Crossrail: ‘Transformative’ Elizabeth Line WILL open in the first half of 2022, TfL boss insists

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The Elizabeth Line, has faced severe delays, pushing it past its scheduled opening time of 2018, and going almost £4bn over budget.

Transport bosses have vowed London’s Crossrail will open in the first half of 2022 - with the project mired in delays.

The project, also known as the Elizabeth Line, has faced severe setbacks, pushing it past its scheduled opening time of 2018, and going almost £4bn over budget.

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Speaking at a London Assembly transport committee meeting this morning (Tuesday, November 16), Transport for London (TfL) commissioner Andy Byford insisted the line would open to passengers by June 2022 - with or without a finished Bond Street station.

He told members: “I think we’re in a really good place to get this railway open.

“We still maintain that opening window between February and June. It will not slip. [It will be] the first half of 2022.”

But he would not give a firm opening date, and added: “I really want to get this on the record.

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“You - and Londoners - will not thank us if we open and it looks great but it’s not reliable.

“I would rather spend a bit more time on trial operations than rush to get it out of the box.”

The Elizabeth Line was expected to open in 2018. Credit: TfLThe Elizabeth Line was expected to open in 2018. Credit: TfL
The Elizabeth Line was expected to open in 2018. Credit: TfL

In response to Joanne McCartney, Labour London Assembly member, who asked the commissioner to outline the main benefits of the project for the city’s transport network, he said the line would be “completely accessible” and a boost to London’s economy.

“In a nutshell it will be completely transformative in every aspect,” he said.

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“You will be able to go from Canary Wharf to Heathrow in 41 minutes - half of what it currently is, via big bright airy stations, with state of the art customer information stations.

“In many ways it will prove to be one of the best investment’s London’s ever made.”

While Shaun Bailey, Conservative London Assembly member, asked the commissioner about reports in the Sunday Times and the Evening Standard that the line, which will connect 41 stations across 100km, could be open by Christmas - which were dashed last year.

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But Mr Byford said the date had been a “possibility”, adding: “My challenge to the team is that we should achieve the best possible, reliable, safe opening of the Elizabeth Line.

“That’s what you pay me to do. Londoners’ expectation is that this line will finally open.

“It was a possibility back then. It also depends on the software. That software did take longer to get right and we had to reluctantly give up on the December aspiration.”

The line, originally expected to be opened by the Queen in December 2018 - close to three years ago - will run from Heathrow and Reading in the west, via central London, through to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

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Mark Wild, Crossrail CEO, told the committee the so-called ‘dress rehearsal’ phase of the project’s opening - trial operations, would take around three to four months, and involve 150 “drills and processes”.

While there are six mass evacuation checks which cannot be done until the new year, due to issues with the line ventilation system.

But the remaining 144 tests will begin ahead of Christmas with the aim being to complete them as quickly as possible.

He told the committee the total testing phase, which is well underway, and encompasses both trial running and trial operations, would total “nine to 15 months”.

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Mr Wild admitted problems had included the complexity of the project, which included 37 different contractors and “billions” of different relationships, stressing the key lesson was “simplicity”.

He added: “The thing that went horribly wrong in 2018 was that everybody focused on a single end date. It’s absolutely the right approach to focus on windows.”

Heidi Alexander, deputy mayor for transport told the assembly she has “confidence” in the team.

She said: “I think the opening window of February to June 2022 is a reasonable window so I do have confidence in the team.”

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The transport chiefs were also quizzed on the governance arrangements of the project - which will run trains every two and a half minutes at peak times, transporting 200m passengers each year - by Sian Berry, Green Party GLA member.

Asked when a review of the scheme’s oversight structures would take place, bosses said they did not want focus taken away from the delivery of the project during the final phases.

Ms Alexander said: “If you’re asking me what keeps me up at night, Crossrail is definitely up there. I know the significance for Londoners.

“I have all the information I need at my fingertips. We have robust debates at times.”

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And asked repeatedly whether tests were being done with large numbers of passengers, Mr Byford responded: “I would ask you to just trust us that we know what we’re doing.

“I have done this before. We have run trial operations before - with volunteers, with casualties, with judges scoring that process.”

The assembly also discussed issues with the delivery of Bond Street station, including the termination of the contract.

Mr Wild says termination clauses were built into the agreements, while Mr Byford stressed that weekly calls with contractors and suppliers took place to keep the scheme on track.

Asked when Bond Street station will open, Mr Wild confirmed it would be between February and June 2022, while Mr Byford added that “with physical construction we’re nearly there”.

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