Crossrail in final stages ready to hand over the tiller to TfL to run the £18bn Elizabeth line
- Credit: Monica Wells
The budget-busting Crossrail scheme which has been delayed three years and overspent by £3billion is getting ready to be handed over to City Hall control under Transport for London to run as the “super tube” Elizabeth Line.
Transition of ownership is now in its complex final stages with the remaining operating systems to be integrated into the construction to be tested intensively in the New Year, it was revealed this week.
The Crossrail company is completing any remaining work so that the line linking east London directly to Heathrow Airport through the City and West End can be fully tested with “trial running” before handing over an operational railway to TfL.
The original £16bn set aside in 2009 when construction began at Canary Wharf, later cut to £15bn, wasn’t going to meet the rocketing costs in the decade that followed, with another £3bn having to be added to get the job done.
Opening date was to have been September 2018, revealed by rail minister Chris Grailing on his visit to the Whitechapel construction site the year before. But the project was soon plagued by electronic signalling system failures and delays in the construction schedule—which City Hall and the government were blissfully unaware of.
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This led to a blazing row with Crossrail whose chief resigned after being accused of failing to warn the authorities in time about the growing crisis with construction getting seriously behind schedule and getting way over budget.
A liaison group has now been established with senior members of Crossrail, TfL and London Underground to avoid any future “communications failure”.
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Meanwhile, City Hall has set up its own Elizabeth Line committee to meet in public every eight weeks, chaired by London’s transport commissioner Andy Byford.
“The time is right for Crossrail to transfer the Elizabeth line to the people who’ll run it,” commissioner Byford said. “The team will now work with me to achieve the earliest possible opening date, for what will be a magnificent addition to our transport network.”
Crossrail’s chief executive Mark Wild is to report directly to him to avoid a communications disaster like last time and flag up any issues before they get too serious.
A transition plan has been agreed to move the project to TfL as the testing steams ahead in the New Year and the remaining parts of the line are completed.
Crossrail’s chair Tony Meggs said: “This is one of the greatest transport programmes in Europe today that will transform lives for generations to come.”
The line adds 21 per cent capacity to London’s rail network, with longer trains carrying up to 1,500 passengers (pre-Covid guidelines), twice that of the average Underground train.
Journeys are faster. Getting from Whitechapel to Heathrow, for example, takes just 39 minutes and from Stratford 41 minutes.
The line going east splits into two at Whitechapel, one branch surfacing at Stratford and following the tracks out to Shenfield, the other tunnelling to Canary Wharf and surfacing at Custom House, then under the Thames to resurface at Abbey Wood.
Westward from Whitechapel is Liverpool Street, the City and West End to Paddington to join the Heathrow express.
But the bookies aren’t hedging bets yet about a date for the Elizabeth line finally opening.