Evening Standard Comment: Crossrail chaos is an embarrassment to London

Evening Standard Comment
·1-min read

In March 1882, Bishop Urquinaona of Barcelona laid the cornerstone of the Sagrada Familia. The basilica is yet to be completed. It is in this company that Crossrail now operates.

Construction began in 2009, and was due to open in December 2018, then spring 2021, and now the first half of 2022. It is also £4 billion over budget. These delays and cost overruns have been an embarrassment to London.

The project has been beset by issues. The arms-length manner that Crossrail was able to operate from both Transport for London and the Department for Transport led to a lack of direct reporting.

Yet Sadiq Khan should have been far more proactive in recognising the problems and getting on top of them. That is what directly elected mayors are for.

Structural issues were compounded by financial blows, from the loss of TfL’s operating grant from central government to the falls in revenue first from fare freezes and later the pandemic.

There is reason for limited cheer. TfL commissioner Andy Byford was handed overall control of Crossrail in November 2020, which should give the project both proper lines of accountability and the impetus to finish.

But the optimism that marked the first few years of the project, when countless tours were given showing off new stations, has long passed. Londoners simply want a train line that works. And when the capital fully reopens, commuters will not want to travel like sardines. Crossrail will provide that much-needed capacity boost.

Finally, we must ensure that, despite its difficulties and cost overruns, Crossrail does not become London’s last major infrastructure project. The Government’s levelling up agenda, which this paper supports, cannot simply be allowed to siphon investment away from the capital.

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