UK: A ‘robust and realistic’ plan for the launch of Elizabeth Line services through central London during a ‘six-month delivery window with a midpoint at the end of 2020’ was announced by project promoter Crossrail Ltd on April 25.

The opening was originally planned for December 2018, but in August last year Crossrail Ltd admitted that the project could not be completed in time. The date was pushed back, initially to autumn 2019 and then with no timescale given.

More than 100 000 tasks required to complete the project have now been identified and re-sequenced, but uncertainties remain with the development and testing of train and signalling systems.

The central section of the Elizabeth Line between Paddington and Abbey Wood is expected to launch with 12 trains/h during the peak. However, ‘design and delivery challenges’ mean Bond Street station would not open at first. Crossrail Ltd said it was working with contractor Costain Skanska JV to ensure the station is ready ‘at the earliest opportunity’.

Services on the full route from Reading and Heathrow Airport in the west to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east would commence ‘as soon as possible’ after the opening of the central section.

Four major tasks

Before the central section can open, four major tasks must be completed:

  • build and test software to integrate the train operating system with three different signalling and train protection systems (ETCS, CBTC, TPWS);
  • install and test vital station systems;
  • complete installation of equipment in the tunnels and test the communications systems;
  • trial running.

These are expected to be delivered within the revised funding package agreed by the Mayor of London, government and Transport for London in December 2018.

Crossrail Ltd Chairman Tony Meggs said a new leadership team and enhanced governance structure were in place, and it would be ‘open and transparent about our progress’.

The plan ‘allows Crossrail Ltd and its contractors to put the project back on track’, said Chief Executive Mark Wild. ‘Crossrail is an immensely complex project and there will be challenges ahead, particularly with the testing of the train and signalling systems, but the Elizabeth Line is going to be incredible for London and really will be worth the wait.’

Angry and frustrated

Responding to the latest announcement, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he was ‘deeply angry and frustrated’ about the delay. He said ‘with strengthened governance and scrutiny in place, Transport for London and the Department for Transport, as joint sponsors, will continue to hold the new leadership to account to ensure it is doing everything it can to open Crossrail safely and as soon as possible.’

The announcement was welcomed with ‘cautionary relief’ by Caroline Pidgeon, Chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee which two days earlier had published a report which was highly critical of the management of the project. ‘The project has been pushed back twice already, so the question has to be asked – is the six-month window a hedge-betting exercise to avoid disappointing passengers once more?’, she said.

Darren Caplan, Chief Executive of the Railway Industry Association, said ‘there are always lessons to be learnt on major infrastructure projects like this’, but Crossrail would have ‘a long-term positive impact on the UK, its economy and connectivity’.