NAO slams Crossrail chiefs for lack of planning

3 May 19

The firm leading the Crossrail project “deluded itself” over the line’s opening date and poor planning drove up the overall cost - which remains unknown, the financial watchdog has warned.

Crossrail Ltd, the company heading up the troubled project, has said central sections of the line will open between October 2020 and March 2021 but is yet to evaluate the impact of this schedule on costs, according to the National Audit Office.

The NAO report, out today, said: “While it has made progress with the development of a detailed and realistic plan, Crossrail has not yet completed its assessment of the financial implications of this opening schedule.”

It noted that the programme initially became “dominated by a fixed completion date” of December 2018 and working to this deadline drove up costs and meant multiple activities were forced to run in parallel.

Sticking to the original opening date meant that costs on most of the 36 main contracts have increased substantially. This was due to changes to contractors’ delivering schedules, which amounted to £2.5bn between 2013 and 2018.

Meg Hillier, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: “It is concerning that Crossrail Ltd deluded itself for so long about its ability to meet its original opening date, and the £17bn plus programme’s project management was not up to the job.”

The project was initially given £14.8bn in 2010 but this has since risen to £17.6bn following emergency funding boosts. When complete, the railway will run between Reading, through central London, to Shenfield in Essex.

The NAO said “there is no going back” on the project and Crossrail Ltd must now “refine” its plan and set out a realistic cost estimate.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Throughout delivery, and even as pressures mounted, Crossrail Ltd clung to the unrealistic view that it could complete the programme to the original timetable, which has had damaging consequences.

“Department for Transport and Transport for London must support the new Crossrail Ltd executive team to get the railway built without unrealistic cost or time expectations.

“While we cannot make an overall assessment of value for money until Crossrail is complete, there have been a number of choices made in the course of this project that have clearly damaged public value.”

Mark Wild, chief executive of Crossrail, said: “I share the frustration of Londoners that the huge benefits of the Elizabeth line are not yet with us. A new leadership team and enhanced governance structure has been put in place to strengthen the Crossrail programme and put the project back on track.”

The DfT has been contacted for comment.

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