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Crossrail delay and £2.8bn overspend 'lets taxpayers down' - MPs

Wale Azeez, business reporter

MPs have launched a blistering attack on the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL), as ballooning costs and long delays continue to plague Crossrail.

The public accounts committee said the rail project is "letting taxpayers down" as completion of the line across London and the South East of England gets pushed further back.

Releasing their report on Friday, MPs responsible for overseeing government expenditure said Crossrail is now expected to be delivered up to two years behind schedule and £2.8bn over budget - taking the cost so far up to £17.6bn.

Crossrail has told the committee that the full 73-mile railway - from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Abbey Wood, London and Shenfield in Essex in the east - may not open until as late as 2022.

The committee said in the report: "As Crossrail has not yet determined and agreed an opening date for the full railway, costs for the programme are likely to continue to climb.

"Crossrail Ltd has so far failed to understand the complexity and risks involved in the programme, failed in its management of its main contractors and failed to integrate different strands of the programme successfully."

MPs claimed that, despite these failures, Crossrail has continued to pay bonuses to its executives.

Once completed, the railway will be run by TfL as part of London's transport network and will be known as the Elizabeth line.

In December last year, when Crossrail's central section in London between Canary Wharf and Paddington was due to open, Sir Terry Morgan, chairman since 2009, resigned amid government frustration with the delay.

Crossrail now expects that section to open between October 2020 and March 2021.

Given the unfolding fiasco around Crossrail and the outcome of previous ventures, the group of MPs commented that it was "sceptical" of the government's ability - through the DfT - to oversee major railway projects.

They said in the report: "While the DfT is ultimately responsible for the use of taxpayers' money on Crossrail, the way in which it set up Crossrail Ltd left it with limited powers to step in and take action, including on executive remuneration, when the programme faltered.

"While the department is now working to learn and apply the lessons from what went wrong with Crossrail, it should acknowledge that this is far from an unfamiliar tale.

"We have witnessed cost increases and delays on major rail projects several times over the past few years and the department still does not appear to have got a grip on the problem."

Public accounts committee chair Meg Hillier MP said: "Crossrail is two years late and £2.8bn over budget.

"Unfortunately, delay and being over budget now appear to be par for the course for major rail projects.

"Crossrail Ltd has failed to understand the complexity and risks of Crossrail, to manage its main contractors, and to integrate different strands of the programme successfully.

"The Department for Transport is ultimately responsible for the use of taxpayers' money on Crossrail; it still does not appear to have got a grip of the problems.

"It has also failed to get a grip of Crossrail Ltd, continuing to pay its executives bonuses, despite the programme going off track."

A DfT spokesperson said: "The department consistently challenged the leadership of Crossrail Ltd - a wholly owned subsidiary of TFL - on the delivery of the project.

"When problems became clear, the department acted swiftly and effectively, changing the leadership of the board and strengthening governance structures.

"The new Crossrail Ltd management team has now produced a new plan to open the railway, and the department and TfL will continue to scrutinise progress to ensure this happens as soon as possible."

A spokesperson for Crossrail said: "The Elizabeth line is one of the most complex infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK and we recognise many of the challenges raised in the public accounts committee report.

"The new leadership team's plan to complete the Elizabeth line continues to be kept under careful review. Progress against our plan will become clearer in 2020, once we start to fully test the operational railway and integrate the train and signalling software.

"We are fully focused on completing the Elizabeth line and ensuring a safe and reliable passenger service as quickly as possible."