Crossrail told to wrap-up expensive tier-one contracts

Public account committee MPs are warning that there is still no real certainty to cost and schedule just four months before the first central section trains are due to open to the public.

Watchdog MPs have highlighted that Canary Wharf and Bond Street have had significant issues in the past and are yet to be completed.

While Bond Street has been taken off the critical path for limited first opening, MPs are still concerned about the full opening of Canary Wharf and a significant software update that is needed for the final stage of testing.

To bring greater cost certainty Crossrail also has been told to wrap up its expensive tier 1 contracts as a matter of urgency.

The programme was spending £56m a month in the six months to March 2021, so any delay to the programme remains a significant risk to the eventual cost of the Elizabeth line, warns in the latest Public Accounts Committee report published today.

“Crossrail Ltd must end the expensive Tier 1 contracts as soon as possible. 

By July 2021, Crossrail Ltd expected to have updated its plans to reflect progress and risks remaining, which would inform its range of potential opening dates and costs.This has been delayed by up to two months,” it said.

The report warns that even with the Government bailout, the collapse in passenger numbers owing to the pandemic leaves the project with a potential £150m funding shortfall.

On present management estimates, the project is expected to cost £18.9bn compared to it initial budget of £14.8 in 2010.

Crossrail will still not provide a fixed opening date for the project.

It expects the central tunnelled section to open between February and June 2022 and will operate a shuttle service between Abbey Wood and Paddington. Full east-west services are not expected until December 2022.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said “We are finally, thankfully seeing a clearer sense of ownership, responsibility, and determination to complete the Crossrail programme from those in charge but there remains a serious, £150 million funding gap to finish the programme. There must be a focus now on finding real solutions to this.

“With fares down because of the ongoing impact of Covid we also need more clarity on the plans and timescale for repaying the significant government loans.”

MPs also complained that the Department for Transport has still not demonstrated that it is embedding lessons learned into its major programmes.

The report said: “This Committee has examined many major transport programmes, such as HS2, Great Western route modernisation and Thameslink, many of which have had significant problems in their delivery.

“We have told the Department many times that it needs to learn lessons, from Crossrail and from other major transport projects, so that it does not repeat the same mistakes.”

But they complain that the Department has still failed to explain in practical terms what it was doing differently, nor the real-world impact its changes have had on delivering major programmes. 

The Committee has called for a full report before November detailing what it has changed in its approach to delivering major programmes with its arms-length bodies.