Crossrail tunnels under construction

Crossrail’s current budget is not enough to complete the project, watchdog says

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The Crossrail project does not have a high enough budget to be completed under the current funding allowance, a report from the National Audit Office (NAO) has found.

It said the revised schedule and budget agreed for Crossrail in April 2019 was unachievable because the programme was further from being complete than Crossrail Ltd and its other sponsors understood.

Although cost increases and schedule delays are in line with Crossrail Ltd’s 2020 estimates, they exceed the available budget and there are still significant issues that could arise as the railway is brought into service, the NAO said.

The joint sponsors for Crossrail are the Department for Transport and Transport for London (TfL), while Crossrail Ltd, a subsidiary of TfL, is responsible for delivering the programme.

When the NAO last reported in May 2019, the funding package for Crossrail stood at £17.6bn, the forecast cost was £17bn, and the central section of the Elizabeth line was due to open by March 2021 at the latest.

But since then, milestones have been repeatedly missed in 2019 and into 2020 due to Crossrail Ltd continually uncovering problems or identifying requirements for new work.

The NAO said that despite contractors meeting only 30 per cent of milestones on average throughout 2019 and early 2020, Crossrail Ltd continued to base its plans on “more optimistic levels of productivity”.

The Covid-19 pandemic added further cost and delay to the programme, but Crossrail Ltd took the opportunity to improve its planning of remaining work. Crossrail Ltd estimates that £228m of the increase in cost since April 2019 is a direct result of factors relating to the pandemic.

In response to the delays and the need to make workspaces safe, it worked closely with contractors to plan and re-sequence remaining work. Between August 2020 and April 2021, contractors met around 90 per cent of milestones.

As of May this year, most major construction work is complete, and Crossrail Ltd is in the process of transferring assets, such as stations, to Rail for London Infrastructure and London Underground, who will maintain and operate different parts of the Elizabeth line.

The latest estimates suggest the Elizabeth Line could finally open in the first half of 2022 after it received an additional £825m in funding in December.

“Crossrail was further from completion than anyone understood when the Department, TfL and Crossrail Ltd reset the programme in 2019,” said Gareth Davies, head of the NAO.

“The problems we identified in our previous report have been difficult to address and have continued to affect the programme.

“There are now encouraging signs that Crossrail is in a more stable position. However, it will require further funding to complete, and there are still significant risks that must be managed as the Elizabeth line undergoes operational testing.

“As the Elizabeth line nears the start of services in 2022, TfL and government must think through how to realise the benefits of the railway in order to maximise the return on almost £19bn of investment.”

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