NAO condemns Crossrail bosses for ‘absence of planning’

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Crossrail project, The NAO,

The National Audit Office (NAO) has said that the Crossrail project is “past the point of no return” as costs spiral to £16bn, tunnelling was completed in 2015 and trains have already been ordered

In a report, published today (3 May), NAO says the way the Crossrail project has been delivered has driven unnecessary costs and damaged public value. Until the Elizabeth line opens it is not possible to determine the overall value for money for taxpayers.

In April 2019, Crossrail Ltd announced that it plans to introduce Elizabeth line services on the central section between October 2020 and March 2021. However, Crossrail Ltd has not yet completed its assessment of the impact of this opening schedule on costs and it is still unclear when the full Elizabeth line service will start. The NAO has urged Crossrail Ltd to focus on completing its plans and delivering against them.

In February 2019, the NAO published a memorandum on Crossrail for the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) which examined the project’s overall progress, costs and potential for future delays. PAC concluded that final costs remained uncertain and that there was no date for when the railway would be fully operational.

In the latest report, the NAO has further scrutinised how the Crossrail project ran into difficulty, which has so far led to £2.8bn of additional financing for the programme, including around £2bn of loans from the government to the Greater London Authority and Transport for London. A compressed schedule, the contractual model, the loss of downward pressure on costs, and the absence of an achievable plan were set against an atmosphere where “can do” became unrealistic.

The Crossrail project has been dominated by a fixed completion date of December 2018 set by Crossrail Ltd and the joint sponsors, the Department for Transport (the Department) and TfL. This date drove much of Crossrail Ltd’s decision making. Aiming for December 2018 meant multiple activities ran in parallel. The delivery approach, delays to some contracts and the decision to set and then stick to the December 2018 opening date, increased risks, according to the NAO.

The NAO report revealed that despite this deadline, Crossrail Ltd did not start to produce a sufficiently detailed delivery plan against which to track progress until late 2018. As a result, Crossrail Ltd had a gap in its understanding of delivery risks and the likelihood of meeting the December 2018 opening date.

Changes required to the design and to contractors’ delivery schedules have increased costs on most of the 36 main contracts. These changes resulted in increased contract costs of around £2.5bn between 2013 and 2018, of which £900m was through the renegotiation of contracts to settle historic contractor claims.

The NAO says that Crossrail Ltd also made decisions that drove unnecessary cost. In early 2018, Crossrail Ltd began carrying out train testing and construction activity in alternating time periods, to allow for early sight of potential train and signalling system issues. However, this testing was of limited use and took away spare time and space from construction workers on site.

Commenting on the report, Amyas Morse head of the NAO, said: “Throughout delivery, and even as pressures mounted, Crossrail Ltd clung to the unrealistic view that it could complete the programme to the original timetable, which has had damaging consequences.

“DfT and TfL must support the new Crossrail Ltd executive team to get the railway built without unrealistic cost or time expectations. While we cannot make an overall assessment of value for money until Crossrail is complete, there have been a number of choices made in the course of this project that have clearly damaged public value.”

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