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Crossrail: MPs slam uncertainty about when services will start on £19bn line

London’s Crossrail project is now almost 30 per cent over budget, with no clarity about when passenger services will start running on the line: that is the conclusion of the Public Accounts Committee in its latest “progress update” on the east-west line through the capital.

The MPs on the committee, which is chaired by Labour’s Dame Meg Hillier, have also identified a £150m funding gap.

The much-delayed link, to be known as the Elizabeth Line, connects Heathrow airport and Reading to the west of the capital with Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in southeast London.

The botched project was originally planned to open in December 2018. While some trains are running in the colours of the Elizabeth Line on existing tracks east and west of London, a reliable start date for the crucial stretch through the centre of the capital has yet to be given.

The central section is expected to open between February and June 2022, with full east-west services beginning either December 2022 or May 2023.

The report says: “By the time passengers can travel from one end of the Elizabeth line to the other, some £19bn will have been invested in Crossrail … 28 per cent more than the £14.8bn budget set in 2010.”

Despite a series of government bailouts, the collapse in passenger numbers owing to the coronavirus pandemic leaves a potential £150m funding shortfall.

Transport for London (TfL), which will run the line, forecasts demand in rail over the next decade will be 18 per cent lower than pre-pandemic forecasts.

The MPs say it remains very uncertain where the shortfall in funding will come from, and that TfL “must identify new revenue streams”.

Dame Meg 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, £150m funding gap to finish the programme. There must be a focus now on finding real solutions to this.”

The report also criticises the Department for Transport (DfT), saying: “We have examined many major transport programmes over the years, including modernising the Great Western railway, the Sheffield to Rotherham tram-train, the Thameslink programme, the A303 Stonehenge tunnel, High Speed Two and Crossrail.

“We have seen common issues around programmes not keeping to cost or schedule, a lack of transparency about how programmes are progressing, and weaknesses in leadership and governance.

“The department has still not demonstrated that it is embedding lessons learned into its major programmes.”

A spokesperson for the DfT said: “In October 2020, governance of Crossrail passed over to Transport for London and the TfL Transport Commissioner is now responsible for the successful delivery of the project.

“The government remains committed to the rapid completion of the project in a way that is fair to taxpayers. We will continue working with TfL to see this railway open as quickly and safely as possible, maximising the benefits of the Elizabeth Line.”

Crossrail is currently spending almost £2m per day, with test trains running empty through the tunnels.

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