Crossrail is a complex major programme to run new, direct rail services (the Elizabeth line) between Reading and Heathrow Airport at the western ends of the railway and to Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London at the eastern ends. It is the world’s first truly digital railway of its size and scale that will have no peers in the world. Since the Committee last reported on the Crossrail programme in July 2019, the forecast cost has increased by a further £1.9 billion to £18.9 billion. The opening date for the central section of the Elizabeth line has also been subsequently delayed by between 10 and 20 months, with the Department for Transport (the Department) and Transport for London (TFL) now expecting it to open between February 2022 and June 2022. Full east-west services are scheduled to begin in either December 2022 or May 2023.
Critical work remains to complete the Elizabeth line, including an important software update planned for later this year which will enable Crossrail Ltd to provide more certainty about the expected opening dates, and completing all remaining works, particularly on the stations. Introducing new services onto the national rail network, and running the planned 24 trains an hour along the central section of the Elizabeth line, will also be challenging. However, there are encouraging signs that the programme costs are under better control with a clearer understanding of the scale of work remaining, although that is the very least to be expected considering that Crossrail Ltd estimates passengers could be using the line as early as February 2022. There is also a clearer sense of ownership, responsibility, and determination to complete the programme. Completing the railway within the new timeline will require ongoing effort from all those involved and our previous experience is that even confident predictions have been over optimistic.
By the time passengers can travel from one end of the Elizabeth line to the other, some £19 billion will have been invested in Crossrail. Passenger demand for the line will be difficult to predict, particularly given the uncertainty surrounding COVID:19 and the possible future changes in people’s working patterns. It is therefore critical that the Department and TfL focus on how to achieve all of the benefits of the line, particularly encouraging passengers to use the line and enabling wider, economic regeneration. There are many lessons to be learnt from the Crossrail experience, and it is vital that the Department and other government departments make practical and tangible changes to their delivery of major projects. We continue to monitor progress closely and will hold the new Crossrail leadership to account as they approach these final critical months.