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Crossrail won’t open this year and staff morale has “gone off the cliff”, new boss says

Further questions have been raised about Crossrail’s previous hierarchy after its new boss has admitted he could not see how the major project could be finished this year.

While addressing a meeting of Transport for London’s (TfL) board, Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild conceded that he did not have an opening date for anyone despite recent progress being made on testing.

Wild was providing an update to the board after returning from a two-day trip to Berlin where the Crossrail boss had discussions with the global CEO of Siemens.

Wild said the organisation had made the decision to “really get into the testing element” of the scheme with dynamic testing starting on 14 January for four whole days. While the chief executive said the testing was going “brilliantly” and that stopping accuracy had improved massively, he warned that it was still "very early days".

Speaking to the board, he said: “I can’t see how this job can be delivered in calendar year 2019. I don’t actually know when it will be delivered after that. While I still don’t have an opening date for you, the situation is much clearer. We have been through it with a fine tooth comb.”

What next? Well according to Wild, teams have many weeks and months of more testing ahead as contractors aim to reach the “highest marks of safety and reliability”. Work will then continue to improve maturity and build up to a stage where four trains run closely together. However, the Crossrail boss said there was no timescale for the completion of dynamic testing.

When it came to finishing stations, Wild said this was an area he was “less certain” about. He highlighted two things that needed to be done in the stations, with the first being “to get rid of the very, very large marching army that we have” who are said to be doing core installation work.

This “orange army” of workers is costing Crossrail £30m a week with productivity said to be low. But demobilisation had begun most notably at Woolwich and Farringdon to bring down spending costs. 

Only when this is done, can work progress on the complex integration work between stations, Wild claimed. There is nine stations in the central section that are bigger than anything undertaken within the London Underground. The chief executive underlined the scale of the job by revealing there was 60,000 individual items that need controlling and integrating. 

Wild also revealed that between 6,000-7,000 people were still working on the job in London and there was “triple that” in the supply chain. He used his slot in the meeting to stress the importance of engaging with the “amazing” staff still employed by Crossrail with many in low spirits. 

“Morale has gone off the cliff because they read in the press all the negative stuff, he added. “But it’s my job as leader to engage them and push on because this is going to be the world’s best metro railway I believe.”

New Crossrail chair Tony Meggs also gave a brief update after sitting in on his first Crossrail board meeting. He took the opportunity to say how it was a “privilege” to do the job and help turn “this brilliant project into a brilliant railway”.

Five new members have already been added to the board in a bid to improve its leadership and Meggs told those present that the “spirit and level of challenge” that was going on is “very robust”.

He discussed four priorities for the board moving forward which included:

  • A proper plan that is robust affordable deliverable 
  • To enhance the government’s governance
  • Rapid grip on program costs – ensuring that money is spent prudently 
  • Creating an open and transparent relationship with stakeholders and sponsors. In a bid to rebuild trust that has been “eroded” over the last few months.