Crossrail to Heathrow in 2021?

Amidst all the reports this week on the openings of Crossrail is one that was greatly missed (as well as another important factor too!) Everyone has been saying Crossrail (as the Elizabeth Line) will possibly be open in late 2021 (autumn whatever.) In a nutshell that was the central core. Then the east side (via Pudding Mill Lane in May 2022, and the west side (via Royal Oak) in December 2022. These would be as per the timetable changes which would fit in with the national rail services. It does sort of make sense. But its not the complete picture.

This post looks at the possibility raised by TfL that Crossrail (Elizabeth Line) could operate between Heathrow and Abbey Wood in 2021. It also looks at other aspects of the opening dates and also the background to that mysterious penalty clause agreed between TfL and the Canary Wharf Group.

The main players at this particular meeting in County Hall on the 6th January 2020 were Simon Kilonback (TfL Chief Finance Officer), Mike Brown (TfL Commissioner) and Heidi Alexander (in her role as Deputy Mayor for Transport). It wasn’t a particularly out of the ordinary meeting however some of the things that were being discussed were to an extent revealing.

tflatgla - Crossrail to Heathrow in 2021?

Left to right: TfL’s Simon Kilonback, Mike Brown; GLA’s Heidi Alexander and David Gallie.

According to TfL’s representations at the GLA Budget and Performance Committee, Crossrail could be opening between Abbey Wood and Heathrow Airport at the end of 2021.

Its clear from TfL’s assertions they want to be able to gain the best they can out of the previous delays and maximise the potential revenue from the Elizabeth Line. Clearly the sooner the central core links throughout to Heathrow, this would be a big win for TfL. It’s not yet a definitive option but its clear from the discussions its something that’s being looked at.

In a nutshell the central core cant really operate on its own with a handful of trains from Plumstead depot, thus access has to be facilitated to either Old Oak or Ilford depots. In that event then in this example trains from Old Oak will operate the central core services – and it seems silly not to facilitate these so they can too work to and from Heathrow as no changes are needed to the timetables. The other factor is TfL’s services are now mostly in charge of the slow lines out of Paddington thus in the remote event there was indeed any pathing constraints between trains going down in to the central core and in to Paddington main line station, it would be TfL’s onus to tweak its own services slightly to prevent any possible conflicts at Royal Oak. Clearly in this case TfL is master of its own destiny!

If anyone wants to check that TfL have suggested the Elizabeth Line can operate through the central core to Heathrow (and verify that I am not imagining things) here’s the link to that particular segment of the Budget and Performance Committee.

One of the more revealing things was Mike Brown explained the dates for the opening of Crossrail were not yet cast. He claimed he himself didn’t know what was being planned, and he claimed would not know more until he had attended a meeting with the Crossrail board on Thursday 8th January. Its known on the 6th January Caroline Pidgeon tweeted these assumed dates as she wanted everyone to know what was being touted. As a result however everyone’s been writing this week as if these were the latest definitive set of opening figures when its clear Mike Brown said they were not. He warned the dates were a pragmatic approach and the meeting on Thursday would revel exactly what, if anything, Crossrail has in mind regarding opening dates. Here is the segment of the video where TfL’s Commissioner discusses this.

In terms of any actual opening dates, Mike Brown explained that although fairly specific ranges of dates regarding opening of the line could be given, he warned any unforeseen matters could set things back:

I am as confident as I can be you know I never would give a cast iron absolute hundred percent guarantee but given where I am right now and as confident as I can be. I would just say as again the CEO might well have said, that if there is a course at this moment of unforeseen safety critical risk that emerges with the signalling system, so that something that’s categorised as an issue with the software that could potentially lead to some major event on safety, then clearly that could put some further time and cost delay on the project. But that is not what is envisaged at the moment and there is confidence that it can be given….

That Canary Wharf penalty agreement…

The other factor a lot of observers missed out from this committee meeting was the ‘contract’ with Canary Wharf. This does sort of put a different perspective on things because it indicates that TfL are really not quite so certain they can even get the Elizabeth Line to open in 2021 and its a possible reason why they have got this particular legal agreement withdrawn. I’m not any sort of legal expert but I will try to explain what happened. In a nutshell TfL were legally obliged to pay Canary Wharf £15 million for each year beyond 2021 that Crossrail did not open.

The origin for these TfL penalties came from the Jubilee Line. In a manner similar to Crossrail Canary Wharf Group poured millions in to the Jubilee Line extension project. The group stipulated that strict performance figures should be achieved on the new tube line by the mid 2000’s and if not significant penalties would be incurred. The performance target wasn’t achieved, however instead of imposing penalties, the Canary Wharf group permitted the money be ploughed back in order to getting the line sorted completely. By 2009 this still hadn’t been achieved and the Jubilee line was poor in terms of performance. 2009 was the point the penalties finally kicked in. TfL was legally obliged to pay significant penalties each year these failures occurred. Its said by 2012 TfL had paid a total sum of £25 million in penalties to the Canary Wharf Group – which tells us the penalty each year had been about £8.3 million.

canarywharf2008 - Crossrail to Heathrow in 2021?

Canary Wharf giving evidence to the Crossrail Bill in 2008 regarding penalties TfL would need to pay.

This time round Canary Wharf Group built the Crossrail station but came to an agreement with TfL that if trains were not running through the station by the end of 2021, again there would be significant penalties. The fines would be £15 million each year the deadlines were missed, however I do not know the detail of the agreement that was drawn up for Crossrail other than the fines were £15 million on either side (one being for not completion of the station and the other for not providing a train service.)

The most fullest explanation that can be found of this particular arrangement would be this report from City AM who say they had sight of the agreement itself via an email.

canarywharf2018 - Crossrail to Heathrow in 2021?

City AM reveals they had sight of the legal agreement via an email originating from Simon Wright.

What TfL have done is to get this agreement withdrawn. It means TfL do not face further costs if Crossrail/Elizabeth Line somehow misses the deadline of 31st December 2021. It may well be nothing but at the same time if anything does go amiss, being the line does not open in 2021, TfL can now rest assured they do not have to pay these penalties.

No-one (besides a few in TfL/Canary Wharf Group and the few at City AM) have seen this agreement so its not known exactly what it constitutes, nor is there any knowledge (besides again the few) what the new (2019) agreement entails. Caroline Pidgeon explained the committee had requested details of this financial penalty time and time again but without any success. As Simon Kilonback explained, the agreement was confidential between TfL and the Canary Wharf Group.

The segment on the video of the Budget and Performance Committee which refers to this penalty is here.

The only news source I found that explained the facts as they stood at this moment in time was was Dave Hill’s OnLondon. But even he did not discuss the Heathrow option.

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