The Crossrail Board has met to consider the latest update from the leadership team concerning progress to complete the Elizabeth line. This follows an update after the July Board where it was announced that the central section could not open in summer 2021.
Delivery of the Elizabeth line is now in its complex final stages and is being completed at a time of great uncertainty due to the risks and potential impacts of further Covid outbreaks.
The Board’s latest assessment, based on the best available programme information right now, is that the central section between Paddington and Abbey Wood will be ready to open in the first half of 2022. As work to complete the railway progresses, there may be opportunity to review and bring forward the opening of the central section, subject to progress during the intensive operational testing phase.
The latest cost estimate presented to the Board shows that the cost to complete the Crossrail project could be up to £1.1bn above the Financing Package agreed in December 2018 (£450m more than the upper end of the range announced in November 2019). Work is ongoing to finalise the cost estimates.
Crossrail is planning to start intensive operational testing, known as Trial Running, at the earliest opportunity in 2021. From the start of Trial Running it will then take a period of time to fully test the Elizabeth line before it can open for passenger service. This includes a final phase known as Trial Operations involving people being invited onto trains and stations to test real-time service scenarios to ensure the readiness of the railway.
Following the opening of the central section, full services across the Elizabeth line from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east will be introduced. The introduction of full services will be aligned with the National Rail timetable change which occurs twice a year in May and December.
The Crossrail Board has attributed the delay to three main factors:
- Routeway: Crossrail has had lower than planned productivity in the final completion and handover of the shafts and portals. The shafts and portals form a critical part of the routeway and contain many of the complex operating systems for the Elizabeth line. Eight of the ten shafts and portals have now been handed over to TfL with the remaining two due this autumn.
- Stations: as more detailed plans for the completion and handover of the ten central section stations have developed, Crossrail has revised its previous schedule assumptions about the pace at which these large and complex stations can be handed over to TfL. The completion and handover of all the stations in the central section is a monumental task – in our updated plan the transfer of stations has been phased to take account the scale of this undertaking.
- COVID-19: Covid has further exacerbated the schedule pressures due to a pause of physical activity on sites during lockdown to keep the workforce safe and significant constraints on ongoing work and productivity due to the reduced numbers that can work on site to meet strict social distancing requirements. There are now a maximum of around 2,000 people on Crossrail sites, less than 50 per cent of the pre-Covid complement.
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, good progress continues to be made with completing the remaining construction works, with much of this work coming to an end along with software testing for the signalling and train systems.
Progress during the last six months includes all central section stations, except Bond Street, now certified as ready to support Trial Running; eight of ten shafts and portals completed and handed over to the operator; handover of the first central section station, Custom House, to TfL; the introduction of the first full-length Class 345 train in passenger service between Paddington and Heathrow and a viable signalling software product available for Trial Running.
To help recover some of the lost time, Crossrail is undertaking a period of intensive construction activity during August and September to complete the remaining construction works in the routeway for Trial Running. The construction blockade is progressing well and achieving targeted levels of productivity.
Following completion of the blockade in September, Crossrail will commence testing of the next evolution of the signalling software, helping to further build operational reliability.
Once software testing completes later this year, Crossrail will then begin an enabling phase for Trial Running with testing in the tunnels undertaken with an increased number of trains. This will provide an opportunity to test how well the railway systems work in operational-like situations and will be undertaken as the extensive safety case to the Office of Rail and Road to commence Trial Running is finalised.
Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild said: “Our focus remains on opening the Elizabeth line as soon as possible. Now more than ever Londoners are relying on the capacity and connectivity that the Elizabeth line will bring, and we are doing everything possible to deliver the railway as safely and quickly as we can.
“We have a comprehensive plan to complete the railway and we are striving to commence intensive operational testing for the Elizabeth line, known as Trial Running, at the earliest opportunity. Delivery of the Elizabeth line is now in its complex final stages and is being completed at a time of great uncertainty due to the risks and potential impacts of further Covid outbreaks.
“We are working tirelessly to complete the remaining infrastructure works so that we can fully test the railway and successfully transition the project as an operational railway to Transport for London.”