London Underground and TfL

24.04.19

TfL commissioner urged to quit after downplaying Crossrail ‘tragedy’

Transport for London’s (TfL) chief commissioner has been told to consider resigning after he “watered down” key messages between Crossrail and TfL over the project’s extensive delays and £3bn overspend, according to a damning City Hall report.

The London Assembly Transport Committee’s report said it is “shameful” nobody at a senior level has taken responsibility over Crossrail’s failings, but that evidence suggests TfL’s commissioner Mike Brown “was at the centre of decisions to dilute important information sent to the mayor.”

Caroline Pidgeon, the committee’s chair, stated that Mike Brown needs to consider whether he is “fit to continue his role” as commissioner, whilst mayor Sadiq Khan’s office said he has every confidence in Brown.

The cost of Crossrail has risen from £14bn to around £17bn after multiple bailouts, and whilst a revised opening schedule for the flagship project is yet to be agreed, it is reported the Elizabeth Line may not be ready until 2021.

The report, ‘Derailed: Getting Crossrail back on track’, said that the project’s independent reviewer had flagged the risks over delays and costs at least four times with TfL, but by the time the message got to the London mayor it had changed from “high risk” to “on target.”

The committee said the risk of deadline delays on the project had been “diluted” in emails sent to the mayor’s office as briefings were first amended by TfL, chiefly Mike Brown.

In some cases, TfL had “altered key messages of risk,” and in one email thread included in the report, references to signalling and software problems were removed, with a senior TfL official saying it was “amended by Mike so that the setbacks appeared less serious.”

The report is highly critical of Crossrail’s executive team, and said the desire achieve the completion date “overpowered any professional and critical assessment of risk.”

Committee chair Pidgeon called the “overspending, mismanagement, and an embarrassingly long delay” is a “complete tragedy” and that its name “was now tarnished with shame in the eyes of the London taxpayer.”

“The inability of senior figures in the project to push past their obsession with a December 2018 launch date is one of the main reasons why their dream did not become a reality.”

The report recommends that the mayor and TfL must strengthen control and improve transparency, and says TfL’s commissioner must reflect on whether he is fit to continue to fulfil his role.

The Crossrail project has come under heavy scrutiny in recent months following a £1bn bailout, several delays and the resignation of its chair Sir Terry Morgan.

Earlier this month MPs said they were “increasingly alarmed at the continual shortcomings” of Crossrail and the DfT, and sources told the BBC last week that the best-case scenario would see the new Elizabeth Line opening in Spring 2020 and a worst-case scenario of 2021.

Image credit - Richard Pohle/The Times/PA Archive/PA 

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