Crossrail (1)

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 11th June 2021.

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Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Will Crossrail be open by Christmas 2021?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I would be pleasantly surprised if the central section of Crossrail is open by December [2021]. A much more realistic opening timeframe is the first half of next year, as TfL has consistently said since last summer. I know the Commissioner, Andy Byford, and the Crossrail Chief Executive, Mark Wild, have tasked the team with delivering as soon as possible. I would be worried if my Commissioner were not pushing the team to go further and faster, but the most likely outcome at this stage is an opening in the first six months of 2022.

Following the opening of the central section, full services across the Elizabeth line from Reading and Heathrow in the west and between Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east will be introduced. The introduction of full services will be aligned with the National Rail timetable change. This transformational railway will deliver huge benefits to London and the rest of the UK and is key to our recovery from the pandemic. When complete, the Elizabeth time will cut journey times, create much-needed capacity, transform accessibility and provide a huge economic boost, adding an estimated £42 billion to the UK economy.

Significant progress has been made since the last Mayor’s Question Time. Much of the central section infrastructure is now complete and fitout is nearly complete at many stations. Several of the big engineering structures, including central section stations, shafts and portals, have now been handed over to TfL. This month, the project hit the important milestone of starting trial running. This involves timetabled train movements in the central section and is a vital step towards opening the railway. It will take some time to complete this testing before a final phase known as trial operations begins. This involves people being invited onto trains and stations to test real-time service scenarios to ensure the readiness of the railway.

Crossrail will continue to ensure that Assembly Members are kept fully updated on delivery of the Elizabeth line, which is vital to London and beyond.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Thank you very much for your answer and congratulations on your re-election, Mr Mayor.

Both The Sunday Times and, most recently, the Evening Standard have reported that the TfL Commissioner is hoping that Crossrail might open by Christmas this year. Yet Stephen Hill, the project representative who scrutinises Crossrail, said last week, “The trial running period looks like it is going to be very challenging ahead”. Do you believe your Commissioner or the independent rep?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I would not phrase the question as you phrased it. I believe what the Commissioner is saying, that we hope to have it started in the first half of next year, as I said in my answer.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

OK. Do you accept that the delayed start to trial running could cause knock-on difficulties in finishing the stations and upgrading the software programs on the new trains?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Potentially, yes, but what the engineers and the transport team are trying to do is to do all the work required in the time we have. They will not cut any corners in relation to safety.

It is sometimes possible for trial running to be compressed if it is going well. One of the reasons you have trial running is to make sure you can get all the problems out. That is the purpose of it. If there are more problems than were envisaged, then trial running can take longer. The issue then is a question: can trial operations be compressed?

The key thing is to make sure it is safe and that any issues are ironed out before it opens. You have seen examples in previous decades where big projects have begun prematurely, whether new terminals at Heathrow or other projects that have not landed well. We are keen to make sure it lands well when it opens, but also it has to be safe and so no corners will be cut. With the Commissioner and the Chief Executive [of Crossrail Ltd], the first thing we discuss is safety. We are not going to take any risks with safety in the interests of opening it sooner.

I think we will still meet the first six months of next year. Everyone is focused on opening as soon as possible and as safely as possible.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Thank you. It is probably foolish to be talking about Christmas, then, when it should be, as you say rightly, next year.

In terms of safety, are you aware that many safety authorisations for infrastructure and rolling stock, which are required from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) and were set for completion in the spring, have still not been granted?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Those conversations are taking place. It is the volume of documentation. The good news is - you will be aware of this because you are on top of this - it has now moved from a construction system to an operational system, which is really important because it brings in the Railways and Other Guided Transport Systems (Safety) Regulations (ROGS) rulebook. A lot of this is getting the people in to do - I do not want to trivialise it - the paperwork, and so that needs to happen. TfL is working closely with the regulator to make sure all the safety reassurances are done. There is a huge number of safety checks that need to be done, but that is being done collegiately with the proper transparency and checks and balances.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Is this not an area you are worried about? If you do not get this through the ORR, you will not be able to open the railway.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The Chief Executive regularly raises this in meeting with me. Also, the good news is that Andy Lord from TfL is on top of this now as well, because he has now gone from Crossrail Ltd to TfL. Andy Lord, who is the Underground Director, is working closely with Mark Wild to make sure that the safety regulators are happy with the various checks that need to be taken. As I said to you, we simply cannot afford to cut any corners and not have safety addressed. The issue is whether we can address the volume of safety checks required by that time. The assurance I have been given is that those sorts of checks should happen by the time the rail system is ready to open and should not delay the rail system opening.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

OK. Let us hope that the ORR has the time to be able to do the work on its side. Given that the independent rep has stated that the budget envelope cannot be reliably underpinned, when will you provide Londoners with a full update of the expected final cost of Crossrail?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

We will not know for a while. You will be aware that the agreement we have with the Government is to borrow £825 million against the Mayoral Community Infrastructure Levy (MCIL) and the business rates supplement. The original estimate we had when we negotiated with the Government was £1.1 billion. There is a difference between the £825 million and the £1.1 billion.

Some of that difference is contingencies and risk. As we get nearer trial operations, we will have a better idea of how many of those contingencies and risks will materialise. As soon as the Chief Executive and the Commissioner have a better idea of how close we are to getting to the top of the £825 million, we will have started discussions way before that.

Since we have taken over Crossrail, we have been as transparent as we can be in relation to this. It is really important that the Assembly is fully kept up to date in real time, as well as Londoners. We will continue to be as transparent as we can be.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Thank you very much. I hope we are able to tell Londoners soon what the final bill will be. Thank you, Mr Mayor.