“Unacceptable”: UK spending watchdog slams transport department for “disastrous” Crossrail

The UK’s Public Accounts Committee has issued a withering critique of the London mega project, Crossrail, accusing the Department for Transport and delivery body Crossrail Ltd of neither disclosing the root causes of its lengthy delay and cost hike, nor identifying the executives responsible.

The cross-party committee of MPs tasked with overseeing government expenditure called it "unacceptable" that the Department and Crossrail Ltd could not explain why the programme unravelled "so quickly and so disastrously".

It demanded that the Department explain in writing, by the end of this month, what the consequences have been for senior officials, some very well paid.

It said neither the Department nor Crossrail have been "willing to identify who should be held responsible for these failures". Instead, they "simply assert that there are systems failures".

MPs also complained of the "unacceptably laissez-faire attitude" toward a cost hike of nearly £3bn in the scheme, and the Department’s "vague response" to questions over how it was protecting taxpayers’ money.

Referred to as Europe’s biggest infrastructure project, and due to be completed in December 2018, Crossrail is a 118-km east-west railway that tunnels for more than 40km under central London.

Now, thanks to problems in the central London stretch, its budget has bulged from £14.8bn (in 2010) to £17.6bn, and Crossrail Ltd. has admitted it no longer knew when work would be finished.  

The report, published yesterday, will be a further embarrassment to the UK’s secretary of state for transport, Chris Grayling, who made headlines in December for awarding a multi-million-pound, post-Brexit cargo contract to a shipping company that owned no ships. 

"Unrealistic for some time"

"Passengers were led to believe they would be able use new Crossrail services through central London from the end of last year. Instead, they have been badly let down by significant delays and cost overruns," said committee chair, Meg Hillier MP.

"It is clear that the delivery deadline of December 2018 had been unrealistic for some time. But the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited continued to put a positive face on the programme long after mounting evidence should have prompted changes."

She added: "It is unacceptable that Parliament and the public still do not know the root causes of the failures that beset this project. Nor will we accept the Department and Crossrail Limited’s description of these serious problems as ‘systems failures’."

The report also slammed the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Crossrail Ltd for their "fixation on a delivery deadline of December 2018", which led to warning signs that the programme was in trouble being missed or ignored.

MPs also expressed concern that Crossrail’s value for money is "at risk" from further cost increases and delays.

Image: Crossrail is a 118-km east-west railway that tunnels for more than 40km under central London (Crossrail Ltd)

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