Transport for London (TfL) chief Mike Brown is facing calls to resign over allegations he downplayed the pressures facing Crossrail as it became clear the project would struggle to open on time.
Email extracts cited in the London Assembly’s second report into Crossrail, which is jointly sponsored by TfL and the Department for Transport, show Brown, behind the scenes, at loggerheads with senior Crossrail executives over the contents of the updates sent to the London mayor, Sadiq Khan.
They show that TfL staff went against the advice of senior Crossrail officials and asked for references to the risks the much-delayed project was facing to be removed or altered.
“The evidence we have seen makes it clear that some officers at Crossrail and TfL attempted to warn about the risks to opening on time,” the report said. “It is unacceptable that these risks were being downplayed by TfL commissioner, Mike Brown.”
In one email exchange, Crossrail’s chief operating officer Howard Smith is told by a TfL manager that the wording in one update to the mayor was “amended by Mike so that the setbacks appeared less serious”.
In another example, Smith is asked by whom? whether he is happy with the proposed wording of an update that is due to go to the mayor.
In response, he says: “Not really! Removing the statement re insufficient testing time is wrong. We see it is a critical issue that we need to note. I’d remind them that we have been taken to task…for not highlighting risks. If it’s Mike I don’t think it changes my view but he is the boss!”
A standout recommendation in the report, compiled by the assembly's transport committee, is that Brown “reflects on whether he is fit to fulfil his role in TfL”.
A TfL spokesperson said: “It is clear that the responsibility for the delay to the Crossrail project lies with the former management of Crossrail Ltd. It is entirely incorrect to suggest the transport commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the mayor.
“As the Commissioner made clear to the transport committee, it would not have been right to allow material to go to the mayor that was incorrect or inconsistent with information that the management of Crossrail Ltd themselves were presenting to TfL and the mayor in regular face to face meetings.”
Crossrail, also known as the Elizabeth Line, is the largest infrastructure project in Europe and will stretch from Abbey Wood in the east to Heathrow in the west. It was scheduled to open last December but has been pushed back repeatedly due to infrastructure delays and problems with signalling testing.
In the months after the delay was revealed it received a £1.4bn bailout from the Greater London Authority to keep it afloat. Question marks still linger around when it will open, with a recent committee of MPs suggesting it could be as late as 2021.
In a further blow to Londoners, the report said Crossrail’s costs were more likely to be in the region of £18.7bn, rather than £17.6bn as previously estimated.
Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the transport committee, said: "It is shameful that nobody at a senior level is willing to take responsibility for the failure of the project thus far. Crossrail’s former chairman, Sir Terry Morgan stepped down, however, the evidence suggests that TfL commissioner, Mike Brown, was at the centre of decisions to dilute important information sent to the mayor.”
Keith Prince, the Tories' transport spokesperson in the assembly, said: "It is very clear from the report that the mayor did not have a grip on what is Europe's largest infrastructure project. If that isn't bad enough, it is also clear that the commissioner was either keeping the mayor in the dark or affording him credible deniability.
"Either way, both come out looking well short of the standards London should expect from their mayor and transport commissioner."
A TfL spokesperson said: “It is clear the responsibility for the delay to the Crossrail project lies with the former management of Crossrail Ltd. It is entirely incorrect to suggest the transport commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the mayor.”
A mayoral spokesperson said: “Sadiq has every confidence in Mike Brown. Responsibility for the inadequate information provided about the Crossrail delay lies squarely with the former management of Crossrail Ltd. Crossrail now has a new leadership team in place, with the new chair strengthening the project’s governance.”
Shaun Bailey, Khan’s opponent for the 2020 mayoral election, said: “The blame for this delay rests squarely with the mayor – the man in charge of TfL and the TfL board.”