DfT says Crossrail client team needed stronger powers

Crossrail was £4bn over budget and more than three years late, in part due to its client body not having enough powers, the Department for Transport (DfT) has said.

The rail line, which runs from Berkshire to Essex via central London, finally opened in May 2022 at a cost of £18.8bn, following years of delays to the commissioning and completion of construction on the new line.

The megaproject was backed by the DfT and Transport for London (TfL), which signed a sponsors’ agreement in 2008 – under which a 10 to 15-person joint sponsor team would scrutinise the publicly owned master-developer Crossrail Limited.

Now, the DfT and the Infrastructure Projects Authority have published a report, Sponsoring a Major Project: the Crossrail Experience, which aims to “acknowledge and reflect on what caused the delay and increased costs, and why”.

The report says the joint sponsors team was only resourced to be “small, light-touched and relatively junior”, adding that it “did not have the capabilities, experience or contractual levers to act on important and growing concerns about Crossrail Limited’s delivery”.

It states “external scrutiny did not surface the scale or impacts of the risks”. The delays and budget pressures to Crossrail were only announced in August 2018, four months before the line – since renamed the Elizabeth line – was due to open.

The report notes varying evidence about whether project representatives at Crossrail Limited sufficiently raised concerns over risks to the programme.

However, it concludes: “Project representatives did not have powers to intervene, merely to warn. It was for the joint sponsors to intervene but they lacked the experience and contractual authority.”

It also says the joint sponsors “lacked controls over the emerging design”, as Crossrail Limited interpreted its brief from the DfT and TfL and translated it into functional requirements – adding there should have been a role for standard-setting by the joint sponsors team.

“The joint sponsors had no approval role in the evolving [design] solution, as per their intended arm’s-length positioning in the governance ecosystem; doing so would have contradicted the outcome-based delivery model,” the report notes.

It also says the DfT and TfL struggled to find suitably qualified people to lead the sponsorship team, pointing out that it would continue to be a problem for other public megaprojects that use the sponsorship model.

“Positioned at the top of the project ecosystem, a sponsor needs to draw on a combination of strong, recent and relevant practical delivery experience, senior stakeholder management skills, credible sector experience and astute leadership skills,” the report states.

“The civil service career path does not regularly produce such people and potential conflicts of interest may deter private sector organisations from expressing interest in a sponsorship role. 

“The challenge is to attract such highly experienced people into the civil service model and retain them.”

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