Andrew Wolstenholme tells MPs project was given timescales that were “materially inaccurate and wrong”

The man who led the Crossrail project for almost eight years has told MPs that when he left last March the scheme was on track to open on time – and didn’t because contractors were giving project bosses wrong information about when they would complete their work.

Andrew Wolstenholme has come under increasing fire in recent weeks for his role in the debacle with the former chair of the London Assembly’s transport committee, Caroline Pidgeon, complaining that “former chief executives who are supposed to be world experts leading on the project…I think they need to take more responsibility”. 

Andrew Wolstenholme

Andrew Wolstenholme at the Public Accounts Committee inquiry into Crossrail

Wolstenholme did admit he was “personally disappointed” the scheme had bust its opening date but he told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee yesterday afternoon the job was on target to open at the end of last year when he left last March despite significant risk.

He said: “The programme we put together in March 2018 still found a way through to opening in December 2018. This is, with respect, looking at the dials we had at the time. With the benefit of hindsight, one might have read something different from those dials.”

But last month a review of the scheme ordered at the end of last year by current chief executive Mark Wild, who was appointed last November, concluded the job would not open until March 2021 – more than two years late.

Wolstenholme said one contractor, tasked with installing control systems across the central London stations, had said the work on each station would take a matter of weeks.

He added: “Based on the information that he provided in late 2017, on the then-best definition of the scope that needed to be done, we were getting indications, firm programmes, from our supply chain that the scope of work on each station was between three and six weeks.

"That is the information we were getting from our supply chain at the time and that is what we were loading into our programmes. With the benefit of hindsight that was materially inaccurate and wrong."

Meanwhile, Sir Terry Morgan, who also faced MPs at the same hearing, said the initial reaction of London mayor Sadiq Khan and transport secretary Chris Grayling when he told them the job would miss its opening date was to ask how much more money the scheme needed to meet the December 2018 deadline.

Morgan said: "I had the expected response from both sponsors: 'It has to be done in 2018. What else can we do? How can we throw money at it to get it there on time?'

"They told us we had to find a way of opening the railway."

Morgan said Grayling wanted part of the railway to open by December but he could only provide the pair with three opening dates for autumn 2019.

Morgan admitted: "There are some aspects of the programme that I admit even in July [2018] we underestimated the scale of what still needed to be done. Systems integration is a very clear example of that."

Crossrail first announced last August the scheme was going to be late and put a new opening date of autumn 2019 on the project. This has since been revised to a six month window between October 2020 and March 2021 – while the station at Bond Street still won’t be ready to open during this period.