Crossrail has announced another delay, and now does not expect the central core of the tunnels to be open until the first half of 2022 – compared to the already delayed opening that had been expected in the summer of 2021.
The decision to delay the opening follows an update back in July where it was announced that the central section could not open in summer 2021, but at the time they were uncertain when they would be able to open the line.
There is still uncertainty though, as Crossrail says that it might be able to bring the opening date forward, depending on later reviews of the construction progress in the new socially distanced working environment which has halved the number of people able to work on-site.
The current delay is partly due to the Covid lockdown, but also due to lower productivity in completing the ventilation shafts and the tunnel portals. There have also been changes in the plans to handover the stations to TfL, and there will now be phased handovers to TfL.
Keeping construction people on site for longer also pushes up costs — now expected to be some £450 million more than the upper end of the range announced in November 2019. That puts Crossrail in the situation of needing an additional £1.1 billion above the previously agreed £2.15 billion funding package in December 2018 — and how that additional £1.1 billion is to be paid still has not been agreed.
TfL will also see lower income due to the loss of fares revenue, which will affect its ability to service the debt.
At the moment, testing of the trains is paused until the end of next month to allow 24/7 access to the tracks for the construction teams to catch up from the Covid lockdown.
Following completion of the blockade in September, Crossrail will commence testing of the next evolution of the signalling software, helping to further build operational reliability. Once software testing completes later this year, Crossrail will then begin an enabling phase for Trial Running with testing in the tunnels undertaken with an increased number of trains. This will provide an opportunity to test how well the railway systems work in operational-like situations and will be undertaken as the extensive safety case to the Office of Rail and Road to commence Trial Running is finalised.
From the start of Trial Running it will then take a period of time to fully test the Elizabeth line before it can open for passenger service. This includes a final phase known as Trial Operations involving people being invited onto trains and stations to test real-time service scenarios to ensure the readiness of the railway.
Following the opening of the central section, full services across the Elizabeth line from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east will be introduced.
The introduction of full services will then be aligned with the National Rail timetable change which occurs twice a year in May and December.