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True scale of Crossrail problems laid bare

  • Three years’ work likely with project now running £2.5bn over budget
  • Station construction revealed as critical path activity yet not one central station ready
  • One or two central London stations may be “omitted” for opening
  • Up to 15 month’s dynamic testing of trains and signalling yet to begin in earnest
  • On-board train control software unable to work with Heathrow spur

The full scale of Crossrail’s problems have been laid bare with stations now revealed to be at the centre of ‘‘three more years’’ of work needed to open the catastrophically delayed metro.

In his new capacity as Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild told the London Assembly today that there remained ”thousands of hours” of construction to be done. None of the line’s central stations have yet been completed while crucial dynamic testing of trains and signalling systems has yet to begin in earnest.

He tore into the efforts of his predecessors and their key main contractors before unveiling a catalogue of work still to be done. Wild took charge of Crossrail in November having moved over from his role as managing director for London Underground at Transport for London (TfL).

The revelations have shattered previous Crossrail statements that the complex integration of multiple signalling systems was behind the severe delays. Wild, rather, stressed that there were actually “two dominant critical paths” on the job and that station construction was now more critical.

Construction far from complete

He added that while systems testing was also critical path activity this had been impacted because tunnel fit-out was still not complete.

“We have many, many thousands of hours to do in the tunnels,” he said. ”Every station has many, many months of work to do.”

He said the intention now was to get main contractors to complete works by a deadline of June or July, with Bond Street likely to drag on much longer. This would then allow work to begin on station fit-out, but he stressed that this itself will be an extremely challenging and time-consuming job.

Wild revealed that at the time of the announcement of the then one-year delay last September, Crossrail’s revised programme was “a country mile away” from where it stands today and that no-one understood the magnitude of the unfolding problem. 

“I think the enormity and complexity of Crossrail in all manners: the stations; the trains; the signalling systems; the software integration; the control systems; the interface with Network Rail; the truth is that the complexity was not fully understood,” he said.

“All that was understood at that point was that there was a fundamental risk which was starting to crystallise. If I knew then what I know now, I would have set the fire alarm off.”

This lack of understanding was demonstrated in the £211M estimate made at the time of how much it would cost to complete the remaining work, he suggested. In October it was announced that a £300M bailout was being provided to complete the project. Now the estimate stands at £2.5bn.

“The Crossrail executive and even the Jacobs [Crossrail’s client representative] project reps were talking about numbers of £300M to £400M. I spend £120M every four weeks. So £211M was only a seven week delay. Now I’ve got to bottom of it its £2.5bn.

“The challenge I now face, that I need to get on with actually, is one, to two…, to three years of work ahead of me, not six or seven weeks of delay.

Wild offered some sympathy to axed chairman Terry Morgan and other non-executives on the Crossrail board.

“To be fair to non-exec directors and chairmen you are relying on experienced executives and project representatives telling you what the truth is and it is clear that something has gone wrong in valuation and estimation of work to come.”

New programme unclear

Wild said his team was now working furiously to devise a programme that gets the stations finished and tunnels fitted-out, but would also allow for effective dynamic testing of trains, track and signalling systems to begin.

He suggested the central section of the line could be opened by “omitting” one or two of the stations. This could allow fit-out efforts to be focused and equally would be less disruptive to systems testing.

Equally, the plan could be to open them all at the same time but with limited functionality.

Revised plans will be tabled to the TfL board next month.

“The precise sequence is difficult: you’ve got to go to every single contractor, every subcontractor. And if I was going to be critical of the past, then it’s the work we should have done a year ago. Because then it would have been revealed a year ago that they wouldn’t have been ready for two years.”

Wild said that he hoped to publicly reveal the latest revised opening strategy by the end of March.

Tier ones and bosses under fire

Wild was critical of some tier one suppliers who he said failed to offer ideas on how to mitigate the delays. Referencing a meeting held in August to flush out ideas, Wild said: ”Siemens, Bombardier, Costain/Skanska, Balfour Beatty – they are the people actually delivering the work. They were asked if they had any ideas. It became clear they didn’t.”

London Underground director of strategy & service development David Hughes also added his criticism of previous management, referencing earlier evidence to the committee given by ousted chairman Sir Terry Morgan. “When [Morgan] sat here this morning and said ‘I do not recognise where these extra £2bn costs have come from’, in a nutshell that’s the problem,” he said.

Signalling setback

Dynamic testing on the line is due to restart next month after a failed attempts to get up and running last year – an event that up to now has be largely held up as the cause of delays to the programme. Two voltage transformers failed during the initial energisation of electrical equipment at Pudding Mill Lane sub-station – this was then used as a reason for the delay to the dynamic testing.

Wild rejected this claim, saying that the real reason for the delay was simply that the systems being tested were simply were not complete enough to carry out the work.

“The reason dynamic testing didn’t work a year ago is two simple reasons: the signalling integration hadn’t been completed, and you can’t test something which hasn’t been installed; and the the software systems on the train weren’t mature,” he said. Crossrail’s trains have a complex on-board signalling system to cope with the up to four operating systems they must work with, and feature software from train-maker Bombardier and signal sytem provider Siemens. This is “novel”, admitted Wild, but not a world-first.

“That is an important myth to bust,” he said. “People talk about this as a world first. It’s not. We have a standard Siemens signalling product in the central section and standard Network Rail systems to the east and west.

“The most important reason [that testing has not worked so far] is that they were trying to test something that wasn’t installed.”

He did accept that there were serious challenges at the western end with the spur to Heathrow, where the signalling has already been upgraded to the higher quality ECTS – a system that is also being rolled out by Network Rail nationwide.

“The complex thing, that everybody is scratching their heads about, is the ECTS,” he said. “It can work in the lab in Zurich. There may be 1,000 people around the world working on this,” he said.

With this in mind he warned that the dynamic testing phase could take anything from three to 15 months to complete.

Overground unready

Wild also revealed that contracts for three out of the six Network Rail stations on the western section of the route were still to be let. Southall, Hayes and Harlington and West Drayton stations had been let, with the remaining three stations Acton Main Line, West Ealing and Ealing Broadway still to be awarded.

Case for Crossrail Ltd

Earlier, Morgan presented his side of the story to the committee. He insisted that an 18 month delay to delivery of the trains from Bombardier was key. This severly impacted Siemens’ and Crossrail’s ability to work on the signalling interfaces. This, he stressed, was a TfL contract and therefore Crossrail executives should not be held accountable.

However, Wild completely rejected this defence and said that going forward he was happy to be held fully accountable for all aspects of the project.

“There is no easy way to say it – Crossrail Limited is the system integrator. Crossrail Limited didn’t have a grip on the systems integration,” he said, before citing as an example how TfL commissioner Mike Brown was making all calls to Bombardier senior management because Crossrail executives would not.

“As [chief executive] of Crossrail I find myself fully responsible for all integration. In future I’ll be doing all the calls with Bombardier. 

“And looking forward with dynamic testing starting again in a few days time… I will be accountable,” he said.

He said, he said

Wild’s detailed expose of the programme delays were not actually the main order of business for the Assembly. Morgan and Wild were predominantly giving evidence in the commmitte’s ongoing investigation into who knew what about the delays and when, after London mayor Sadiq Khan claimed he knew nothing until two days before the delay was made public on 31 August.

Morgan detailed how executives at Crossrail, Transport for London and the Department for Transport were being routinely briefed on the project challenges, but alleged that Transport for London executives were deliberately suppressing information that would go the mayor’s office.

Morgan cited a key meeting with the mayor on 25 July when he alleged he was given a briefing note by a TfL official telling him what to say in the meeting. This note has been seen by New Civil Engineer. TfL later in the meeting denied this.

Morgan has told New Civil Engineer he only agreed to stick to the line on the note because he had a personal meeting with the mayor scheduled for the following day.

Said Morgan: “I was given a sheet by TfL about what to say at that board meeting and that took out any reference to not being able to deliver the programme in 2018.”

Following this meeting Khan requested a weekly progress report from Crossrail Limited via Transport for London and Morgan told the Assembly that one of these was also amended by Transport for London officials. This document has too been seen by New Civil Engineer.

Said Morgan: “We did issue a weekly briefing note to the mayor… that second paragraph in what went to the Mayor was deleted – by TfL”

This paragraph made clear that there would be insufficient time to complete testing in time for a December opening date.

Morgan was also adamant that he told the mayor the project would be delayed in his meeting on 26 July.

I told the mayor ‘delivery in 2018 is not feasible’. What else does it mean?” he said.

He added he does not suffer from memory loss, in response to the mayor suggesting he had ‘misremembered’ some details about the delay.

The Committee has summonsed further documents from Transport for London (TfL) and deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Reminds me of IKB. Superb engineering but the investors lost all down the line.

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  • The main problem is probably multilayered reporting with each layer being slightly dishonest with estimates of time, etc. Moral is :don't spend all your time in meetings talking, get out where it's happening and see if reality aligns with what you're being told. That's what project management is about!

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  • Still struggling to understand why the section already operating from Liverpool St isnt part of the first section to be tested,via whitechapel, but is scheduled to be last? Then second add Abbey Wood, via Canary Wharf, to Liverpool St. Then finally the last cross London section from Liverpool St to Paddington, with all the unfinished stations last.

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  • Is what is being said that there was no integrated total plan which would show up slippages, and or if there was, it wasn't being kept honestly up to date, and if it was, no-one was reacting to the effect on commissioning dates?

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