Transport commissioner Mike Brown has dismissed claims that he watered down warnings about the progress of Crossrail in his reports to Mayor Sadiq Khan and has rejected a call that he considers quitting over the issue.
Passenger services had been due to start last December but in August Crossrail Limited, the company set up by Transport for London and the Department for Transport to build the railway, announced the target date would not be met.
While there’s currently no confirmed replacement launch date, recent reports have suggested that services are unlikely to start before summer 2020, and that a “worst case” of “spring of 2021” cannot yet be ruled out.
Ministers have been forced to provide emergency funding to ensure the project’s completion while MPs and London Assembly members have both launched investigations into the causes of the delay.
Earlier this month MPs on the Public Accounts Committee accused the DfT, TfL and Crossrail of putting a “positive” public face on the project even after it became clear that the original launch date had become “unrealistic”.
Building on this criticism, London Assembly members today accused TfL boss Mike Brown of failing to fully reflect warnings from the Crossrail team in his weekly reports to Mayor Khan.
A report published by the Assembly’s transport committee cites a number of instances in which warnings were either omitted or reworded, prompting concerns from Crossrail managers.
When Howard Smith, Crossrail’s Chief Operating Officer, queried the ordering of sentences in Brown’s 15th May 2018 update to the Mayor, TfL’s corporate affairs manager replied: “the wording was amended by Mike so that the setbacks appeared less serious. Reading it back it does appear to make sense so hopefully City Hall agrees”.
Smith also questioned the removal of a warning in Brown’s June 19th report that there was “insufficient time” to complete testing required for a planned test-run in October 2018.
In response a TfL official replied that the Commissioner “is not happy including this paragraph because there was no mention of it at last week’s meeting with the Mayor. He feels strongly that we cannot spring things like this on him in a weekly note when there is ample opportunity to trail it in person.
“Mike also doesn’t want us to reference train availability and reliability issues as one of the causes of any problems with the big testing window. If these points are correct and need to be reported to the Mayor we will need to have a conversation (with Mike at some stage) about how we can best do that.”
Today’s report says such exchanges suggest “communications to the Mayor were being managed by the TfL Commissioner,” adding: “instead of communicating risks head on, these were downplayed in the weekly updates to the Mayor.
“This raises serious concerns about the role of the Commissioner and his ability to support the Mayor as Chair of TfL.”
AMs go on to recommend “that the Commissioner reflects on whether he is fit to fulfil his role.”
Committee chair Caroline Pidgeon said: “Crossrail’s former chairman, Sir Terry Morgan stepped down, however, the evidence suggests that TfL Commissioner, Mike Brown, was at the centre of decisions to dilute important information sent to the Mayor.”
However a spokesperson for Brown and TfL has rejected the Assembly’s conclusions, saying: “It is entirely incorrect to suggest the Transport Commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the Mayor.”
They added: “The Commissioner works to ensure that the Mayor is kept informed of everything going on in transport in London and to ensure the information he receives is clear, consistent and accurate.”
“As the Commissioner made clear to the Transport Committee, it would not have been right to allow material to go to the Mayor that was incorrect or inconsistent with information that the management of Crossrail Ltd themselves were presenting to TfL and the Mayor in regular face to face meetings.
“Everyone involved is fully focussed on completing the project and opening the Elizabeth line to passengers as soon as possible.”
City Hall has also backed the Commissioner, with a spokesperson insisting Sadiq Khan “has every confidence in Mike Brown”.
They added: “Responsibility for the inadequate information provided about the Crossrail delay lies squarely with the former management of Crossrail Ltd.
“As the independent report into Crossrail’s governance by KPMG made clear, the previous Crossrail leadership failed to understand and report the true position of the project. Both TfL and the Department for Transport should have been told much more, far sooner by the previous Crossrail leadership.
“Crossrail now has a new leadership team in place, with the new chair strengthening the project’s governance.”