London’s transport commissioner Mike Brown this week rejected calls from the London Assembly’s transport committee to resign for his part in the Crossrail saga.
The committee’s new report into the project’s delayed completion and escalating cost concludes that Brown downplayed the problems in briefings given to the mayor, Sadiq Khan, last year.
Crossrail Ltd, a company wholly-owned by TfL, announced last summer that the tunnel between Paddington and Abbey Wood would not open in December as planned, saying opening was likely in autumn 2019. In January, Crossrail said no opening date could be given. This week it announced that the opening is likely to take place during the six-month period October 2020 to March 2021 (see panel).
The project has also been hit by cost rises, with the Government announcing two emergency cash injections last year that have taken the budget from £14.8bn to £17.6bn, figures that exclude £1.1bn for trains and depots.
Since the problems emerged last summer, TfL has installed a new senior management team to oversee the project’s completion.
Transport committee chair Caroline Pidgeon said this week: “The evidence we have seen makes it clear that some officers at Crossrail and TfL attempted to warn about the risks to opening on time. It is unacceptable that these risks were being downplayed by TfL commissioner, Mike Brown.”
The report says: “Evidence from emails between Crossrail Limited and TfL suggests that communications to the mayor were being managed by Mike Brown. Instead of communicating risks head on, these were downplayed in the weekly updates to the mayor. This raises serious concerns about the role of the commissioner and his ability to support the mayor as chair of TfL.
“Given the strength of the evidence presented in this report, we recommend that the commissioner reflects on whether he is still fit to fulfil his role in TfL.”
In one email from May last year, Stephanie Doyne, TfL’s corporate affairs manager, told Crossrail chief operating officer Howard Smith that Brown had amended the wording of a weekly update to the mayor “so that the setbacks appeared less serious”.
Brown told the transport committee this week: “I’m not reflecting on whether I’m fit to be in position. I believe I am, I’ve got [the] full support of the mayor, and that’s the end of the issue for me.”
A TfL spokesman told LTT: “It is clear that the responsibility for the delay to the Crossrail project lies with the former management of Crossrail Ltd. It is entirely incorrect to suggest the transport commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the mayor.
“As the commissioner made clear to the transport committee, it would not have been right to allow material to go to the mayor that was incorrect or inconsistent with information that the management of Crossrail Ltd themselves were presenting to TfL and the mayor in regular face-to-face meetings.”
The committee says Crossrail’s corporate culture suffered from optimism bias. “The executive team seems to have been so committed to the December 2018 deadline that they thought the unachievable was achievable despite the existence of clear red flags. We experienced this optimistic outlook first-hand. In June, during our visit to the Tottenham Court Road site, the then chair of Crossrail, Sir Terry Morgan, confirmed that December 2018 was still achievable.”
The delays to the project prompted Crossrail’s remuneration committee to withhold long term incentive plan payments to senior executives last year. Yet the committee reports that Crossrail’s then chief executive, Andrew Wolstenholme, subsequently asked the committee to review its decision. “This attitude is symptomatic of a culture that, while encouraging unchecked optimism, has also encouraged a denial of responsibility,” says the committee.
Crossrail opening: 2020 or 2021
The tunnel section of London’s east-west Crossrail project is likely to open during the six- month period October 2020 to March 2021, Crossrail Ltd said this week.
The company, which is wholly-owned by TfL, said the window reflected the fact that “many risks and uncertainties remain in the development and testing of the train and signalling systems”.
Four major tasks have to be completed:
• building and testing the software to integrate the train operating system with three different signalling systems
• installing and testing station systems
• completing installation of the equipment in the tunnels and testing communications systems
• trial running of the trains over many thousands of miles on the completed railway
Even when the tunnel section opens, Crossrail said the station at Bond Street station would not be ready because of ongoing “design and delivery challenges”.
Crossrail said the central section works were “expected” to be delivered within the funding package agreed by the mayor, Government and TfL last December. It is unclear if this means other parts of the project will need extra funds.
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