Let’s be honest, nobody expected Crossrail to open on time – but 2022?!
Yup, that’s Crossrail. You’re probably wondering how it ended up in this situation.
Well, here’s a little rundown of the whole Crossrail saga. In July 2018, bright-eyed and full of hope, we brought you the news of the Crossrail’s official opening date, slated for December 2018. Yet a month later, the opening was announced to be delayed by about nine months. The, two days after the original opening date, we told you that it wasn’t looking likely until at least 2020. In April 2019, the news was that it might be delayed until 2021. Then, in November 2019, news came that it had definitely been delayed until 2021 – and what’s more, the project was set to run as much as £650 million over budget. In August 2020, with a pandemic between us and that latest development, news arrived that Crossrail now won’t be finished until 2022, and will require an extra £1.1 billion to complete. Today, we learned that the beleaguered project has been given an extra £825 million in funding in order to push the final phase of Crossrail to completion.
All a bit messy so far, isn’t it? The mooted opening date for the central London section of the line – from Paddington to Abbey Wood, and connecting major stations at Tottenham Court Road, Liverpool Street, and Canary Wharf – is the somewhat vague timeframe of “the first half of 2022”, according to a recent statement. Crossrail bosses noted in August that the coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown had thrown the “complex final stages” of the project into further disarray, but there’s no denying the fact it was another blow for a railway that’s now set to arrive at least three and a half years behind schedule.
The latest delay won’t affect parts of the route that are already open—from Liverpool Street to Shenfield, and Paddington to Hayes & Harlington—but it does delay the full service from Reading and Heathrow to Shenfield and Abbey Wood somewhat. Recent delays on the Elizabeth line were due to software development for signalling and on-board train systems, ahead of the commencement of a prolonged stage of operational testing that is needed to ensure things are running smoothly. Trial runs had previously been held up due to incomplete stations at Bond Street and Whitechapel, which had been expected to push testing back until late 2020 – this date has now been shifted to “the earliest opportunity in 2021”, per the latest press release.
Crossrail bosses noted that “we are doing everything we can to complete the Elizabeth line as quickly as we can but there are no short-cuts to delivering this hugely complex railway”. Indeed, no shortcuts has translated into that extra £825 million to complete the project. To make matters worse, New Civil Engineer has also noted that TfL will have to pay an annual charge of £15M to the Canary Wharf Group if the district’s Crossrail station is not complete by 2021.
Between now and the eventual opening of the whole line, they need to build and test signalling software, station systems, communication networks, and complete tunnel installations. Once that’s all done, an exhaustive testing phase will need to be completed to ensure the service is fit to carry passengers. After the August delay, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan asked TfL Commissioner Andy Byford to look into the Crossrail plan, a shrewd move given his experience with New York’s long-running Second Avenue subway project during his time as that city’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) boss. In October, governance of Crossrail was transferred to TfL, who will now receive the extra funding via the Greater London Authority in order to continue work “at pace”. They’ll also carry out an independent analysis of costs on the project, as Crossrail Ltd works to reduce their funding shortfall.
At some point, the Elizabeth line will carry passengers all the way from Reading and Heathrow, right through the West End, and out towards Stratford and beyond. Hopefully, the latest round of funding puts Elizabeth a little closer to ruling over the tube map.
Featured image: Crossrail
Also published on Medium.