The government has ordered a nine-month skills audit of the rail industry in response to mounting concerns that it does not have the capacity to deliver the £6bn Crossrail scheme in London
The move comes as chancellor Gordon Brown is expected to give the go-ahead for the project as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review announcement planned for 12 July.

The Department for Transport was this week finalising a contract with a newly created rail training body — the Centre for Rail Skills — to carry out the audit.

A Whitehall source said that the government was concerned that if it went ahead with Crossrail the rail industry would be unable to deliver it.

The source said that the government feared that the industry would not be able to cope with the size of the project on top of the modernisation programme of the West Coast Main Line. The Whitehall source said: "The rail industry is already suffering from a shortage of skilled workers; the government is keen to find out the exact state of the skills capacity in the rail industry."

The source said Norman Haste, the chief executive of Crossrail, was meeting industry officials and unions to win political support for the scheme. However, he is also understood to have reservations about the capacity of the labour market. His concerns centre on the skills shortfall in the UK's tunnelling and boring sectors.

We are waiting for the dust to settle to carry out a labour intelligence survey

David Tournay, Centre for Rail Skills

David Tournay, a manager at the Centre for Rail Skills, said his organisation would begin the review after Network Rail had completed its restructuring. He said: "We are waiting for the dust to settle in the industry and then we will carry out a labour intelligence survey."

Tournay said that the audit would concentrate on identifying areas where there were severe skills gaps. The centre would draw up recommendations for the government.

The Centre for Rail Skills, which is owned by the rail industry, was established last year to help tackle the skills crisis in the sector.

The organisation is preparing to become a government flagship sector skills council. It is understood that the centre will eventually begin to provide training for the rail industry at a national level.