The Department for Transport has been castigated by MPs for an unacceptably “laissez faire” attitude towards cost and budget overruns on London’s new Crossrail train line, which is expected to open more than two years late and £2.8bn over budget.
The cross-party public accounts committee said in a report published on Wednesday that the DFT and Crossrail Ltd, an arms length body created to manage the line’s delivery and which includes a DFT representative, were reluctant to pinpoint responsibility for the failures on “any single individual or entity”. Instead, the DFT and Crossrail summarised the problems as a “systemic failure”, MPs said.
“We are entirely unconvinced by this rationale as the department and Crossrail Ltd were responsible for creating and managing the system that enabled these failures to occur,” they said.
The DFT and Crossrail will not know how much the programme is expected to cost until they have agreed a revised schedule for completing the signalling and operational systems, the MPs added.
The 118km Crossrail train line will run between Reading and Heathrow airport in the west through central London to Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London. It was due to open in December 2018 but announced last August that there would be severe delays. Full services are now not expected to start running until 2020, though MPs said they were “sceptical that this target date will be met”.
The cost of the predominantly taxpayer-funded railway has soared to £17.6bn — a £2.8bn or 19 per cent increase on the £14.8bn agreed in 2010. Despite this the DFT gave only a “vague response” to MPs about how it protected taxpayers’ money when overseeing delivery of the programme and “failed to identify” what it had done “proactively”.
The committee accused the DFT, Transport for London — the public body that oversees transport in the capital — and Crossrail of “ignoring” warning signs that the programme to deliver the new east-west railway line in the capital was in trouble.
The DFT’s representative to Crossrail was reporting “significant risks” to the programme being delivered on time by May 2018, but the DFT failed to act and was convinced by assurances from Crossrail that the programme was on track, the report said.
“Given that station and signalling systems are still some way from being completed and that at least a further year of work now appears to be required, we find it difficult to believe that it was not evident before the public announcement in August 2018 that the central section of the railway would not open on time,” the MPs said. They added that the “root causes of the delays and significant cost overruns” remain unknown.
The MPs urged the DFT to explain in writing what the “consequences have been” for senior executives at Crossrail, including the former chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme, who received a £1.7m pay package between April 1 2016 and March 31 2018, when he resigned. “These executives were paid to bring expertise into the programme and deliver an operational railway and failed to do so,” they said.
The DFT rejected the accusations. “We are disappointed that the PAC has chosen to represent actions taken to learn and implement lessons in a wholly negative way,” it said.
A TfL spokesperson said that along with the DfT it had “taken a number of actions to strengthen governance and oversight, including changes to both the Crossrail Limited board and the Crossrail executive team”.
Mark Wild, chief executive of Crossrail since November last year, said: “It is clear that more work is required to complete the infrastructure, the integration of the train, signalling and station systems and to undertake the extensive testing that will be necessary to open a safe and reliable railway. We are making progress in all these areas and, in addition, we have put in place an enhanced governance structure and new leadership team to strengthen the programme.”
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