Who will finally admit it was their fault the job is so late?

Dave rogers white background

It can appear Crossrail doesn’t like stating the obvious too much.

Announcing in a statement last night the new window of when the railway might open, readers were told Crossrail had “identified a six-month delivery window with a midpoint at the end of 2020”.

In plain English, that means between October 2020 and March 2021. Why not just say that?

This sort of double-speak has dogged Crossrail ever since it announced on the final day of summer last year that the scheme which, until then, Crossrail kept telling everyone, was on track to open in December 2018 would be delayed.

Since then, it’s been handed almost £3bn more in a bailout and seen the initial revised opening date of autumn this year slip a further 18 months to spring 2021 – and even then a key station, Bond Street, won’t be ready, only opening at some unspecified time afterwards.

What on earth has been going on?

What a contrast to March 2018 when former chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme left with the plaudits of politicians ringing in his ears.

He had played a “huge role” in the delivery of the line, said London mayor Sadiq Khan. His leadership had been “critical to its success to date”, added transport secretary Chris Grayling (admittedly not an endorsement most would be proud of) while Wolstenholme’s then chairman Terry Morgan praised his “phenomenal contribution” to the project.

Unfortunately, given what’s happened since, these testimonials are in tatters and shine a light on how hopeless Crossrail’s optimism about the opening date was.

To the cynic, it looks like Wolstenholme, chief executive for seven years and always keen to point out the scheme was on time and budget, got out just at the right time.

When he left, Crossrail was nine-and-a-bit months away from opening. According to its new timetable, he will have been gone three years by the time it actually does.

In August 2016, he said the scheme was 75% complete. He added: “We’re fully focused on completing the delivery safely, on time and on budget, for our handover to TfL in 2018.”

Was it really 75% complete? If it does open by March 2021, it will have taken four-and-a-half years for the remaining 25% of the railway to be finished.

Wolstenholme is now being dragged into a spotlight previously only occupied by Morgan for those wanting someone to blame for the mess.

Morgan, who left his role last December, got into a silly row with Khan about who knew what and when while others kept their heads downs. No longer. Wolstenholme is now squarely in the sights of politicians at the London Assembly who are becoming increasingly exasperated that nobody seems willing to accept responsibility for the debacle.

This morning the chair of its influential transport committee, Caroline Pidgeon, lamented: “It is incredibly frustrating that no senior executives will accept any responsibility for the litany of failures that have led to this delay.”

Simon Wright took over from Wolstenholme but was gone after a few months to be replaced by London Underground managing director Mark Wild.

Wild has a bit of free pass in all of this and for the moment he’s the bloke who’s lifted the lid on the scale of the problems.

It leads to one further question: were people at the top of Crossrail so incompetent that they really had no idea how late the job would end up being or was something else going on?

Some might be tempted to draw parallels with Carillion and the blind optimism of its management when faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

That led to a parliamentary inquiry into what went wrong.

Given the amount of public money ploughed into the job – and the Department for Transport can’t say for certain the £17.8bn figure will be the final amount even though Crossrail reckons it will – that is now what needs to happen here.

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