The UK Crossrail programme has unravelled so “quickly and disastrously” it is likely to require even more than the extra £2.8bn already granted, MPs have said.
Not only has the east-west railway through central London overshot its original opening date of December 2018, but the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) doubted it would even be running in 2020.
And in a new report, which complained of spiralling costs and over-optimism, the PAC hit out at “well-rewarded officials whose costly failures are paid for by taxpayers”.
Any hopes that Crossrail would set a new standard for delivery of transport programmes and lead to skills and knowledge gained from the programme being exported around the world have been dashed, it said.
With no revised opening schedule, the committee doubted the new service would be running in 2020 as officially hoped, or that the additional £2.8bn of funding so far provided would be enough.
The Department for Transport and Crossrail Limited were criticised for a lack of explanation of “the root causes of the programme unravelling so quickly and so disastrously”, and the report expressed “alarm” at continual shortcomings in management and oversight, accusing Crossrail Limited of failing to accurately report progress.
“Key warning signs were missed or ignored,” the report added.
The Department, as a joint sponsor of the programme with Transport for London, was accused of failing to ensure that governance arrangements it had put in place were robust or to communicate the true level of progress of construction.
PAC chair Meg Hillier said the Department for Transport, Transport for London and Crossrail Limited had put “a positive face on the programme” long after evidence justified this level of optimism. “It is clear that the delivery deadline of December 2018 had been unrealistic for some time. Wishful thinking is no basis for spending public money and there remain serious risks to delivering this programme, with a revised schedule and costings for completing the work still to be agreed.”
Hillier said the PAC committee refused to accept the Department and Crossrail Limited’s description of the problems besetting the project as “systems failures”.
The report said the attitude towards cost overruns of nearly £3bn was “unacceptably laissez-faire” and the DfT and Crossrail Limited should inform the committee on the impact on its approach to the project, to keep the committee up to date on key developments, and for the DfT to explain the steps it is taking to encourage a culture of openness and transparency.
Other recommendations included guaranteeing that the revised schedule and cost are complete, how the £2.8bn of extra funding will be spent, and the committee demanded to know by the end of April the consequences senior officials in positions of accountability have faced for failures on the programme.