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Crossrail’s designs too complex and bosses ignored risks, says City Hall watchdog

  • 6 Comments

The London Assembly’s transport committee has hit out at the complexity of designs on the delayed and over-budget Crossrail project

The committee, which holds Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport of London (TfL) to account, also attacked the £17.6 billion scheme’s leadership for ’[fostering] an overly optimistic culture, where risks were largely overlooked instead of escalated’. 

Entitled Derailed: Getting Crossrail back on track, the committee’s report singles out for criticism TfL commissioner Mike Brown – who has been under fire over the handling of The Garden Bridge fiasco – urging him to consider his position as a result of the problems with Crossrail.

The 45-page document includes a list of recommendations about other major infrastructure projects following the failure of the 42km rail link below central London to open in December 2018, as was expected.

It also mentions guidance on how costs could have been kept down on the project, which had been budgeted at £15.9 billion in 2010 but had since ballooned to £17.6 billion.

The report reads: ’Future infrastructure projects should strive to keep designs simple, incorporating standard rather than bespoke features, in order to reduce risks to budget and timelines and protect the public purse against overspend.

Alluding to a previous National Audit Office report which noted that Crossrail stations had been designed ’to a high architectural specification’, the report says: ‘The design features are complex and bespoke – for instance, in Paddington station a large steel and glass canopy will be used to bring in natural light.’

The committee goes on to lambast Crossrail’s lack of co-ordination on the station designs, which has put many of them behind schedule. The report reads: ’There have been significant delays to the completion of the new stations and to complementary works to the existing stations.

’The plans for completing these works have re-prioritised the elements to focus on, and step-free access will not be delivered until much later in the programme.’

It continues: ’While innovative, the project has also been complex, from the design of the stations to the number of signalling systems to be integrated into the programme. Although we welcome and strongly encourage innovations around passenger safety and accessibility, and ensuring stations, track and trains are brought up to modern standards, it is important to note that the more complex a project is, the higher the likelihood of having risks to safety, timelines and budget.’

Mike brown tfl

Mike Brown, TfL commissioner

Mike Brown, TfL commissioner

In terms of Brown, committee chair Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon, said: ’The evidence we have seen makes it clear that some officers at Crossrail and TfL attempted to warn about the risks to opening on time. It is unacceptable that these risks were being downplayed by TfL commissioner Mike Brown.

‘The Mayor and the TfL board have to have confidence in the commissioner and his executive team if they are to successfully deliver transport projects in the capital.’

The report adds: ’The evidence seems to suggest that TfL did not fully communicate, and sometimes omitted, key pieces of information to the chair, the mayor of London.

Evidence from emails between Crossrail Limited and TfL suggests that communications to the mayor were being managed by the TfL Commissioner, Mike Brown. Instead of communicating risks head on, these were downplayed in the weekly updates to the mayor. This raises serious concerns about the role of the Commissioner and his ability to support the mayor as chair of TfL.’

It concludes: ’Given the strong evidence presented in this report, we recommend that the Commissioner reflects on whether he is fit to fulfill his role in TfL.’

Comments

TfL spokesperson
It is clear that the responsibility for the delay to the Crossrail project lies with the former management of Crossrail Ltd. It is entirely incorrect to suggest the Transport Commissioner, or anyone at TfL, kept any information from the Mayor.

The commissioner works to ensure that the Mayor is kept informed of everything going on in transport in London and to ensure the information he receives is clear, consistent and accurate.

As the commissioner made clear to the Transport Committee, it would not have been right to allow material to go to the Mayor that was incorrect or inconsistent with information that the management of Crossrail Ltd themselves were presenting to TfL and the Mayor in regular face to face meetings.

Everyone involved is fully focussed on completing the project and opening the Elizabeth line to passengers as soon as possible.

An architect on Crossrail who wanted to remain anonymous
The notion that the Crossrail designs were ‘too complex’ needs to be countered. The central London stations are quite plain, having been dumbed down a lot through rationalisation of finishes. The objective was to make sure they were less ‘extravagant’ than the Jubilee Line stations but, as ever, the really huge costs on an underground railway are little to do with the station design and much more about the infrastructure itself. Choosing to put a railway below central London with incredibly complex construction challenges for every stop is not something that can be solved by making designs more basic.

The notion that the Crossrail designs were ‘too complex’ needs to be countered

Among the numerous things that made the station more complex to deliver was the crazy decision to re-tender some designs at different workstages, which led to changes of architects at crucial times - a recipe for poor planning and co-ordination.

  • 6 Comments

Readers' comments (6)

  • When you add Mr Brown's role in what looks mighty like the twisting of TfL around the previous mayor's little finger at the time of Boris's push to get the 'garden bridge' adopted as essential transport infrastructure - and then built - it's really rather difficult to see Brown as anything other than a serious liability to the integrity of TfL.

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  • Industry Professional

    "incorporating standard rather than bespoke features" whatever happened to ambition, design, excitement, innovation?

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  • Little if any mention anywhere of the TfL Board, appointed by the Mayor as its Chair. Take a look at them and ask yourselves if you consider that they have the necessary qualifications to give what they're presented with the required forensic scrutiny, analysis and challenge. In this messy game of pass the buck, with echoes of last May's rail timetable meltdown, his appointments to his Board, as TfL's 'watchdog of last resort', are where the Mayor has questions to answer.

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  • Oh dear...Bog standard Brown and no aroma of roses from the garden bridge. Flush him away?

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  • Crossrail started as we were finishing Channel Tunnel at BDP, and it was hobbled from the start by different clients, ambitions, even non compatible computer software.

    It was always going to be much more complex than the Tunnel, and well done to all the people that have bought it so near to completion. Don’t rush the commissioning and testing. Remember Chep Lap Kok And Terminal 5? Keep the politicians and Unions out of the mix? Concentrate on Quality, that’s what lasts. Everyone will forget Times and costs when it’s been running for 10 years. 2030?! We have much more serious problems with climate change, housing, food, water???

    We will succeed, and do it beautifully? Forget Truth or God. They are twin distractions.

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  • The architect nailed it. Lack of co-ordination is the thing that balloons costs and extends programmes. The more contractors and consultants that are hired and fired the more complex that co-ordination becomes. Nothing to do with the designs, which should always be the very best we can achieve. Once again design is being blamed when the real culprits are those who crafted the contractual frameworks leaving vast chasms between each contract that contractors often exploited, and the designers (employed by them for only a stage or two to dumb down the design) vainly struggled to co-ordinate and fill. Until designers have a consistent and central role in co-ordination at construction stage this will continue to happen on large projects.

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