Mayor Sadiq Khan has been accused of “incompetence” in his response to warnings that Crossrail was facing “significant schedule pressures”.
The rail link was originally due to open next month but on August 31st it was announced by Crossrail Limited, the wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London responsible for delivering the project, that passenger services would not start until at least Autumn 2019.
Crossrail Limited answers to the TfL board, which is chaired by Mayor Khan, and both TfL and City Hall have since faced questions about when they first knew the project would be delayed.
Appearing before the London Assembly on September 6th, Mr Khan insisted he had only been told of the need to delay the opening two days before the public announcement was made.
Assembly Members last month claimed it was “highly likely” he would have been told on 19 July when TfL was first informed of a potential delay but, in a letter to the Assembly’s transport committee, Mr Khan denies this and insists that he was only informed of the delay on August 29th.
He writes: “You assert that it is highly likely I was informed on or soon after that 19 July meeting that there was very likely to be delay. From my discussions with Crossrail Limited, I was aware of the growing cost and schedule pressures that they were addressing – as was everyone who had been following the conversations at TfL board meetings and elsewhere over the last ten months.
“It was Crossrail Ltd’s responsibility to decide when the project schedule was no longer achievable, and they did not do this until the Crossrail Ltd Board meeting on 29th August.”
Mr Khan also says an Assembly claim that Parliament and the London Stock Exchange had been misled by statements given to them in July when the project received additional funding to help address cost overruns, “is not true”.
His letter says that while TfL and the Department for Transport, which acts as a co-sponsor to the project, were aware of “significant schedule pressures,” they had been advised that Crossrail was “managing these risks and were continuing on the basis that the Elizabeth Line would open in December 2018 as planned.”
He also uses the letter to challenge accusations of a lack of transparency surrounding Crossrail’s progress, saying that he “explicitly asked for the fact that the project was facing schedule pressures to be discussed in public session” at TfL board meetings “as I felt it to be important to do so.”
The letter says this included a discussion at the July 25th meeting where, in public session, the fact there were “acute” cost and scheduling pressures was raised by Mark Wild, head of London Underground and Rail at TfL and, as of last week, the new CEO of Crossrail Limited.
Committee chair Caroline Pidgeon says AMs and Londoners have been “left wanting” by the Mayor’s answers, adding that “simply accepting Crossrail’s assurances about the launch date seems to show incompetence, or at the very least, disinterest.”
However she said AMs were pleased at a promise by Mr Khan to ensure that minutes of the Crossrail board and the findings of reviews into the causes of the delays would be published and that any redactions would be made only for commercially sensitive information.
She concluded: “The Transport Committee continues to support the opening of the Elizabeth Line and reinforces the huge benefits it will bring to Londoners once it arrives. However, we need answers to perfectly reasonable questions.
“Surely that’s not too much to ask, considering it is the job of the Assembly to scrutinise the actions of the Mayor.”