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Crossrail now not expected to open until 2021


London’s new Crossrail trainline is expected to open more than two years late in 2021, in the latest blow to the capital’s biggest transport project, according to people close to the management.

The further delay is expected to be announced after a board meeting next Thursday as part of a number of “potential opening windows”.

The announcement is expected to say that there is a “significant likelihood” that the central section of the line from Paddington to Abbey Wood in south-east London will not open before the spring of 2021.

This means that full train services from Reading and Heathrow in the west through to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east may not be up and running until mid-2021 or even 2022, according to one person familiar with the plans.

However, Crossrail Ltd, the state-backed organisation running the project, will also say that it will try to open it by the end of next year “though the odds aren’t good on that”, a source close to the management told the Financial Times.

This month the cross-party public accounts committee also said it was “not convinced” the line would open next year or that costs would remain within the new £17.6bn budget, which has soared by £2.8bn — or one-fifth — over the £14.8bn agreed in 2010.

The BBC first reported the additional delays on Thursday, citing executives who said the testing of the trains and signalling was “proving more difficult than was first thought” and the final opening would be delayed until Spring 2021 in a “worst-case” scenario.

Crossrail Ltd is now scrambling to hire 191 staff under new chief executive Mark Wild to deliver the project, which had a peak headcount of 841 in 2016.

It had disbanded ahead of the target opening last December with some staff transferred to Transport for London, which is to take over the project once it is up and running.

Crossrail contractors are also struggling to recruit amid competition from other big infrastructure projects such as the new London sewer and the HS2 railway line, sources close to them confirmed.

The 118km Crossrail line had been expected to open in December 2018 but announced last August that there would be severe delays to the opening of the central section.

None of the 10 new stations along the railway line are complete while testing of the new train, signalling and station systems is seriously behind schedule.

Each Crossrail station has more than 50km of communications cabling, 200 CCTV cameras, 66 information displays, 200 radio antennas, 750 loudspeakers and 50 help points, all of which need to fully installed, tested and integrated, Crossrail said.

The project is now burning through £30m a week, according to a KPMG report, while completing the work has been made more difficult because of “low morale” and the lack of final deadlines, according to those familiar with the situation.

A National Audit Office report into the reasons behind the delay to Crossrail is expected to be published early next month.

Crossrail said: “London needs the Elizabeth line [Crossrail’s official operating title] completed as quickly as possible and brought into service for passengers. We are working very hard to finalise our new plan to deliver the opening of the Elizabeth line at the earliest opportunity and we will be providing more details later this month.”



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