Budget fears after Crossrail opening delayed until…

Concerns have been raised about Transport for London’s (TfL) finances after the £15.4 billion Crossrail project was delayed by almost a year.

London’s new east-west railway will miss its December opening date, with services not beginning until autumn next year, a spokesman for the project said.

More time is needed to complete “final infrastructure and extensive testing”, according to Crossrail Limited.

TfL was relying on the Elizabeth line – the name for the east-west railway once it opens – to boost its coffers over the coming years amid strained finances.

The organisation already has a £1 billion operating deficit for this year amid falling passenger numbers, mayor Sadiq Khan’s freeze on single fares and the axing of a £700 million annual government grant.

It had expected to receive £146 million of fare revenue from the Elizabeth line in 2018/19 alone.

Gareth Bacon, chairman of the London Assembly Budget and Performance Committee, described the delay as “a shambles”, adding that it “leaves an even bigger hole in TfL’s finances”.

Manuel Cortes, general secretary of trade union the TSSA, expressed doubts that TfL can “make ends meet”, warning that “a lot of revenue will now be foregone and additional investment will be needed to remedy whatever has gone wrong”.

Crossrail Limited described the 10-year project as “hugely complex”, stating that the original timetable for testing was reduced by contractors needing more time to complete work in the central tunnels.

Elizabeth line managing director Mark Wild described the delay as “disappointing” but said ensuring the railway is safe and reliable from the day it opens is “of paramount importance”.

It was announced last month that the project’s budget has been increased from £14.8 billion to £15.4 billion due to “cost pressures”.

The Government has provided a grant of £4.9 billion to Crossrail Limited.

No minister was available for interview after the delay was confirmed, but a spokeswoman for the Department for Transport said “we accept Crossrail Limited’s assessment that more time is needed to fully test the railway”.

Trains were due to operate through the central tunnels from Paddington to Abbey Wood from December, when separate services on the Paddington-Heathrow and Liverpool Street-Shenfield routes would continue.

In May 2019, direct trains from Paddington to Shenfield were due to launch, with the line fully open from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east from December 2019.

Simon Wright, Crossrail Limited chief executive, said: “The Elizabeth line is one of the most complex and challenging infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the UK and is now in its final stages.

“We have made huge progress with the delivery of this incredible project but we need further time to complete the testing of the new railway.

“We are working around the clock with our supply chain and Transport for London to complete and commission the Elizabeth line.”

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