U.K. Auditor Slams Crossrail for Poor Planning and Oversight

(Bloomberg) --

A flawed plan for London’s new cross-city rail line and a lack of accountability contributed to delays and extra costs of almost 3 billion pounds ($3.91 billion), according to the National Audit Office.

The opening of Crossrail’s central section could now be put back until March 2021, overshooting the original December 2018 target, but there’s no date for when the complete line will be up and running, according to the NAO, an independent body which scrutinizes public spending on behalf of legislators.

“Throughout delivery, and even as pressures mounted, Crossrail clung to the unrealistic view that it could complete the program to the original timetable, which has had damaging consequences,” Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said in a statement on Friday.

Costs on almost all of the project’s 36 main contracts overran, but because firms weren’t required to coordinate their work Crossrail was often left having to compensate a raft of other contractors for each delay, at a cost of almost 1 billion pounds.

Having already soaked up 16 billion pounds, Crossrail is “past the point of no return,” Morse said. Hitches surrounding completion of the line, the first to span London from east to west, led to the exit of Chairman Terry Morgan in December. Morse called for his successor, Tony Meggs, to finish the project.

Crossrail is due to lift central London’s rail capacity by 10 percent to 200 million passengers annually, contributing an anticipated 42 billion pounds to the economy. The route -- to be known as the Elizabeth Line after the British queen -- will link locations including Heathrow airport, the West End shopping district and the City and Canary Wharf financial centers.

“While we cannot make an overall assessment of value for money until Crossrail is complete, there have been a number of choices made in the course of this project that have clearly damaged public value,” Morse said, adding that Crossrail’s relative autonomy meant both central government and the London mayor had “few effective contractual levers to enable them to take action.”

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