Rush to open Crossrail under central London ‘threatens delays outside the capital’

The rush to open the central section of Crossrail by March is threatening to delay the rollout of the line in its entirety, Sadiq Khan has been warned.

Plans to begin services under the capital between Paddington in west London and Abbey Wood to the east means commuters using the line outside central London risk having to wait longer to realise its benefits, according to Crossrail’s advisers.

The grand opening, a key plank of Mr Khan’s second term as London mayor, “will effectively only be an interim milestone”, according to engineering consultancy Jacobs.

For instance, services from the popular commuter town of Shenfield will terminate at Liverpool Street in two months’ time, while Crossrail trains from Reading and Heathrow will stop at Paddington.

The delays will also put extra pressure on Transport for London’s already stretched finances. “Meaningful revenue benefits” from the collection of fares can only be released once the project is completed in full, Jacobs said.

Originally scheduled for opening in December 2018, Crossrail bosses revised their timetable for between January and June 2022. The scheme now risks coming in about £5bn over budget.

Bosses want to open “section 3” linking Paddington and Abbey Wood in March. Jacobs’ warnings, in its recently published analysis covering the period between September and October 2021, were first reported by trade publication New Civil Engineer.

Jacobs concluded in its most recent report that this schedule risked leaving “insufficient time” to complete stage 5c, the final stage of Crossrail, by the current deadline of May 2023.

An interim stage, known as 5b, allowing Shenfield services to run to Paddington, but not through to Reading and Heathrow, is scheduled for autumn this year.

Until the Government’s HS2 project was finally given the green light, Crossrail was Europe’s biggest building project. It has been fraught with delays and budgetary overspends.

Mr Khan has been blamed for its failings by former bosses, allegations denied by the London mayor, who is also the chairman of Transport for London.

Howard Smith, Crossrail operating chief, said: “The opening of the Elizabeth line has always been planned to take place in stages to ensure the new central London stations, signalling and infrastructure can run safely and reliably before it fully links in with services out to the east and west.

“Original plans saw these services being integrated in two separate stages six months and then a year after the central section opens, but latest plans have now brought those together and will mean journeys can be made into the central section from autumn 2022.”

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