrying stage of the project".

Elizabeth Line planned timeline
June 2017: First new train entered passenger service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield

May 2018: TfL Rail service starts between Paddington and Heathrow Terminal 4

December 2018: Elizabeth Line opens between Paddington and Abbey Wood, Liverpool Street to Shenfield, Paddington to Heathrow Terminal 4

May 2019: Direct services operate Paddington to Shenfield and Paddington to Abbey Wood

December 2019: Elizabeth Line is fully open

Shawcross said:

At the moment, it is still within the budget envelope, however there have been some issues.

The fact is that this is the very last stage now of a huge and complex project, and there are some risks, and I think we shouldn't hide the fact, that in any project like this there are risks.

The biggest risk identified ahead of the design error had been "the signalling software environment".

Transport for London (TfL) board papers published earlier this month said Bombardier is fitting trains with signalling equipment required for operation on the Heathrow branch of the line, but progress is behind plan due to “immaturity and instability” of train software.

Shawcross had previously warned delays to the completion of the Elizabeth Line were the biggest revenue risk facing TfL.

Today, Shawcross said both she and the mayor felt it important Londoners were kept in the loop about how the Elizabeth Line was coming along.

Read more: Elizabeth Line extension in the works: TfL partnership plans business case

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