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Crossrail: A series of disputed events

Ian Weinfass

Flanked by six empty seats, Sir Terry Morgan sat opposite 10 people at City Hall who were there to grill him about who knew what and when about the delayed opening of Crossrail.

Armed with just a sheaf of papers drawn from a satchel he placed on the wide table in front of him – including some of whose contents he said were highly significant – he addressed the room, beginning slightly falteringly.

Once he got into his stride, it didn’t take long before he launched a series of explosive allegations, mainly against TfL.

Immediately following Sir Terry’s session, four of the seven seats were filled – including by TfL director David Hughes, deputy London mayor Heidi Alexander, and Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild.

The contrast with what the respective sides said was even greater than the difference in how they filled the space, as the discussion effectively became a series of claims and counter-claims.

For example, Sir Terry alleged a member of TfL gave him a piece of paper instructing him of what to say at a board meeting where it had been known that the project would be delayed.

But later, TfL’s Mr Hughes claimed he thought he knew who Sir Terry was referring to (but declined to name). And the director of strategy and network development said the then-Crossrail chairman had actually asked his staff member to do him a favour and write an aide-memoire of the latest details, which Sir Terry had been saying out loud.

Sir Terry also alleged updates from Crossrail to the mayor Sadiq Khan were edited by TfL before they made it to the mayor’s office to make the project appear healthier than it was.

Mr Hughes rejected the claim stating that no complaints were received about this while it was allegedly happening.

Sir Terry claimed TfL’s communications team – knowing a December opening was not possible for Crossrail – spent much of August devising a PR strategy. He alleged that they didn’t use email for this, so details can’t be traced.

He suggested it wouldn’t have been possible to come up with what the operator eventually put out in just two days.

Ms Alexander, who had been in the public gallery shaking her head as Sir Terry came towards the end of his evidence, said she didn’t know about the allegation in Sir Terry’s hearing but that PR people speak to each other about strategy, sometimes on the phone.

Sir Terry had long since left the chamber by the time she finished her evidence.

The key point in all this centred around who knew what and when – Sir Terry claiming that he told Mr Khan, transport secretary Chris Grayling and key contractors in July that a December opening was unachievable.

Everyone apart from Sir Terry said he warned there were issues, but didn’t make a firm pronouncement until August.

Mr Hughes said it was being implied that the mayor, TfL and possibly the secretary of state colluded to hide the delays.

“The bit in all this that puzzles me is: what was the point? Because it wouldn’t have made one iota of difference to the scramble we faced to secure funding later,” he said.

And some may wonder why there is so much focus on who knew about delays to a project over a matter of weeks, when the rail line, when completed, will benefit hundreds of thousands of commuters for a century or more.

But the ramifications of this very public spat will surely inform how future stakeholders act when they get involved in large projects.

And those delivering public projects should be expected to be able to clearly account for their decision-making and actions.

Yet the same minutes, papers and reports are being spun differently by the two sides in this debate, and that is not right and proper.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Ian Heptinstall

    He-said, she-said might be important in the political sphere, but it is hardly relevant to project managers.

    What I want to know is why the delay only became clear in July (or August, or June)?

    Either the increasing risk to a December opening was known many months earlier and withheld, or the whole project controls set-up was significantly under-performing. Given the amount of work that the current CEO says still needs to be done, and the information on the late trains that Siemens passed to TfL early in 2018 according to the Sunday Times, how could the delay not have been evident years ago?

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