A lot more money, a lot more time, and a lot more heated arguments have been released to get Crossrail working.
It’s a joke that good news refers to the Elizabeth line and bad news to Crossrail, so two statements from TfL and the Mayor of London both refer a lot to Crossrail and hardly at all to the Elizabeth line.
In summary, the likely capital cost impact of the delay to the project announced in August could be in the region of between £1.6bn and £2bn. That includes the £300m already contributed by the Department for Transport (DfT) and TfL in July 2018, leaving an estimated £1.3bn to £1.7bn to complete the project.
The Mayor of London and the Government have agreed a financial package to cover this. The Greater London Authority (GLA) will borrow up to £1.3bn from the DfT. The GLA will repay this loan from the existing Business Rate Supplement (BRS) and Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy (MCIL).
However, both the BRS and MCIL funding streams currently form part of London’s proposal to fund half of the Crossrail 2 project — so the cost overuns at Crossrail 1 are now threatening the start of construction on Crossrail 2.
The GLA will also provide a £100m cash contribution, taking its total contribution to £1.4bn which it will provide as a grant to TfL for the Crossrail project.
Because the final costs of the Crossrail project are yet to be confirmed, a contingency arrangement has also been agreed between TfL and the Government. This will be in the form of a loan facility from the DfT of up to £750m, should the higher end of the estimate be realised.
This combined financing deal will replace the need for the £350 million interim financing package offered by the Government in October.
The funding package manages to avoids the “nuclear option” which exists in the Crossrail Act, which could have let the DfT take over Crossrail from TfL if certain funding limits were breached, leaving TfL with the debt, but not the railway.
They also confirmed that they cannot at this stage commit to an autumn 2019 opening date.
The main issue appears to be getting the trains working consistently in ‘integrated’ mode — all on-train signalling systems working simultaneously, and problems with software updates in the trains.
The problems with the Heathrow tunnels are well known, and to a degree, once you take a radio system out of the lab and put it into a real world scenario, you pretty much always get unexpected problems with interference and blockages that can only be detected in a live setting.
There were also concerns raised in August that train testing would not be completed in time to allow the December opening date.
TfL has released a tranche of documents and a summary about what they say in order to support the Mayor’s argument that he didn’t know about the delays until they were confirmed in August.
However, while the summary suggests that the Mayor was told in July that there was a high risk of delay, and the following week, that the December 2018 deadline was still achievable, the documents seem ambiguous.
In the statement from the Mayor’s office, it support’s Sir Terry Morgan’s public statements that he warned the Mayor in July that there would be a delay to the opening, but the Mayor says that the worst-case scenario that was presented to them, if all risks are realised, is an opening date of August 2019, but the Mayor was verbally briefed by Crossrail that it would be well before that.
Quite how much earlier than August 2019 is not clear, but it is very apparent that the risks being highlighted (link) show that there was barely a 10 percent chance of the line opening in December 2018.
Although two options were presented that could see the line open in December 2018, they were both judged as “not feasible”. It also states that they are likely to need their ROGS exemption extended until April 2019, so it was clear then that the delay would be at least 6 months, if not more.
While the document does not explicitly state that the December 2018 deadline cannot be met, it makes it clear that the chances of achieving it are virtually impossible. So the question is whether the Mayor misheard, or Sir Terry didn’t make the problems clear enough.
The Mayor’s office also states that the 7th Aug 2018 report to the Mayor contained Crossrail’s “formal forecast date for the start of Stage 3 passenger service remains 9 December 2018.”
While indeed the last page of the document says 9th Dec as a launch date, the front page of that document (link) also states in more detail that “The Mayor, through TfL, will work with the DfT to open the Elizabeth line in 2019”
Whether anyone explicitly said that the deadline of 9th December would be missed is something that is likely to become clearer with the reviews that are being carried out, or said it in a way that wasn’t explicit, but so obvious that anyone reading the reports could be in no doubt that a serious delay was on the way.
While Crossrail had a lot of autonomy in how it operated, it still had to answer to the DfT and TfL as its joint sponsors, and whether they were asking the correct questions is also a matter for the reports being commissioned.
In most rail projects, the construction of the base infrastructure rarely proves a problem, it’s the fit out to turn the concrete structures into functioning railways that is where delays usually occur.
Crossrail is a particularly complex railway with a lot of interfaces into different systems, networks and radio controls.
It’s not a huge surprise that some delay has occurred, as it would have an a remarkable success for such a complicated fit out to go smoothly.
The real mystery is how they managed to get so close to the finish line and only then realise that they not only needed at least a year longer to complete the project, but at least 10% more money as well.