Crossrail, the mass-transit train line through London, has been further delayed until 2022 and gone another £450m over budget.
Transport for London said that the temporary pause in construction and ensuing slowdown because of Covid-19 distancing requirements had only partially contributed to the latest delays, which mean the Elizabeth line will open more than three years late and cost almost £4bn more than originally budgeted.
The announcement follows a Crossrail board meeting, which concluded that any 2021 opening date was an unrealistic target, only a month after it ruled out opening next summer.
Crossrail said it was working to finalise the cost estimates and the exact budget remains unclear, with additional Network Rail costs due to be factored in, but that it was at least £450m more than the estimated range in November 2019, which would make the current expected budget up to £18.7bn.
The giant infrastructure scheme had been planned to cost £14.8bn, with services across the heart of London to start operating in December 2018, but the problems in its delivery were formally admitted only months before the planned opening by the Queen was due to take place.
Crossrail’s chief executive, Mark Wild, said: “Our focus remains on opening the Elizabeth line as soon as possible. Now more than ever Londoners are relying on the capacity and connectivity that the Elizabeth line will bring and we are doing everything possible to deliver the railway as safely and quickly as we can.”
While delivery of the Elizabeth line was in its complex final stages, according to a Crossrail statement, the project was being completed at a time of great uncertainty because of the risk of more coronavirus outbreaks.
Crossrail admitted that construction had been slow, with “lower than planned productivity in the final completion and handover of the shafts and portals” of the line. It said it had also overestimated the speed at which it could finish and hand over the new stations built in central London. Covid-19 had exacerbated schedule pressures, it said, with constraints on how many people could work on site, currently reducing numbers by half to about 2,000 workers.
The business group London First described the delay as “disappointing but unsurprising” and said it should “not distract from the need for a fair and sustainable long-term funding solution for TfL”.
Crossrail hopes to start intensive testing of train services, or trial running, as soon as possible in 2021. Bond Street station remains incomplete and not ready to be part of the tests.
The scheme, when completed, is designed to carry up to 200 million passengers a year across the capital from beyond the far west of London to eastern suburbs. As well as relieving London’s normally congested tube system, it will eventually provide fast, direct links between Heathrow airport and Reading to central London, the financial districts, with branches to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
The central underground section has been the major work, with 13 miles of new tunnels from Paddington to Abbey Wood. However, even when it finally opens, Crossrail has not squared when it can join up with the other two parts of the Elizabeth line, which have different signalling systems and already operate services on existing, overground rail lines.
For an unspecified period, passengers wishing to travel from the western end, from Reading and Heathrow, will have to change at the Paddington mainline station to join Elizabeth line services for central London and passengers on the eastern branch to Shenfield will have to change trains at Liverpool Street.