A report into the problems at Crossrail has firmly blamed TfL’s Commissioner, Mike Brown, accusing him of withholding information from the Mayor of London.
The cross-party report, commissioned by the London Assembly says that the Commissioner, who is in charge of TfL, deliberately deleted references to delays at Crossrail from weekly emails to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
Some of the correspondence shows clearly that references to delays are being deleted, although it’s not absolutely clear if it was Mike Brown doing all the deleting, or staff doing it presuming he would want it done.
Certainly some of the correspondence indicates that there was a conversation going on between the Mayor and Commissioner, and that TfL was uncomfortable with putting surprises into the emails without the verbal briefing first.
The report does however say that significant concerns raised by the independent reviewer, as early as January 2018, were largely ignored by TfL, and that the desire to achieve the completion date overpowered any professional and critical assessment of risk.
The Chair of the Transport Committee, Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, said that “the inability of senior figures in the project to push past their obsession with a December 2018 launch date is one of the main reasons why their dream did not become a reality.”
“Crossrail will provide immeasurable benefits to London, once launched but vital lessons must be learned by the Mayor, TfL and Crossrail so we all can bring this sorry chapter of the project’s journey to a close.”
Although much of the report is looking at how the problems could be avoided in any future project, they also put the blame not for the delay itself, but the surprise announcement of the delay at the door of TfL’s Commissioner.
The report looks at the governance of the project noting that the autonomy given to Crossrail encouraged an over-reliance on the Crossrail executive for progress reports, and that external oversight was not part of the design of the construction process.
Although there has generally been a presumption that Crossrail was managing the complex task of turning tunnels into a functional railway, the report says that the risk of relying too strongly on Crossrail was compounded by the fact that there were insufficient people at the later stages of the programme with the appropriate skills and experience with systems integration.
As problems mounted with systems fit out, the report says that it has evidence from emails between Crossrail and TfL suggesting that communications to the Mayor were being managed by the TfL Commissioner, Mike Brown. Instead of communicating risks head on, these were downplayed in the weekly updates to the Mayor.
Significantly, the report bluntly states that “given the strong evidence presented in this report, we recommend that the Commissioner reflects on whether he is fit to fulfill his role in TfL”
Crossrail documents also suggest that TfL and Crossrail had started collaborating on the communications strategy for the delay in mid-August, earlier than the Mayor had said he was aware of the launch delay.
If the Mayor wasn’t being told the full story, then he would have a “get out card” of plausible deniability about the work going on to prepare for the announcement of a delay. However, there have been slides released before showing that the Mayor was informed of delays much earlier than he has admitted to.
There is still a lot of mystery about exactly who said what to who, and when.
The real mystery is how they managed to get so close to the finish line without anyone, anywhere spilling the beans that not only was a very lengthy and very expensive delay to the launch date expected, but that in fact they had no idea when the line could open, or how much it would cost.
Crossrail is expected to announce a revised estimate of the programme’s cost and launch date by the end of this month.