Crossrail’s opening could be pushed back by almost a year as the scheme’s central section continues to struggle with rising costs and delays.
The announcement is likely to put paid to Crossrail 2 being green-lit any time soon. This government simply doesn’t have the fight for what will become an even more politically toxic project due to today’s revelations.
Remember, Crossrail (to be called the Elizabeth line) was itself subject to decades of delay before construction work even began. In that time, central London became an ever more complex web of thronged streets and development.
Having finally been approved under Gordon Brown, it became a political football under the next coalition government.
Boris Johnson famously claims credit for “not scrapping it”. I wonder will he be taking credit today?
Don’t expect the government to make the brave decision to start Crossrail 2 any time soon, given it is gripped by a crisis on northern rail infrastructure, as well as escalating costs and political conflict on HS2. This government currently seems to lack conviction, let alone the courage of its convictions.
Crossrail 2 is one of many schemes that need to go ahead in order to keep the country moving, especially post-Brexit.
These schemes are not only needed for the country to operate effectively, but to ensure the economy doesn’t collapse. The work on Crossrail and the Olympics prevented the construction industry from suffering complete meltdown after the global financial crisis.
The man behind the uncertainty
But today, the UK’s rail infrastructure is engulfed in a storm and is now second only to housing in terms of its divisiveness and uncertainty.
The man presiding over all of this is the transport secretary Chris Grayling.
“The transport secretary is not only losing the knowledge of senior industry leaders who should be responsible for these projects, but is also seemingly losing his grip on the nation’s railways”
Mr Grayling, who chaired the prime minister’s successful leadership campaign, has been in post for more than two years now as rail infrastructure has descended into farce.
There have been unprecedented cross-party and cross-media campaigns to hold this government to account over its failure of leadership on rail timetabling and upgrades in the North.
But this crisis is extending throughout the UK. Electrification schemes have been delayed or axed. Network Rail is under fire for the northern chaos, but try telling Southern commuters this isn’t a UK problem. HS2 costs are coming under further scrutiny.
In the last 18 months, the chief executives of Crossrail, Network Rail and HS2 have all departed and been replaced – the three people responsible for the biggest portion of UK infrastructure, all of whom have exited under the current transport secretary.
Crossrail’s CEO Andrew Wolstenholme has left the industry to join BAE Systems. HS2’s Simon Kirby departed the rail sector to join Rolls-Royce (and has subsequently departed from there too). Network Rail’s chief executive Mark Carne has also retired from the industry.
Sir David Higgins is being replaced as chairman of HS2 – ironically by Crossrail’s chairman, the respected Sir Terry Morgan.
The transport secretary is not only losing the knowledge of senior industry leaders who should be responsible for these projects, but is also seemingly losing his grip on the nation’s railways.
At a recent grilling by MPs, Mr Grayling said he was “not a specialist in rail matters”.
There is now a complete lack of faith in his ability to manage this crisis. Given that Theresa May has threatened to take control of the housing shortage personally (how’s that going, by the way?) perhaps she could add the rail crisis to her portfolio before things get any worse.