The postponement of the opening of the main section of the new Elizabeth Line rail service resulted from a growing list of problems with its complex operating system that emerged in the early part of this year, Crossrail bosses have told the London Assembly.
Chief executive Simon Wright said that the explosion of equipment at Pudding Mill Lane sub-station last autumn had meant that “dynamic testing” of the system – involving trains running through the new tunnels rather than on tracks elsewhere – had to be put back until February and that further delays had accrued as a result of problems revealed by those tests.
Wright said that the tests run in the early part of this year had been “less than productive due to several issues”, including “incomplete infrastructure” – primarily a reference to the construction of a number of new stations in West London already falling behind schedule.
This had meant “trying to test assets which are not fully completed because of delays in the construction and on immature railway software systems which are still in evolutionary stages,” Wright explained under questioning from Lib Democrat AM Caroline Pidgeon.
The Crossrail board announced the decision to abandon the 9 December opening date last Friday, saying that the central section of the Elizabeth Line from Paddington to Abbey Wood will not now come into operation until next autumn.
There have been complaints that the announcement should have been made sooner, but Wright and Crossrail chairman Sir Terry Morgan told AMs that the board had recognised at its meeting on 19 July that the delivery programme was under stress and, after assessing the situation, decided at a special board meeting in August that the 9 December target would have to be abandoned.
Sir Terry said he was “disappointed and sorry that we find ourselves in the position we are in today,” and accepted that in June he had given an assurance to Pidgeon that the schedule would not slip, but that at that time he had “thought that we had a plan that was deliverable on 9 December but that “technical problems have hit us” since then and “We found ourselves in a situation where as we mitigated one risk, others started to materialise.” Wright said that it was customary to “fight to retain your schedule right to the very last moment.”
The full Elizabeth Line route, which will eventually connect Reading and Heathrow with Abbey Wood and Shenfield in Essex via Ealing, Paddington, the West End and Liverpool Street, depends on three separate, complex software systems and interactions between them. Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown emphasised that two future sections of the Elizabeth Line already operating under the temporary name of TfL Rail were proving “very reliable”.
Wright was unable to say at this stage whether there would be knock-on delays to the final parts of the project (stages 4 and 5), involving joining up the surface and the tunnel sections of the line at its eastern and western ends.
Quizzed by Conservative Group leader Gareth Bacon about the financial implications of the delay, Brown said that the expected revenue loss for 2018/19 will be “in the region of £20m”, and that this would be “manageable” within the TfL budget.
Sadiq Khan, who was also present to answer AMs’ questions, said that he was not informed of Crossrail’s decision to delay the opening of the central section until 29 August, the day it was taken.
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