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Department for Transport ‘still has no grip’ on Crossrail problems, say MPs

Image credit: Crossrail

A parliamentary committee has issued a scathing report on London’s late-running Crossrail project, saying that taxpayers are being let down by delays and climbing costs.

The Public Accounts Committee is highly critical of Crossrail Ltd, the company responsible for delivering the programme, but its particular concern is over perceived failings of oversight by the Department for Transport. The DfT, as one of the scheme’s two sponsors (along with Transport for London), is ultimately responsible for use of taxpayers’ money on Crossrail.

Intended to increase London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent and ease congestion on the rest of the city’s transport network, Crossrail will eventually run from Reading in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, passing through central London in a new underground section between Paddington and Canary Wharf. It will be known in operation as the Elizabeth line.

The central section should have opened in December 2018, but a host of difficulties have seen the date now pushed back to somewhere between October 2020 and March 2021, despite managers insisting as late as summer last year that on-time opening was possible.

Following on from a PAC review of progress in April, the ‘Completing Crossrail’ report states: “Funding for the programme has already increased by around £2.8bn to £17.6bn and yet, the final cost still remains unknown. As Crossrail has not yet determined and agreed an opening date for the full railway, costs for the programme are likely to continue to climb.

“Crossrail Ltd has so far failed to understand the complexity and risks involved in the programme, failed in its management of its main contractors and failed to integrate different strands of the programme successfully.”

On the DfT’s responsibilities, it continues: “The way in which it set up Crossrail Ltd left it with limited powers to step in and take action, including on executive remuneration, when the programme faltered.

“While the Department is now working to learn and apply the lessons from what went wrong with Crossrail, it should acknowledge that this is far from an unfamiliar tale. We have witnessed cost increases and delays on major rail projects several times over the past few years and the Department still does not appear to have got a grip on the problem. Until the Department properly embeds the lessons learned from the programme, we remain sceptical about its ability to oversee major rail projects.”

Commenting on the ‘Completing Crossrail’ report, PAC chair Meg Hillier said: “Crossrail is two years late and £2.8bn over budget. Unfortunately, delay and being over-budget now appear to be par for the course for major rail projects.

“The Department for Transport is ultimately responsible for the use of taxpayers’ money on Crossrail; it still does not appear to have got a grip of the problems.

“It has also failed to get a grip of Crossrail Ltd, continuing to pay its executives bonuses, despite the programme going off track.”

Last week Crossrail Ltd said in its latest project update that it now had a “realistic and achievable” plan for completing outstanding works and bringing the line into passenger service “at the earliest possible date”.

This includes finishing systems installation in stations and tunnels this year, allowing the new stations and rail infrastructure to be integrated with the rest of the railway ahead of an extensive period of trial running and trial operations during 2020 “to build absolute confidence in the safety and reliability of the whole system before opening to the public”.

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