Last week's review of the Crossrail business case posed difficult questions for project head Norman Haste, not least whether it can be delivered at all. Talking exclusively with NCE he argues it can.
With the route of Crossrail now finalised and £750M shaved off the scheme's projected outturn price, opportunities for further radical savings look fairly limited. Doubts have already been raised by transport secretary Alistair Darling - and others - about the scheme's deliverability.
However, project promoter Cross London Rail Links (CLRL) can now get fully stuck into the nitty gritty of eliminating risks and pinning down costs - a task that has been difficult while the detailed route has remained undecided.
It has a little over eight months to make a watertight case to the government that its £7bn contribution to the £9bn scheme represents value for money and will not edge upwards. If questions about risk and cost are still unanswered by April next year, CLRL can kiss goodbye the promise of a hybrid bill enabling Crossrail in the next session of parliament (News last week).
A source close to Adrian Montague, who led the review of CLRL's business case for Crossrail, published last Tuesday, told NCE:
'Time's very tight. Darling has given no alternative date for introducing the hybrid bill. If it's not been introduced by next April Crossrail's missed the boat.'
CLRL chief executive Norman Haste confirms the pressure is on:
'We have a very detailed programme. There's not much float in our schedule, but we have a plan of action.
'First comes three months of consultation on the route we've now agreed, from August to the end of October.'
'Parallel with that we will be conducting environmental impact assessment work, needed to produce a comprehensive environmental statement, which will be presented to government at the end of this year.'
Opting to take Crossrail to Maidenhead west of London, rather than south west to Richmond and Kingston, has done a good deal to side step public opposition. But Haste is expecting the consultation to 'flush out objectors'.
There will then be a fast and furious period of select committee hearings in Parliament, which should help CLRL gauge how best to resolve any conflict with locals.
'We plan to have the guts of the bill prepared by Christmas. And by the end of January we will have put it to bed.'
Haste, a veteran of the Heathrow T5 inquiry and the Second Severn Crossing, is no stranger to the nail biting process of realising mega-projects and is angling to get Royal Assent for the project by the end of 2006.
Enabling works will start next year, he says. And he wants to get shovels into the ground on the project proper by mid 2007.
Completion is scheduled for 2013.
Value engineering is an ongoing exercise, and will probably pare several million pounds more from the delivery cost when detailed design gets under way next year.
But no startling economies should be expected. CLRL is backing tried and tested construction techniques, says Haste.
'We'll look at new ideas, but will not be taking any risks.'
Despite the significant technical challenges of tunnelling under central London, the associated risks 'are very well known and relatively easily managed', Haste adds.
Much of CLRL's efforts in the coming months will go into reducing the potentially more dangerous risks arising where Crossrail interfaces with the national rail network, London Underground (LU), BAA at Heathrow airport, and with the utility companies whose infrastructure criss-crosses the new line's path.
Managing risk on these interfaces will have a major bearing on CLRL's procurement strategy, Haste predicts. 'I believe very strongly that CLRL has to manage them - it would be very difficult to pass these risks to private sector consortia, because they [Network Rail, LU, BAA and the utilities firms] all have statutory powers.'
The project needs public sector muscle on the client side to negotiate rights of way. And as a company which, by the end of this year, will be owned 50/50 by the Department for Transport and Transport for London, CLRL has that muscle, Haste believes.
Haste sees little benefit in staging construction, as proposed under a rival scheme put forward by the London Regional Metro Arup-Aecom joint venture and backed by the Corporation of London. This scheme would see the 'core' section of Crossrail built from Paddington in west London to Liverpool Street in the City, at a cost of some £3.5bn, with the option of adding east and west extensions at a later date.
'You have to build to Canary Wharf, Shenfield and Heathrow at the outset, otherwise you start eroding the benefits of Crossrail, ' argues Haste.
Without these links Crossrail would fail to relieve congestion on existing Underground lines, particularly the Central Line. And it will not deliver the extra capacity needed to transport the extra 120,000 commuters a day expected by 2013, he adds.
There is huge demand from big business for a direct link from the capital's financial hubs in the West End, the City and Canary Wharf to Heathrow, Haste contends.
Meanwhile, the ability to get workers into the City and Canary Wharf from the suburbs, combined with the economic injection that Crossrail will deliver to run down parts of east and west London, justifies early delivery of the Ebbsfleet and Maidenhead branches, he argues.
'We aim to deliver a system that will carry more than 600,000 passengers a day, ' Haste says. If Crossrail is going to be built, it needs to be built in its entirety, in a single hit.
And to do that, says Haste, 'again we need to put in place a very strong client. At the moment we are a deadlocked company, 50% TfL and 50% the SRA. We are to be reformed with DfT taking the SRA's place.
That will make us far stronger.'