London’s £18bn Crossrail train line risks being “mothballed” without further financial support from the government, transport bosses have warned.
Andy Byford, the UK capital’s transport commissioner, has written to the Department for Transport warning that the project needs £80m of immediate support to avoid a “Doomsday scenario”, according to a letter first reported by Sky news.
The railway, which will run from Berkshire to Essex via central London, was expected to open in December 2018 but delays to station completion and problems with signalling mean the central section is not expected to open until the first half of 2022.
“If agreement is not reached this week, we will have no option but to mothball the project and to seek alternative governance for its eventual completion,” the letter said. “I sincerely hope that we can avoid such a Doomsday scenario.”
The latest revision to Crossrail’s timetable and budget came in August, when the outgoing board said the project was likely to cost £18.7bn — £450m more than the previous estimate nine months earlier.
Transport for London, the agency that manages the capital’s public transport network, took over the management of the Crossrail project from an independent arms-length body in October and the new committee is expected to meet this Thursday.
The government is expected this week to launch a new national infrastructure bank to channel £600bn into capital projects nationwide over the next five years, half of which is to be privately financed.
But Mr Byford, who has been transport commissioner since May, has been battling with the government to get additional funding for TfL. It recently received a £1.8bn bailout from Westminster after struggling with falling passenger numbers during the Covid-19 crisis. The deal followed a bitter row between Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, and ministers, with Boris Johnson — his predecessor in city hall — accusing Mr Khan of having “effectively bankrupted” the capital’s transport network.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “What’s happening between the government and TfL is nothing short of a disgrace. As we approach next year’s London mayoral election it’s clear the government are using TfL and our members as a political football.”
Crossrail was initially budgeted at £10bn in 2003 and was to open in time for the London 2012 Olympics. However, even before the latest request for a bailout, the cost had risen 18 per cent from its £15.9bn price tag in 2008, when it was signed off by the government.
Noble Francis, economics director at the Construction Products Association, said it was “unlikely that Crossrail would be mothballed given that it is such a high profile project that is close to the end but it clearly needs an urgent injection of cash”.
The DfT said it was working with TfL to develop a “funding solution”. “The government remains committed to the efficient completion of the project, in a way that is fair to UK taxpayers, and that ensures London — as the primary beneficiary of Crossrail — bears the additional costs.”
TfL said: “TfL, the Greater London Authority and government all continue to have discussions around the additional funding needed to complete the Crossrail project.”
TfL’s problems came as HS2 Ltd, the company delivering Britain’s new high-speed railway, invited companies to tender for £12bn of contracts that will be awarded over the next 18 months.
Andrew Stephenson, HS2 minister, called it an “important moment” for Britain’s biggest infrastructure project, which has just started construction and is expected to cost at least £106bn.