Crossrail hit by further setback as full line may not open until 2023

The delivery of Crossrail is still a few years away as more delays were announced for the project last week.

The Elizabeth Line, which will eventually link Maidenhead and Slough directly with central London and beyond, was meant to be complete in 2018.

Several delays have occurred since, with one announced in November projecting that the central London section might not open until 2021.

And in an announcement on Friday, Crossrail Ltd said it was pushing the project back even further – with the central section now not due to complete until the first half of 2022, four years after the initial target delivery date.

COVID-19 has been named as one of three factors, along with complex stations and routeways, as a cause of the latest delay.

It means that travellers in Maidenhead and Slough may not be able to ride along the full Elizabeth Line until May 2023.

Through services from Reading and Maidenhead are known as ‘Stage Five’ in the project.

‘Stage Three’ – the central London section – needs to be completed first, and then ‘Stage Four’, to the east of the capital.

A spokesman added: “You need roughly six months from Stage Three before you can move to Stage Four, followed by another six months for Stage Five.

“So it’s hard to give an exact date, but you are looking at roughly a year from when the central section opens until services go direct to Maidenhead.”

Much of Maidenhead’s regeneration has been built in the knowledge of Crossrail’s long-awaited arrival.

Cllr Gerry Clark (Con, Bisham and Cookham), the council’s lead member for transport, said the latest delay to Crossrail is disappointing but ‘we will appreciate it when it arrives’.

Other senior political figures, including London mayor Sadiq Khan, have been vocal in their frustration.

“It is sad that it is not coming earlier, everybody would like to see the project completed,” Cllr Clark said.

“We will appreciate it when it arrives. It is a substantial improvement project in terms of connectivity, and we look forward to it opening in full as soon as possible. Any delay is a disappointment.”

He added: “It does not set us back, it is something that has already been subject to delay.

“The fact that Crossrail is later than anticipated does not significantly change the attraction of Maidenhead.”

The latest cost estimate presented to the Crossrail Board shows that the project could be up to £1.1billion above the financing package agreed in December 2018.

Crossrail says that delivery of the Elizabeth Line is now in its ‘complex final stages’, with a plan to complete the railway focused on remaining construction and systems integration, followed by operational testing.

Known as ‘trial running’, this testing is set to start ‘at the earliest opportunity’ in 2021.

Photo from Crossrail Ltd

Crossrail’s latest delay is one of several since the project started:

- In August 2018, it was announced that the launch of the new Elizabeth Line in central London would be pushed back until autumn 2019.

- In December 2018, Crossrail Ltd chief executive Mark Wild said he ‘cannot commit to next year’s target’ after more funding was needed.

- In April last year, Crossrail bosses outlined plans to complete the Elizabeth Line's central London section ‘at the earliest possible date’, with the end of 2020 highlighted as a possible target.

- Transport for London (TfL Rail) trains started running from Maidenhead to London Paddington in December 2019.

- In November 2019, it was revealed the central London section would not be completed until 2021.

- In January of this year, the Advertiser reported that Crossrail trains running from Maidenhead to central London may not arrive until December 2022.

- In August 2020, Crossrail Ltd cited COVID-19 as one of three factors for another delay, which could push the central London section back to the first half of 2022.

Mr Wild said: “Our focus remains on opening the Elizabeth line as soon as possible. We are doing everything possible to deliver the railway as safely and quickly as we can.

“We have a comprehensive plan to complete the railway and we are striving to commence intensive operational testing for the Elizabeth line, known as trial running, at the earliest opportunity.

“We are working tirelessly to complete the remaining infrastructure works so that we can fully test the railway and successfully transition the project as an operational railway to Transport for London.”

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