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MPs ‘not convinced’ that Crossrail will open in 2020

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MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee have fiercely criticised the government for failing to explain why London’s new railway project is delayed and over budget.

Crossrail, also known as the “Elizabeth Line”, will reach 117km across London from Essex to Berkshire and Buckinghamshire, relieving extreme pressure on existing public transport links. The enormous engineering project has involved digging 21km of extra tunnels beneath Central London.

The project was approved in 2007 with initial estimates of a £15.4bn budget, and construction began in 2009. Its considerable cost is being met by the Department for Transport (DfT), the Greater London Authority including Transport for London (TfL), and London businesses. In August 2018, the planned opening of Crossrail’s core section was delayed from December 2018 to autumn 2019 to allow more time for testing, although Crossrail executives have been unable to confirm an opening date, casting doubts on an autumn 2019 opening.

The Commons Public Accounts Committee has been investigating the Crossrail failures, concluding that it was “not convinced” Elizabeth Line trains would begin running in 2020, or that the additional £2.8bn funding set aside by the government to bail out the project would be sufficient. The total cost of Crossrail has risen to £17.6bn.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said that potential passengers had been “badly let down”, and that it had been clear for some time that the planned opening date was unrealistic despite the organisations responsible putting on a “positive face”.

“It is unacceptable that Parliament and the public still do not know the root causes of the failures that beset this project,” she said.

In its report, the committee has demanded that the government explains the causes for Crossrail’s failures, which remain unknown, and the consequences of these failures. The committee condemned the DfT for failing to put in place sufficient governance arrangements, and for its wider “shortcomings” in its oversight of UK railways.

A DfT spokesperson said that the department had “consistently challenged the leadership of Crossrail” on the delivery of the 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.”

Mark Wild, CEO of Crossrail Ltd, said: “We take the views of the Public Accounts Committee very seriously, and will be reviewing their recommendations carefully [...] 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. The team is working extremely hard to establish a new approach through the development of an Earliest Opening Programme for the railway and we will be providing more details later this month.”

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