Crossrail will eventually be an important part of the transport network in London and the south of England. Once opened, it will lighten the load for London’s overburdened transport network and is expected to increase the city’s rail capacity by 10%. However, while it is badly needed, commuters have been let down by a programme that is well behind schedule and has seen costs escalate far beyond what was originally planned. The central section between Canary Wharf and Paddington was supposed to have opened in December 2018 but Crossrail Ltd now expects it to open between October 2020 and March 2021; around two years late. Until the entire railway is open, passengers will not receive the full benefits of the railway, and Transport for London’s expected revenue from rail fares on Crossrail will be limited. Crossrail Ltd says that the full railway may not open until as late as 2022.
Funding for the programme has already increased by around £2.8 billion to £17.6 billion 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. While the Department for Transport is ultimately responsible for the use of taxpayers’ money on Crossrail, 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.
Published: 19 July 2019