Background to the report
Crossrail is a complex major programme to run new, direct rail services between Reading and Heathrow Airport at the western ends of the railway, to Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London at the eastern ends. When complete, the railway will be around 73 miles long, stopping at 41 stations, including 10 new stations and 26 miles of new tunnels. Once Crossrail is open, it will become part of Transport for London’s (TfL’s) underground and overground rail network and be known as the Elizabeth line. The Department for Transport (the Department) and TfL are jointly sponsoring the Crossrail programme (the sponsors). Crossrail Ltd is responsible for delivering the programme.
In its 2019 report Completing Crossrail, the NAO found that the funding package stood at £17.6 billion and the forecast cost was £17 billion, with the central section due to open between October 2020 and March 2021. The current funding package agreed in December 2020 is £18.8 billion. This followed announcements in November 2019 and August 2020 that Crossrail required more funding and that the opening date would be delayed. Crossrail Ltd now expects services to run through the central section between January and June 2022. This is 10 to 20 months later than planned when the NAO last reported, and up to three and a half years later than originally planned. Full Elizabeth line services are currently expected to run from May 2023.
Scope of the report
This report makes recommendations for Crossrail Ltd and the sponsors as the programme nears completion, it examines:
- progress on the programme, and the underlying reasons for the cost and schedule increases that have occurred since the NAO last reported.
- the main risks that the sponsors and the Crossrail team must manage to open the Elizabeth line successfully. The report focuses on opening the central section between Abbey Wood and Paddington.
- what needs to be done to realise benefits from the investment in Crossrail.
This report is not a detailed assessment of the entire programme. It focuses on the most important issues the programme faces to complete the central section and to open the full Elizabeth line. It does not examine in detail cost increases and delays on the Network Rail elements of the programme.
Despite efforts to control costs and schedule in 2019, the programme was further from completion and more complicated than Crossrail Ltd or the sponsors understood. This, and the COVID-19 pandemic, resulted in a further forecast cost increase of £1.9 billion and 10 to 20 months of delay since the NAO last reported. There are encouraging signs that the programme is now in a more stable position with a better understanding of the total amount of work required. However, there is still a significant volume of work to complete alongside testing trains, signalling and other assets. Completing the programme relies now on Crossrail Ltd, RfLi, MTREL, TfL, Network Rail and the Department working closely.
Major infrastructure projects take years to deliver, during which time there are inevitably economic and societal changes which affect the benefits case for the project. In this case, the Elizabeth line still has the potential to achieve the benefits in the latest approved business case from 2011, but TfL and the Department have not fully thought through how to realise those benefits. In light of the uncertain impact on travel patterns that were already changing before COVID-19, TfL and the Department need to consider what is required to maximise the return on the almost £19 billion cost of constructing the Elizabeth line.