Until a few days ago, reporting of the almost completed Crossrail project had been focused chiefly on the impact of the new Elizabeth Line on local house prices, ‘Still time to buy into Acton’s Crossrail hot spot’ being a typical example. Now we learn that the project’s much repeated if slightly fudged claim about being delivered within an overall £14.8 billion ‘funding envelope’ has almost certainly been blown. A £190 million budget overrun for the year to March, and the departure of chief executive Andrew Wolstenholme to join BAE Systems, were the first indications of problems that may now require a £500 million bailout to see the job finished in time for its scheduled December opening by the Queen.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling will confirm the position in a statement next month. If it’s true that the new tunnels — or more likely, the associated surface works, power systems and signalling — have ended up in a half-billion-pound black hole, it will be a pity but not a catastrophe. Crossrail was about to be hailed as a showcase of world-class UK engineering skills, a boon to London commuters and visitors, and reassurance that we really are capable of delivering major infrastructure projects according to plan. Two out of three ain’t bad, given the formidable challenge of digging across the capital. Let’s not cancel the celebrations yet.