MPs are “not convinced” that Crossrail will open in 2020 and fear the project will need more than the extra £2.8bn in funding it received to stay afloat, according to a damning report released today.
Spending watchdog the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the costs of the railway, also known as the Elizabeth Line, had been allowed to “spiral out of control” while “question marks remain” around its completion.
The £17.6bn railway, which will stretch from Abbey Wood in the east to Heathrow in the west through central London, was originally scheduled to open last December, but has been pushed back indefinitely following a series of delays around signalling testing and infrastructure.
Last summer, the project received a £590m loan from the government, which was followed by a £350m loan in October.
Then in December, a new deal was reached in which the Greater London Authority will borrow £1.3bn from the government and provide £100m itself.
The delays mean the cost of the railway has escalated from an initial £14.8bn to the current figure of £17.6bn.
The committee slammed the Department for Transport (DfT), which is jointly sponsoring the project with Transport for London (TfL), for its “laissez-faire” attitude to rising costs and said the government was unable to demonstrate what it had done to protect taxpayers’ money on the project.
The PAC's report said: “Key warning signs were missed or ignored, and parliament and potential new passengers still do not know the root causes of the delays and significant cost overruns.”
A DfT spokesperson said it was “deeply disappointing” that the PAC’s report allegedly fails to recognise DfT steps taken to ensure delivery of the project while protecting taxpayers.
They added: “The Department consistently challenged the leadership of Crossrail Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiary of TfL, on the delivery of this project.
“As soon as the company admitted delay, the Department and TfL acted swiftly to identify lessons, change the leadership of the Crossrail Ltd Board, and strengthen governance and oversight.”
Earlier this month the committee grilled the newly appointed Crossrail chief executive, Mark Wild, who said he “very much wants” the railway to open in 2020.
He said no one individual was to blame for the delay, which he attributed to “system failure” and a culture of over-optimism that meant negative information was not communicated to those above in charge of the project.
MPs on the committee said it was “unacceptable” that the government and Crossrail were unable to identify the “root causes” of the delay and how the project was able to unravel.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “It is clear that the delivery deadline of December 2018 had been unrealistic for some time. But the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited continued to put a positive face on the programme long after mounting evidence should have prompted changes.
“Wishful thinking is no basis for spending public money and there remain serious risks to delivering this programme, with a revised schedule and costings for completing the work still to be agreed. Some £2.8bn of extra funding has been provided for Crossrail but even that may not be enough."
Hillier said the committee would "not accept" the government's or Crossrail description of the failings as systematic.
"The department should write to us urgently to explain what it, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited are responsible and accountable for on this programme, and set out clearly what consequences there have been for well-rewarded officials whose costly failures are paid for by taxpayers," she said.
Wild said: "We take the views of the Public Accounts Committee very seriously and will be reviewing their recommendations carefully.
“Since becoming CEO of Crossrail in November last year I have overseen an intensive review of the programme. It is clear that more work is required to complete the infrastructure, the integration of the train, signalling and station systems and to undertake the extensive testing that will be necessary to open a safe and reliable railway. We are making progress in all these areas and, in addition, we have put in place an enhanced governance structure and new leadership team to strengthen the programme.
“The Elizabeth Line will be completed as quickly as possible and brought into service for passengers."
A TfL spokesperson said: “We welcome scrutiny of the Crossrail project and, along with the DfT as joint sponsors, have taken a number of actions to strengthen governance and oversight, including changes to both the Crossrail Limited voard and the Crossrail executive team. Everyone involved remains fully focused on ensuring the Elizabeth Line, which will transform travel across London, is completed and brought into service for passengers as quickly as possible.”