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Crossrail's CEO: Why are we on our third this year?

On Friday it was announced that Crossrail’s chief executive Simon Wright was to be replaced by Mark Wild – the project’s third chief executive this year. CN examines the backdrop to the latest change at the top.

Who is Crossrail’s new boss?

Mark Wild is currently the managing director of London Underground, a position he has occupied since June 2016. 

He was already on Crossrail’s board as a non-executive director, having been nominated by project co-sponsor Transport for London. He will only be in charge of Crossrail for the short term, returning to his role at TfL when the project completes.

Why has he been brought in?

In March, Crossrail announced its long-time chief executive Andrew Woltsenholme was leaving to join BAE Systems.

At this point it was understood the line was on track to complete in December. Accordingly, when programme director Simon Wright was given the CEO brief in addition to his existing role, few questioned whether this would be too much to take on.

However, fulfilling these dual roles for seven months as originally planned became a significantly different prospect following the announcement that Crossrail’s opening would be delayed an additional nine months at least.

What about the delay?

London Assembly transport committee chair Caroline Pidgeon has described the timing of when Crossrail knew a delay was likely as “murky”, alleging that it knew a delay would occur as early as July.

When he gave evidence to the assembly, Mr Wright said Crossrail had not informed stakeholders of the potential delay earlier because management thought it could find solutions that would allow the original deadline to be met.

“[We] tried to do all sorts of things,” he said. “Pressure was rising, but we felt we could find a solution.”

Clearly there was significant pressure on Mr Wright to tackle mounting challenges, particularly given his dual brief.

Andrew Wolstenholme chief executive Crossrail

Andrew Wolstenholme chief executive Crossrail

Andrew Wolstenholme

Why have departures been controversial?

The month after the departure of CEO Andrew Wolstenholme, transport secretary Chris Grayling announced Crossrail chairman Sir Terry Morgan would be joining HS2

In the months since the two men left, Crossrail has had to request additional funding and announced its nine-month delay.

In July it was revealed that Crossrail would come in £590m over its original £14.8bn budget. Then last month the project was handed an extra £350m loan by the government to support construction and testing on the delayed £15.4bn line.

All of which raised questions in some quarters as to why several senior figures had been allowed to depart.

Former National Infrastructure Commission boss Andrew Adonis slammed the government for moving Sir Terry Morgan to HS2 from Crossrail.

Lord Adonis described transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to move Sir Terry from chairing Crossrail to the same role at HS2 as “extraordinary”, particularly at a time when, he argued, the project was ”clearly failing”.

The timeline presented by the London Assembly calls into question why such senior staff were allowed to leave if pressure on the project’s programme was known to be mounting.

Mark Wild chief executive Crossrail

Mark Wild chief executive Crossrail

Mark Wild

What does he need to do?

In short, deliver Crossrail without further funding increases or delays.

As MD of London Underground, Mr Wild will be aware of the importance of a swift and straightforward start to running the Elizabeth line.

The need for things to go well is even more intense coming off the back of such a lengthy delay.

More specific issues will need tackling within these broader objectives. CN has heard how there are extensive problems with Bond Street station, for example, which will also need to be addressed – fast.

More: What’s behind the delays?

CN investigates the detailed reasons behind the scheme’s nine-month setback – and whether more delays could follow.

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