Mayor didn’t know full extent of Crossrail delays


Sadiq Khan did not appear to know the full extent of delays at Crossrail just days before further holdups were announced to the public.

Before the railway is safe for passengers, engineers must carry out extensive safety testing with trains on the line, known as trial running.

And a letter from the Mayor to Liberal Democrat Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon, dated 19 August, claimed Crossrail was “nearing the point when the railway can enter full testing and trial running”.

But project chiefs announced on Friday that trial running will not begin this year, rather “at the earliest opportunity in 2021”.

The central section of the long-delayed railway was due to open next summer, but the Elizabeth line will now open in summer 2022, by which time the cost may have soared more than £1 billion over budget to £18.7 billion.

Crossrail was originally due to open in December 2018 and cost £14.8 billion.

Coronavirus is partly to blame for the latest hold ups – but project chiefs have said their schedule was slipping before the pandemic.

Even a January start would be more than four months after Mr Khan’s letter to Ms Pidgeon – apparently contradicting his claim that testing is about to begin.

The Mayor was updated on delays at the railway late in the day after the Crossrail board met on Thursday August 20, a City Hall source claimed.

But the Mayor’s letter has sparked fresh fears that he is not being kept up to date on the scheme.

Last year, the London Assembly transport committee accused Transport for London (TfL) of withholding Crossrail updates from the Mayor, and called on then-TfL commissioner Mike Brown to resign.

Both City Hall and TfL rejected this finding in the committee’s report.

Ms Pidgeon said the Mayor’s letter last week give Londoners “no confidence that he is in control of this project”.

“Sadiq Khan cannot continue to run away from responsibility as Crossrail is jointly sponsored by both the Department for Transport and TfL,” she said.

“The lack of oversight and control of the project has been woeful over the years.”

Though coronavirus played a role in the most recent delays, the virus is “only part of the picture,” Ms Pidgeon stressed.

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“The consequences of Crossrail opening two and half years late are immense,” she added.

“The impact […] will be felt right across London with other vital transport projects delayed and cancelled.”

Conservative Assembly member Keith Prince said the Mr Khan’s letter “clearly shows that the Mayor is completely out of touch with what is really going on” at Crossrail. “He does not take enough personal interest,” he said.

The Conservative transport spokesman said he would be “embarrassed” not to be up to date with a major scheme like Crossrail, and accused the Mayor of lacking “vision” and “passion” for the city.

While he has “the utmost respect” for Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild, the project has a “real fundamental problem,” Mr Prince added.

“I don’t think anyone can actually have confidence that they’re going to crack the nut at this point,” he said.

“Because of the enormity of the project no one [seems to have] an overview of where they are.”

But Labour Assembly member Alison Moore said she believes the new proposed opening date will be accurate.

Ms Moore, who chairs the Assembly’s transport committee, said coronavirus has forced Crossrail bosses to “think very hard about how they can deliver what they need to deliver”.

“I like to think they’ve set a deliverable timetable this time,” she said.

“The message I get is that they’ve spent considerable time on this [new opening estimate].”

But the Labour member said she could not comment on Mr Khan’s awareness of decision making at Crossrail as she did not have all the details.

A spokesperson for the Mayor said he was “deeply disappointed” by further delays to the Elizabeth line.

“He has asked TfL’s new commissioner, Andy Byford, to review Crossrail’s latest plans – including their estimated additional costs – and to work with the Department for Transport to ensure everything possible is being done to get the central section safely open as quickly as possible,” they added.

Once complete, the line will connect Reading, Berkshire, and Heathrow in the west and Shenfield, Essex, in the east to central and south east London – increasing rail capacity in the city by 10%.

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