London’s new east-west rail line will not open until 2021 at the earliest and could require up to £650m of additional funding to complete, the company tasked with delivering the project has admitted.
Billed for years as being “on time and on budget”, the trans-capital Crossrail route was due to start running services through tunnels under central London in December last year – but an update today makes clear the project will be at least two years late and cost a minimum of £18bn.
In a statement to the London Stock Exchange, TfL, the sponsor for delivery body Crossrail Ltd, said it had been advised that the rail line would require £400m over and above a funding package agreed last year had delivered and could potentially need even more.
The December 2018 package pushed the project budget up to £17.6bn – a figure that was itself £2.8bn higher than the budget set in the 2010 Spending Review.
TfL also today confirmed that the key central section of Crossrail, featuring 26 miles of new tunnels, will not open to passenger services in 2020 as planned. It calls the project the Elizabeth Line, which is how the route linking Heathrow and Reading in the west to Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London will be known when it is operational.
TfL said the latest projections showed a central cost forecast including risk contingency that was £400m more than previously committed, adding: “Further modelling scenarios consider even higher levels of risk of £650m more than the funding committed under the financing package."
It said TfL and DfT are "in discussion regarding how funding of these additional costs will be resolved".
DfT confirmed solutions were being considered that would "allow Crossrail to continue building" while the financing issues were sorted out.
Under last year’s deal, DfT agreed to loan £1.3bn to the Greater London Authority – TfL’s parent body – for repayment via London’s business rate supplement. It also agreed to make a further £750m loan available as a contingency move. TfL agreed to make a £100m contribution to the new package, which followed £590m in additional funding provided by the government in July.
Despite confirming that through services would not commence until 2021 at the earliest, Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild insisted that the project had “made good progress” in recent months.
“A key focus during 2019 has been finalising the stations, tunnels, portals and shafts. By the end of the year, Custom House, Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road stations will be complete and the project is on track to finish fit-out of the tunnels in January,” he said.
“The central section will be substantially complete by the end of the first quarter in 2020, except for Bond Street and Whitechapel stations where work will continue.
“The two critical paths for the project remain software development for the signalling and train systems, and the complex assurance and handover process for the railway.
“Crossrail Ltd will need further time to complete software development for the signalling and train systems and the safety approvals process for the railway.
“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. The Elizabeth Line will open as soon as practically possible in 2021.”
Wild said he expected to provide Londoners with “further certainty” about when the line would open “early in 2020”.
Crossrail bosses waited until last August – fewer than four months before the line's scheduled opening – to admit that they needed more time to complete the fitting out of the central tunnels and to develop key software packages for the railway.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee has been scathing about DfT and TfL’s handling of many aspects of the project.
Earlier this year, an update report said a member of the committee had visited a Crossrail site in June 2018 and had been told that the programme was still on track for a December opening.
PAC said there was an “incongruity” between how the programme had been previously described as performing so well and that such significant issues had emerged so quickly.