Queen Elizabeth II surprised onlookers last week when she joined other dignitaries at London’s Paddington Station for a somewhat surprise opening of the new station Elizabeth line, a week before the official date. Joining Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Transport for London (TfL) Commissioner Andy Byford, she welcomed construction workers and staff who will play a key role in the operation of the line.
The line, formerly known as Crossrail, which is set to open to the public tomorrow, is set to carry passengers through the capital and surrounding areas. It will operate from Shenfield in Essex and Abbey Wood in south-east London to Reading in Berkshire and Heathrow Airport on the outskirts of west London.
The official opening was the culmination of more than 12 years of work on the nearly £19bn ($23.7bn) project. The final budget was significantly higher than initially envisaged and was estimated at £14.8 billion ($18.5 billion) for 2010. The finances of the project faced difficulties almost from the start; Complications that also ran through the construction phase.
Around 6:30am on May 24th, the first passengers will board the trains and leave Paddington and Abbey Wood Elizabeth Line stations when the train opens to the public. The journeys mark the beginning of a new era for London’s public transport system, with more services due to be introduced later in the year. This autumn will see the second phase of the line’s full opening, expanding its operational footprint from Reading to Shenfield.
The numbers of the project are breathtaking – not only from a financial point of view. Journey times will be drastically reduced, by up to half between Abbey Wood–Paddington (reduced by 29 minutes) and Liverpool Street–Woolwich (reduced by 15 minutes). A journey from Farringdon to Canary Wharf will also be 14 minutes faster, down to just 10 minutes.
Although heralded as a success at the opening ceremony, the project was a success full of difficulties since first being approved in 2005. Prime Minister Gordon Brown finally approved the project in late 2007 with the expectation that it would open in December 2017 and cost £15.9bn ($19.9bn).
What happened next was often controversial, arguably chaotic, and unfortunately, on a few occasions, tragic. The following timeline includes key construction dates and the events – political and financial – that impacted the project schedule and caused delays in the Crossrail project.
May 2009: Groundbreaking
London Mayor Boris Johnson was joined by Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to kick off construction with a groundbreaking ceremony that included the groundbreaking of the project at Canary Wharf.
Crossrail had already issued a number of compulsory purchase orders for several properties in the Tottenham Court Road area, including the legendary 2,000 seat music venue, The Astoria. These mandatory orders were the first to be sent out on behalf of the project and signaled the start of preparatory work.
October 2010: Crossrail is delayed by the coalition
After just over a year of construction, the first example of the impact of politics on the project was underway. The election of Britain’s first coalition government since World War II, comprising the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, has dramatically changed the political landscape and government spending priorities.
After the major spending review, the budget was cut by almost £1bn ($1.3bn) and Crossrail was delayed; The schedule has been pushed back a year. The planned opening was now scheduled for December 2018.
May 2012: Drilling, drilling and tunneling
The tunneling phase of the project has started. It would last three years and involve eight huge tunnel boring machines working day and night beneath the streets of London. Each machine was operated by a team of 20 ‘gangways’ and included not only the mechanical instrumentation but also a kitchen and toilets.
With 1,000 tons and 150 meters in length, together they were able to drill up to 38 meters per day. As the drilling continued, more than 200,000 tunnel segments were connected to create the 42 km of new tunnels.
January 2014: More warnings about Crossrail delays
One of the first signs that construction would not go to plan was when the UK’s National Audit Office warned that Crossrail could be further delayed as the project was “closely behind schedule”. However, it added that Crossrail Ltd was confident of opening as planned.
Crossrail Ltd was formed in 2001 to oversee the construction of the lines and stations. The company is owned by TfL and funded by the UK Government’s transport company and Department for Transport. Once operational, the line and its stations will be managed by TfL, which will have more than 100km of track and 41 stations – 10 of which will be purpose-built for the service.
March 2014: fatalities and fines
A 43-year-old construction worker was killed while working on Fisher Street in Holborn. Renè Tkáčik worked in the tunnels while at the same time the construction of a crossing tunnel between two railway tunnels was underway. He was spraying concrete on tunnel walls when part of the roof collapsed.
His death was one of several incidents that led to a string of construction companies get heavy fines a total of £1m ($1.3m) after being taken to court by the Health and Safety Executive. The three – BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman (UK) and Kier Infrastructure and Overseas – were fined £300,000 ($374,724) for the death of Tkáčik and a further £775,000 ($968,037) for two other unrelated incidents leading to two other workers suffered serious injuries.
Unfortunately, there were also several other construction-related fatalities and injuries above ground. Many cyclists and motorists have been involved in accidents involving Crossrail trucks transporting machinery and rubble over the years.
July 2018: additional budget
Despite some successes, it is only now that the severity of the Crossrail delays has come to light. The project was hit by what one government minister called “cost pressures”, which resulted in its budget being increased.
Just weeks later, speculation was mounting that Crossrail would face construction delays and challenges with the complex signaling systems needed to operate. Acknowledging these concerns, Crossrail Ltd delayed the opening of the line from December 2018, adding that it hopes to achieve a reduced opening of just the central section of the line by the end of 2019.
April 2019: optimistic forecasts
Following a further budget increase through a financial package put together by TfL, the UK Government and the Office of the London Mayor – as well as the departure of Crossrail Ltd’s chairman – what has been dubbed a ‘delivery window’ sometime between October 2020 and March 2021 Crossrail Ltd became CEO Mark Wild confirmed – at least for the middle part.
October 2019: Action on Bond Street
Workers at Bond Street station are said to have “knocked down tools” following the sudden deaths of up to five Crossrail employees, although not directly related to the work they were doing at the time. They were concerned about working conditions, while one worker claimed management was “more interested in making sure it doesn’t come out.” Really, they’re trying to keep everything quiet.”
In response to suggesting the deaths were linked to underground conditions, a Crossrail spokesman told the media: “Crossrail Ltd requires the highest health and safety standards throughout the project and we continue to work closely with our Bond Street contractor Costain together with Skanska Joint Venture to ensure this is the case.”
March 2020: The pandemic causes further delays
In March 2020, Crossrail was delayed by something no one could have foreseen coming when the project was in the planning process: a global pandemic. Almost all work on the project has been halted due to the arrival of Covid-19 in the UK. According to an October 2021 Public Accounts Committee report, the pandemic added £234 million ($292.3 million) in costs to the already bloated project budget.
In November 2020, after saying costs had risen again and the route would open in 2021 as soon as ‘practically possible’, Crossrail Ltd was forced to abandon plans to open in the summer of that year, citing the impact of Covid -19 Pandemic. It was later said that the new work opening date would be sometime in the first half of 2022.
March 2021: TfL handover continues
Farringdon station was the last to be handed over to TfL after Custom House. Ownership of several other stations was transferred to the transport facility later that year, including Tottenham Court Road, Woolwich, Liverpool Street and Paddington.
Even today, Bond Street station remains a thorn in the side of the full opening of the central section of Crossrail, as it is currently expected to open in late summer 2022. The long-running saga broke public news in August 2019, with Crossrail calling for changes at the top of the two firms tasked with building it. In June of the following year, Crossrail dropped both construction partners.
Wild had previously said that delays were partly due to tunnel problems; Other delays included the pandemic. However, speaking to the TfL board shortly after taking over as CEO of Crossrail in November 2018, Wild said expectations of the project opening in late 2018 had been “fantasy”, adding that the project’s new leadership is “more rooted in realism than the previous regime”.