Thursday 17 June 2021 6:53 pm

Crossrail under renewed scrutiny as further delays loom

London politicians have today called for more transparency over the progress of the Crossrail line after a new report into the project suggested further delays could be “difficult to avoid”.

The Elizabeth line, which is now scheduled to open in the first half of 2022, has recently begun the trial running of services.

But the latest report from construction firm Jacobs said that multiple issues with the testing programme had created an “inefficient working” environment.

It identified “safe site access… a lack of trained and competent safety supervisory resource, and difficulties with use of unapproved maintenance plant” as particular problems. 

In addition, there have also been delays in completing a number of the stations being redeveloped for the line.

Crossrail said it was still on track to open in the first half of next year.

“While we are aware that these issues are being slowly resolved, schedule impacts upon subsequent critical activities will be difficult to avoid”, the report said. 

“We are concerned that CRL [Crossrail] may develop a revised schedule that presents an overly optimistic position that is target date driven and constrained by stakeholder expectation.”

Crossrail should establish a “joint planning authority” with Rail for London, the TfL subsidiary that will manage the Elizabeth line, to “address the crucial need for a strategic, rather than a short-term, approach to planning for programme completion”, the paper added.

A Crossrail spokesperson said: “Crossrail remains on track to open the Elizabeth line in the first half of 2022. 

“We are doing everything we can to complete the Elizabeth line as quickly as possible, 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.  

“The trial running phase commenced on 10 May and there are currently eight trains an hour operating through the central tunnels as part of the major railway trials taking place on the system throughout this year.”  

The firm has scheduled in an 18-day construction period this month in order to ease pressure on the trial operations.

Politicians tell Crossrail to stop ‘hiding’ behind redactions

On the published version of the paper, a number of the dates in question have been redacted by the organisation.

This prompted outrage from a number of Assembly members, who said that Crossrail should be “open” with Londoners about the line’s progress.

Liberal Democrat AM and transport committee member Caroline Pidgeon told City A.M.:  “If there is one lesson that should be learnt from Crossrail is that secrecy about the progress of the project just leads to future problems. If there had been more openness about the progress of the project in the past we would almost certainly not be where we are today.

“Crossrail is set to be £5bn over budget and three and half years overdue when it finally opens. Hiding behind severely redacted reports on the progress of Crossrail is no longer acceptable.”

Keith Prince AM, the Conservative Transport Spokesman, added: “Crossrail’s latest progress report is deeply worrying. It appears that the Elizabeth Line is still far from on track and may not be ready to open in July 2022. For the past five years, Sadiq Khan has failed to get a grip on this vital infrastructure project. He can’t let it be delayed again in his second term. 

“Londoners have a right to know if Crossrail is plagued with problems. The Mayor needs to be open and honest about its progress and show leadership to open the line.” 

Green party AM Sian Berry, another transport committee member, also called for the release of the full report: “I just can’t see why all these dates should be redacted. 

“The question marks over the project, and the public interest, are all focused on the opening schedule right now and the timing of the difference it will make to capacity is an absolutely crucial thing for the Assembly and Londoners to know.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “Sadiq is committed to the greatest possible openness and transparency around the Crossrail project, and has made clear that redactions in reports should be kept to a minimum. 

“Safely delivering the Elizabeth line as soon as possible remains one of his top priorities, and the whole Crossrail team are doing all they can to get the railway open sooner rather than later.”

In addition to the problems with the service trials, Jacobs said that there was “little evidence of improvement” in the completion of construction of the line’s stations.

“Delays are being identified at Paddington, Bond Street and Canary Wharf Stations that have the potential to impact the schedule for passenger service”, it reported.

At Bond Street and Canary Wharf it said that the delay to the handover dates were currently two weeks, but this “is likely to increase”.

“Delays arising from frustrated access at stations are unlikely to be recovered”, it added.

Crossrail was initially due to open in December 2018. The total estimated cost has risen from an initial budget of £14.8bn to £18.7bn.