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Crossrail delay: A hammer blow for construction

Jack Simpson

Scattered across the Construction News desk at the moment are a number of oyster card holders.

The front of these holders reads ‘FARRINGDON’ in big white block capitals.

The back has a white box with the message: ‘Elizabeth Line Opening in December 2018.’

The wallets now serve as a reminder of the miscalculations made over Crossrail’s opening date.

When the client announced on Friday that the December opening date for its central section had been pushed back until autumn 2019, many wouldn’t have been surprised.

There have been signs since the turn of the year that the December deadline could be missed.

TfL board papers from March and an Infrastructure and Projects Authority report in July both indicated the project was under significant cost and schedule pressures.

The biggest indication yet that the scheme would miss its completion date came last month, when rail minister Jo Johnson revealed that Crossrail would need an extra £590m to finish the scheme.

But while a delay may not have come as a surprise, the length of delay is a real disappointment.

At best the project could take an extra nine months; at worst Londoners could be waiting nearly a year longer than expected for the £15.4bn line to open.

For years we have been repeatedly reassured by Crossrail’s management and politicians that the project would meet it time and cost targets.

While other major schemes have been beset by delays, cost overruns and delivery issues, Crossrail has been presented as bucking the trend – as a project showcasing how the UK can successfully deliver major programmes.

So proud is the government of the scheme, it has been used by the Department for International Trade as a “lead example” when trying to sell the UK’s construction expertise overseas.

The delay will damage that global brand.

But it also doesn’t do much to improve the construction industry’s reputation domestically, either.

The last 12 months has been tough for the industry.

Carillion exposed some of the worst sides of the sector. The fallout from Grenfell and in particular Dame Hackitt’s stinging review of the industry in May has done little to improve perceptions. And the late running of Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium has made national headlines in recent weeks – another high-profile project unable to hit its deadline.

The industry was desperately in need of some good press. 

The opening of Crossrail would have been just that: the country’s largest construction firms, working collaboratively to construct one of the Europe’s largest infrastructure projects – most importantly on time and on budget.

Ultimately a project’s success is largely based on these two metrics, certainly in the eyes of the public.

Unfortunately, Friday’s news will mean Crossrail will be automatically added to the list of UK schemes that have promised so much but delivered so late.

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