The National Audit Office headquarters London

The UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) has stated that London’s Crossrail project is past the point of no return, having published a report detailing how the programme came to be in trouble.

The NAO, which scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government, said the way the Crossrail programme had been delivered was the reason the project suffered unnecessary costs and delays.

Comprising the construction of the new Elizabeth Line railway and 10 stations, the Crossrail programme was due to be completed in December 2018. The programme’s original budget of £14.8 billion (€17.09 billion) was set in 2010, but by 2015 had ballooned to £17.6 billion (€20.32 billion) - of which £16 billion (€18.47 billion) has already been spent.

Published today, the NAO’s report into the project identifies several factors that it said were responsible for the programme’s spiralling costs and delay. 

First among them was the adherence to an unrealistic completion date by the company responsible for delivering the project.

Crossrail Ltd’s fixed December 2018 completion date was said to have driven the company’s decision making, and ultimately led to a delivery approach that saw multiple activities running in parallel. The report said the company’s decision to stick to the completion date also resulted in its failure to produce a sufficiently detailed delivery plan which also heightened risks.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said, “Throughout delivery, and even as pressures mounted, Crossrail Ltd clung to the unrealistic view that it could complete the programme to the original timetable, which has had damaging consequences.”

Another contributing factor was the inability of the projects sponsors to act. The UK’s Department for Transport (DoT) and Transport for London (TfL), had very few effective contractual options and so lacked the power to step in. 

According to the report, Crossrail Ltd had a high degree of autonomy from the beginning and that its sponsors must approach things differently, now that Crossrail Ltd had a new team.

Morse said, “DfT and TfL must support the new Crossrail Ltd executive team to get the railway built without unrealistic cost or time expectations.

“While we cannot make an overall assessment of value for money until Crossrail is complete, there have been a number of choices made in the course of this project that have clearly damaged public value.”

In April 2019 Crossrail Ltd said it planned to begin Elizabeth Line services on the central section between October 2020 and March 2021. However, the NAO said the company had still not completed an impact assessment on how this new opening schedule would effect costs.

According to the NAO, it would be impossible to determine the programme’s overall value for money for taxpayers until the Elizabeth line opens. The organisation said that Crossrail Ltd must now keep its focus on completing its plans and delivering against them.



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