Crossrail | Optimism bias, lack of specialist engineers and inadequate management threaten project delivery

Posted on 04 February 2021

​The London Assembly’s transport committee has called for a “Sherlock style forensic focus” to ensure Crossrail meets its revised 2022 opening date.

In its report Crossrail: Light at the end of the tunnel?, the committee outlines several risks to the project’s timely completion including “optimism bias […] a lack of specialist engineers [and] inadequate project management”. Consequently, the committee has outlined seven recommendations to ensure the project keeps to its revised delivery date and budget.

These include:
•Sharing a ‘high-level timeline’ including possible delays due to Covid-19 and funding shortages;
•Creating a clear plan to tackle the number of project vacancies;
•Greater involvement for Jacobs as the project representative;
•An enhanced role for Network Rail within the new governance structure (see below for full breakdown of recommendations).

Concerns about resource levels are mounting, with Crossrail chief executive Mark Wild admitting last week that there is a “big risk” of engineers leaving to work on other projects such as High Speed 2.

Wild’s comments came in response to Jacobs latest project representative report which concludes that Crossrail’s opening date and budget are under “significant pressure” due to “over-stretched” and “under-resourced” staff.

The London Assembly transport committee report adds: “The Committee has concerns about the lack of sufficient resource and specialist skills to complete the final phase of the project.
“Specifically, there is a resourcing and skills gap in the new activities, such as testing of the lines and signalling systems, safety assurance activities and linking up digital assets.

“It is natural that a complex project, such as Crossrail, will pose challenges to its workforce as it evolves from construction-focused activity to system integration. However, it is not clear that the TfL and senior project leaders have a robust plan to fill the resource and skills gaps.”

Consequently the committee also raises concerns about the work load on existing staff adding that “it is clear that this is still a risk to the project and inadequate project management will lead to overspends”.

It adds: “No one should be complacent in the final phase of the project, as there are still multiple challenges and complexities to overcome in transitioning to a fully operational line.”
London Assembly transport committee chair Alison Moore said: “Now that Crossrail has been handed over to the Mayor and TfL to deliver, it is vital that they adopt a Sherlock style forensic focus to make sure no aspect of delivering the project on time and on budget is missed.

“Covid-19 has understandably put increased financial and staff pressures on Crossrail opening the Elizabeth line. However, there are aspects to delivering Crossrail, such as supporting employees’ workloads and better forecasting project delays, that can contribute to delivering as promised.
“When the lockdowns are over and London starts to return to some form of normality, it is imperative that the Elizabeth line is up and running as soon as possible so that the economic benefits to Londoners and London can be realised.
“It is important for the Mayor and TfL to share Crossrail’s project timeline, governance plans, and showcase lessons learned. Londoners need assurance that they will be no further out of pocket and the train will be on the track by summer next year.”
TfL senior management remain optimistic about the project, despite concerns raised by the transport committee.

Just last week, TfL commissioner Andy Byford revealed that he has set his team the target of getting the line open this year and under its revised budget.
He added that opening the Elizabeth line would symbolise London’s “phoenix-like resurgence” from Covid.

In response to the transport committee report, Byford added: “I welcome the London Assembly’s recognition of the importance of the Crossrail project and can assure everyone that my focus remains on safely opening the Elizabeth line as soon as possible. I know that Mark Wild and the whole Crossrail team are also working hard to manage costs and deliver the railway within the funding available.

“There have been many challenges with delivering the railway and I am confident lessons are being learned and applied in these complex final stages of delivery. The Coronavirus pandemic has obviously had some impact on the project and ways of working, and Crossrail has responded to this by ensuring sites remain a safe place to work. We will of course continue to ensure the London Assembly is fully updated on progress of the Elizabeth line, which is so vital for London and beyond.”

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