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Crossrail budget tops £18bn but it won’t open until at least 2021

Image credit: Crossrail

The massive infrastructure project to build a new railway passing east-west through London has been delayed once again, with costs increasing by up to £650m.

The vast engineering project was approved in 2007 with an initial estimate of a £15.9bn budget, and construction began in 2009. Its mounting cost is being met by the Department for Transport and the Greater London Authority including Transport for London, in addition to some London-based businesses.

The railway, also known as the ‘Elizabeth Line’, will extend almost 120km across London, from Reading in the west and beneath central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. It is expected to transport 200 million passengers a year, relieving pressure on existing infrastructure.

In August 2018, the planned opening of Crossrail’s core London section (Paddington to Abbey Wood) was initially delayed from December 2018 to autumn 2019. Crossrail executives were unable to pinpoint an opening date for this section, although estimates fell between October 2020 and March 2021. Meanwhile, the planned opening of the Bond Street Crossrail station was delayed beyond the rest of the railway due to “design and delivery challenges”.

Now, Crossrail has confirmed to the London Stock Exchange that it will not be opening in 2020. Mark Wild, CEO of Crossrail Ltd, said in a statement that services would begin “as soon as practically possible in 2021”. Four major tasks must be completed before services may begin: building and testing software to integrate trains across three signalling systems; installing and testing station systems; installing equipment in tunnels and testing communications systems; and trial running the new trains for several thousand kilometres.

Wild said that the Custom House, Farringdon, and Tottenham Court Road stations would be complete by the end of 2019, with the tunnels fitted out in January 2020. The central section – except Bond Street and Whitechapel stations – is on track to be “substantially complete” by the end of spring 2020.

Wild also said that the total cost of the railway could increase by up to £650m, reaching a new height of £18.25bn, on account of changes to design and schedules. Engineering works at one station (Whitechapel) mounted costs of £659m: six times higher than originally estimated. In December 2018, Crossrail, TfL, the Mayor of London, and the government agreed to an initial increase in funding for the project after it became clear that it would run over budget.

“Our latest assessment is that the opening of the central section will not occur in 2020, which was the first part of our previously declared opening window,” Wild said. “The Elizabeth Line will open as soon as practically possible in 2021. We will provide Londoners with further certainty about when the Elizabeth Line will open early in 2020.

“We are doing everything we can to complete the Elizabeth Line as quickly as we can but there are no shortcuts to delivering this hugely complex railway. The Elizabeth Line must be completed to the highest safety and quality standards.”

Caroline Pidgeon, chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, commented: “The further delays to the opening of Crossrail and increasing costs are appalling news for Londoners. The delay creates huge issues for many businesses that have made investment decisions based on its original opening date of December 2018.”

Crossrail Ltd and other parties involved were damned on Twitter by Tory candidate for Mayor of London, Shaun Bailey, and the Liberal Democrat candidate, Siobhan Benita. Other political figures took the opportunity to criticise the large sums of money being spent supporting the London-based project while regional projects – such as the rejected electrification of the Hull-Selby line – are neglected.

Crossrail has come under fire from the House of Commons Public Accounts committee, which in April predicted that services would not begin in 2020, and criticised the government for failing to explain the mounting costs of the project.

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