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Transport chiefs being quizzed at City Hall over Crossrail delay and £2.6bn over budget

PUBLISHED: 09:27 14 March 2019 | UPDATED: 19:28 14 March 2019

'Sliding doors' delayed... safety barriers on the platform at Whitechapel. Picture: Monica Wells

'Sliding doors' delayed... safety barriers on the platform at Whitechapel. Picture: Monica Wells

Monica Wells/Crossrail

Questions are being raised at City Hall today about the delayed Crossrail Elizabeth Line which it has emerged has now overshot its budget by £2.6 billion.

Crossrail's Elizabeth Line construction in 2017 nearing completion beneath Whitechapel. Picture: Mike BrookeCrossrail's Elizabeth Line construction in 2017 nearing completion beneath Whitechapel. Picture: Mike Brooke

A new opening date is yet to be worked out for the ‘super tube’ linking east London directly to Heathrow airport through the City and West End, now costing taxpayers £17.6bn even before the first train runs.

What happens next is being thrashed out at a public session of the London Assembly’s key transport committee this-morning.

Assembly members are demanding answers to why the opening date originally set for December 18 had to be put back to the end of this year or beyond by what they say was “an overspent budget and bad management” which has left Crossrail “in a state of limbo”.

They are to quiz Crossrail and former executives as well as seeking an update from Network Rail about the eastern and western sections and when they might be up and running.

Transport minister Chris Grayling in 2017 fixing Crossrail's last bit of track at Whitechapel, with Lonbdon Assembly's Val Shawcross... but unaware at the time of the delay and £1.6bn overspend. Picture: Mike BrookeTransport minister Chris Grayling in 2017 fixing Crossrail's last bit of track at Whitechapel, with Lonbdon Assembly's Val Shawcross... but unaware at the time of the delay and £1.6bn overspend. Picture: Mike Brooke

Those being questioned today are Crossrail’s operations director Howard Smith, former chief executives Andrew Wolstenholme who stepped down in December and Simon Wright, and Network Rail’s Rupert Walker and Meliha Duymaz. The session at City Hall near Tower Bridge starts at 10am.

The Elizabeth line, with its major interchange at Whitechapel and other stations at Canary Wharf and Liverpool Street, was originally estimated to cost £15bn when construction began at Canary Wharf in 2009. Bust costs rocketed over the following decade to £17.6bn.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan was summoned as statutory chairman of TfL to face Assembly members in December to explain the postponed opening and why it was kept quiet for 16 weeks before it leaked.

The unprecedented move followed conflicting statements from the Mayor’s Office and Crossrail on “who knew what and when” about the delay.

Elizabeth Line... now �1.7bn over budget and delayed by at least a year. Picture: Monica WellsElizabeth Line... now �1.7bn over budget and delayed by at least a year. Picture: Monica Wells

It was the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling who first revealed “December 18” as the opening date, in an exclusive interview with East London Advertiser in October 2017.

Crossrail is being paid for by Whitehall and by business rates, with no EU funding, he said when visiting the construction site in Whitechapel, with Brexit having “absolutely no effect on Crossrail”.

The ‘super tube’ is designed to relieve the overcrowded Central line with high capacity trains that can each seat 1,500 passengers, almost double the traditional tube train capacity, and running at 24 an hour at peak time.

Passengers at Whitechapel going west will arrive at Heathrow in just 39 minutes, although the first train is at least 12 months late arriving.

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