The troubled £19bn Crossrail project is at risk of being “mothballed’ unless it receives urgent additional funding, London’s transport chief has warned.
Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Andy Byford this week urged the Department for Transport to provide £80m of immediate support to keep the rail link on track, Sky News reported.
In a letter to permanent secretary Bernadette Kelly, Byford reportedly said he would relinquish responsibility for the mammoth infrastructure project if further funding did not materialise.
“If agreement is not reached this week, we will have no option but to mothball the project and to seek alternative governance for its eventual completion,” the letter said, according to a Whitehall source.
“I sincerely hope that we can avoid such a Doomsday scenario.”
Crossrail — formally known as the Elizabeth Line — has been plagued by a series of delays and escalating costs.
The line, which will connect Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, was supposed to be open in December 2018 at a cost of £14.9bn.
But Crossrail in August warned it was likely to cost £18.7bn — £450m more than the upper end of its revised budget announced in November 2019 — with the central section of the line not opening until 2022.
In his letter, Byford is understood to have told Kelly that Crossrail was “no longer able to make any further financial commitments”.
Byford, who oversaw New York’s subway system before taking over as the capital’s transport commissioner in May, has pledged to take responsibility for Crossrail’s completion on the condition that the government provided sufficient funding.
TfL, which is co-sponsoring the project alongside the government, has seen its funding heavily hit by a decline in revenue during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We therefore do not have the financial headroom to provide additional funding unless the government provides funding certainty now by agreeing to the heads of terms we have submitted to you,” Mr Byford wrote, according to the report.
The project has been further impacted by a row over TfL’s funding. The organisation this month secured a £1.8bn bailout from the government following a bitter public dispute between mayor Sadiq Khan and Prime Minister Boris Johnson over its management.
A mayoral source said: “TfL has stepped forward and taken on full responsibility for delivery of the Crossrail project and, at the government’s insistence that ‘London pays’, the current funding proposal will see the vast majority of these costs covered by Greater London Authority borrowing.
“This offer was made to ministers months ago and would mean London would cover more than its fair share of a project whose financial benefits will overwhelmingly go to the Treasury. It is inconceivable that a deal cannot be done on terms so generous for the government.”
A government spokesperson said: “The government remains committed to the efficient completion of the project, in a way that is fair to UK taxpayers, and that ensures London – as the primary beneficiary of Crossrail – bears the additional costs.
“We are working with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to develop a funding solution to see Crossrail’s completion.”
“It is unfortunate, in contrast to other construction projects, the Mayor chose to unnecessarily halt work on Crossrail during the pandemic.”
A TfL spokesperson said: “TfL, the GLA and government all continue to have discussions around the additional funding needed to complete the Crossrail project.”