Report slams DfT’s lack of governance and claims Crossrail warning signs were ignored

MPs say they are not convinced that the long-awaited Crossrail project will open as hoped in 2020, nor that an additional £2.8bn of funding will be enough, while lambasting both the Department for Transport (DfT) and Crossrail bosses for “unacceptable” accountability.

It comes as the Public Accounts Committee publishes its report on the Crossrail delay and identifies conclusions and recommendations for transport leaders moving forward.

Services on the line were due to begin running by December 2018, but commuters in the capital now face the prospect of a lengthy delay with no finish date in sight. 

Crossrail Ltd has cited delays in fitting out the tunnel and testing software systems that control signalling, lighting and other essential services, while the new Crossrail boss Mark Wild has recently revealed that none of the central underground stations are complete.

While the major infrastructure project was supposed to set the standard for delivery of transport programmes globally, MPs on the committee say costs have escalated and delivery dates have turned out to be over-optimistic instead.

The committee points to a “fixation” on the December 2018 completion date and with the pressure to deliver on this leading to “an overriding culture of over-optimism” which meant failings arising as early as 2016 were not addressed.

The report mentions how a member of the committee visited a Crossrail site in June 2018 to be told that the programme was on track but little more than two months later in August - four months before the central section was due to open - there was public recognition of the serious problems progress had encountered.

MPs are now asking for a response within six months from the DfT to explain the steps it is taking to encourage a culture of openness and transparency internally and across its delivery bodies.

Furthermore, the committee also points out that ministers and Crossrail Ltd have been unable to provide a convincing explanation of the root causes of the delays. MPs want to be provided with more understanding by June 2019 on lessons learnt.

Commenting, Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier, said: “It is clear that the delivery deadline of December 2018 had been unrealistic for some time. But the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited continued to put a positive face on the programme long after mounting evidence should have prompted changes. Wishful thinking is no basis for spending public money and there remain serious risks to delivering this programme, with a revised schedule and costings for completing the work still to be agreed. Some £2.8 billion of extra funding has been provided for Crossrail but even that may not be enough.”

Further conclusions on the Crossrail saga:

  • Despite acknowledging that there were major failings in the programme, the Department and Crossrail Limited have been unwilling to accept their responsibilities for the significant delays and cost overruns of the programme
  • The Department and Crossrail Limited’s governance arrangements have been weak and characterised by a catalogue of failures to adequately oversee performance
  • Concerns that the value for money of the programme is at risk from further cost increases and delays. 
  • Disappointment at the Department’s and Crossrail Limited’s unacceptably laissez-faire attitude to costs potentially rising by nearly £3bn
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