After 18 years, Crossrail is finally up on the departures board.
By 2017, a line will link Abbey Wood in the east with Maidenhead in the west right underneath the centre of London. A great many hopes are hanging from it. For one, the regeneration of the Thames Gateway; for another, the ability of London to retain the power of movement. The question is, will we be able to actually build it on time and within its £16bn budget?
The question is not an idle one, given the angst over what kind of Olympics we can build for the money, the collapse of Metronet and the industrial relations disaster that was the Jubilee Line Extension (still fresh in the industry’s collective memory). If the government and the industry has got the collywobbles it’s not surprising. Not so Doug Oakervee, Crossrail’s chairman. In his first interview since the line got the go-ahead, Oakervee calmly asserts that it won’t go a penny over its budget. Although the response might be “he would say that”, Oakervee is a confident man. The reason is that the planning for Crossrail has gone on for such a long time that every length of cable and track can be designed before the project starts on site. Contrast that with the almighty time pressures the Olympics is facing.
Crossrail has also listened to the industry. It has reduced its project team’s risk by avoiding design and build, and has generally portrayed itself as a user-friendly, partnering client. That is far from the position of London Underground, for example, which was forced kicking and screaming into an arranged marriage with the infracos. Then there is the careful consideration that Oakervee is giving to the impact of Crossrail on the wider industry. He is planning to dovetail his work with other big civils projects, such as the £9bn Tideway sewage tunnel under the Thames.
That said, details of the project are still sketchy and it’s difficult to ascertain how much of a contingency fund there should be for imponderables such as security. With such a complicated project to deliver and with Metronet’s problems still vivid in everyone’s mind, it also must be questionable whether contractors will take it on as a lump-sum job. As with Metronet’s PPP, some of the work under central London will involve the logistical horrors of fitting a full working day into a few hours in the middle of the night.
But that doesn’t mean Oakervee is being naively optimistic, either. Consider the other great rail project, now flickering up on the arrivals board: St Pancras and the CTRL. The project was another vast, and vastly complex, one, but it has come in on the money, thanks in no small part to remarkable leadership, a realistic timescale and budgets set from the outset by the client, LCR. The end result is a new gateway for Britain that demonstrates the kind of foresight and vision that even the Victorians would be proud of. And so, too, should the construction industry.
Denise Chevin, editor