Crossrail costs expected to hit £18.3bn
The cost of completing Crossrail has jumped for the second time in less than 12 months, as Transport for London warned the delay to the full opening of the new east-west rail line could now stretch to three years.
The price tag for Europe’s biggest infrastructure project is now expected to rise to as much as £18.3bn, £650m more than the new £17.6bn budget agreed last December and £2.35bn higher than the original costing of £15.9bn when the project was signed off in 2008.
The new line, designed to ease the burden on the London Underground network, was originally scheduled to open fully at the end of last year but problems with station completion and signalling have pushed that back several times to March 2021 at the earliest. On Friday, however, TfL, the capital’s publicly owned transport body, said the line would now open “as soon as practically possible” in 2021.
Recently renamed the Elizabeth Line, the connection will run under central London, and link Reading and Heathrow airport to the west of the capital to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
Crossrail is designed to complement the 11 lines that make up the London Underground — the world’s oldest metro system that carries about 1.4bn passengers a year — and is the first significant addition to the network in 30 years.
The project has been beset by cost and budget overruns as well as corporate governance failures, according to a KPMG report commissioned by the London mayor’s office and released earlier this year.
Ten new stations were due to have completed in July last year but are running more than 12 months late. The longest delays are at Whitechapel and Bond Street stations, TFL said.
Engineers are also facing big challenges developing the software for the signalling and train systems, which have to work across three different networks.
In a statement on Friday, Mark Wild, chief executive of Crossrail since December 2018, said: “The trial running phase will begin at the earliest opportunity in 2020, this will be followed by testing of the operational railway to ensure it is safe and reliable.”
Tony Travers, director of the Institute of Public Affairs at the London School of Economics, said that “every time the date slips, the schedule becomes more questionable”.
He added that the extra costs of the project and the lost revenues due to the delay would hit other transport projects planned for the capital and possibly maintenance “given the difficult condition of TfL’s finances”.
The latest setback comes as both the Conservative and Labour parties have pledged large increases in infrastructure spending ahead of the general election in December. The UK has a poor record of bringing in large infrastructure projects on time and on budget
“The irony that this project is having to scrape down the back of the sofa for extra money amid a bidding war between Conservatives and Labour over infrastructure expenditure will not be lost,” added Mr Travers. “It will also undermine confidence in other large projects.”
Mr Travers was on the Oakervee panel reviewing HS2, the new high-speed railway line between London and the north of England that has seen its cost more than triple to £90bn and is years behind schedule. A decision on the future of the project has been delayed until after the election.