MPs warn Crossrail schedule and costs ‘lack certainty’

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Crossrail schedule

Crossrail remains unable to deliver a timeline of completion for the Elizabeth line, as public account committee MPs warn there is still no certainty to its cost and opening schedule

MPs have warned that Crossrail remains unable to deliver a timeline of completion for the Elizabeth line. Already estimating around £19bn, a further £2.9b in loans from taxpayers, TfL, and Greater London Authority (GLA) are required to cover Crossrail’s costs.

The last committee report on the Crossrail programme estimated that the costs have increased by a further £1.9bn to £18.9bn, and the opening date for the central section of the Elizabeth line has also been delayed by a further 10 to 20 months.

Critical works still need to be completed before the company can provide any certainty on when all remaining works, including many stations, will be completed.

Even with the government bailout, the decrease in passenger numbers due to the pandemic has left a potential £150m funding setback for the Crossrail project.

The new direct rail service will be the world’s first truly digital railway of its size, but economic regeneration is unpredictable as passenger demand has decreased and delays continue to cost the project more, MPs warn.

‘Confident predictions have been over optimistic’

The Department for Transport also expects £750m of loans to Crossrail – separate from over £4bn of loans from government to support TfL during Covid – to be financed and repaid from TfL’s own revenues.

Fare revenue has become critical to TfL’s finances, with 72% of its income coming from fares before the pandemic which have since collapsed, and TfL estimating an ongoing 18% drop in demand for rail by 2031 compared to pre-pandemic estimates.

Crossrail consequently remains uncertain where the funding setbacks and loan repayments will come from, forcing TfL to find new streams of revenue.

The committee says it is “critical that DfT and TfL focus on how to achieve all of the benefits of the line, particularly encouraging passengers to use the line and enabling wider, economic regeneration.”

Dame Meg Hillier, chair of the public accounts committee, said: “We are finally, thankfully seeing a clearer sense of ownership, responsibility, and determination to complete the Crossrail programme from those in charge but there remains a serious, £150m funding gap to finish the programme. There must be a focus now on finding real solutions to this.

“With fares down because of the ongoing impact of Covid we also need more clarity on the plans and timescale for repaying the significant government loans.”

Now expecting it to open between February 2022 and June 2022, full east-west services are scheduled to begin in either December 2022 or May 2023.

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