Crossrail is to miss its original December opening date, with services now not expected to start until autumn 2019.
A spokesperson for the project said the delay was necessary “to ensure a safe and reliable railway for customers from day one” and added that the extra time will be used to complete outstanding infrastructure work and conduct the “extensive testing” required before passenger services can begin.
The ten year project is being delivered by Crossrail Limited, a special purpose company jointly sponsored by Transport for London and the Department for Transport.
Last month rail minister Jo Johnson confirmed the project is running almost £600m over budget and would need additional funding to allow work to be completed.
When opened the service, due to be rebranded the Elizabeth Line, will boost London’s rail capacity by around 10 per cent, although population growth is expected to counteract much of that increased capacity within a few years.
TfL, which is under increasing financial pressure as a result of reduced government funding and lower than expected fares income, partly as a result of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s fares freeze, had based some of its budget for the coming year on the expectation of receiving fares and commercial revenues from Crossrail.
Today’s delay means it’s unlikely to see income from the new service for at least half of the new financial year, potentially forcing it to delay planned expenditure.
Simon Wright, Crossrail Chief Executive said: “The Elizabeth line is one of the most complex and challenging infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK and is now in its final stages.
“We have made huge progress with the delivery of this incredible project but we need further time to complete the testing of the new railway.
“We are working around the clock with our supply chain and Transport for London to complete and commission the Elizabeth line.”
Members of the London Assembly have branded today’s news as “disappointing” and “a shambles”.
Caroline Pidgeon MBE AM, Chair of the London Assembly’s Transport Committee, said: “It is disappointing that the decision to delay the launch of Crossrail has been announced at such late notice.
“It is scarcely believable that the Mayor, TfL and Crossrail did not know of a likely delay a long time ago and chose not to let Londoners know sooner.
“The opening of Elizabeth line is rightly heralded as the biggest leap in London’s transport capacity for a generation.
“It will improve connections to the east and west of London and relieve crowding in central London. Passengers will be left to wait even longer for these benefits.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Mayor’s Office, TfL and Crossrail to find out what has led to this delay and get some answers on behalf of Londoners.”
Gareth Bacon AM, Chairman of the Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee, which is currently investigating TfL’s finances, said: “This is basically a shambles.
“Transport for London’s management have clearly known that they would delay the opening of Crossrail for some time and yet have been elusive when discussing their financial woes with the London Assembly and so with the people of London.
“TfL’s own business plan says that £143 million of fare revenue was expected from the central section in 2018/19 alone.
“This now leaves an even bigger hole in TfL’s finances. It already has a £1 billion operating deficit for this year. Hundreds of millions further will be lost in the coming year.”
Janet Cooke, CEO of passenger watchdog London TravelWatch branded today’s news “disappointing” and called on TfL to delay the “major” changes it was planning to make to bus routes along the Crossrail route.
Cooke said these changes “assumed that the Elizabeth line would be in operation.
“We urge TfL to delay these changes to avoid causing inconvenience to passengers, particularly those travelling in central London, on services like the 427 in the west and various services in south east London.”
Sue Terpilowski OBE, London Policy Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, said her members would be “extremely disappointed with the news of a six to nine month delay on the Elizabeth Line.”
She added: “Small businesses, particularly in central London, have been preparing for a December roll out of the new infrastructure and to be told on a Friday in August that the date has now changed is simply not good enough.
“Whilst safety on any piece of infrastructure should always be the number one consideration, businesses should have been informed months ago that there were issues on the line and that the December date could not be met.”
Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) said: “It is very disappointing to hear that a revised schedule is now needed, at this stage, to complete the project’s final infrastructure.
“Londoners and the business community need the Elizabeth Line to address overcrowding and congestion within the capital.
“Of course, safety is of paramount importance, however we will hope that it may become possible for the project to be up and running before next summer”.