London’s transport chief has warned the government that the £19bn ($25bn) Crossrail project faces being “mothballed” if ministers do not agree to urgent funding to keep the rail link going, it has emerged.
Andy Byford, transport commissioner in the capital, wrote this week to Bernadette Kelly, the permanent secretary at the Department for Transport (DfT), looking to secure £80m of immediate support, Sky News reported.
The 188km underground rail project, which is officially known as the Elizabeth line, has faced ongoing delays and is more than three years late. Once eventually open it will link the north and south parts of the city with areas in Berkshire, Hertfordshire and Surrey.
Crossrail said earlier this year it could not commit to an opening date, after the original launch date of December 2018 was missed. Costs have already crept up from £15.9bn to around £20bn, with the government forced to cough up the extra cash.
Its central section is now forecast to open during the first half of 2022.
"If agreement is not reached this week, we will have no option but to mothball the project and to seek alternative governance for its eventual completion," Byford’s letter said, according to a Sky News Whitehall source who had been briefed on it.
"I sincerely hope that we can avoid such a Doomsday scenario."
Whitehall sources added that Byford told Kelly Crossrail was "no longer able to make any further financial commitments".
Byford, who started his career as a uniformed station foreman for London Underground, started his role as transport chief in May this year. He has since fought to secure funding to keep London’s bus and tube network running throughout the current health crisis.
He has spent 30 years in the transport industry, including time as director of operations at Southern Railway.
It comes after London mayor Sadiq Khan earlier this week said that Crossrail 2 is “ready to be restarted” in the future despite this month agreeing to shelve the project in return for a bailout for Transport for London (TfL).
A DfT spokesperson told Yahoo Finance: “The government remains committed to the efficient completion of the project, in a way that is fair to UK taxpayers, and that ensures London - as the primary beneficiary of Crossrail – bears the additional costs.
“We are working with the Greater London Authority and Transport for London to develop a funding solution to see Crossrail’s completion.”
“It is unfortunate, in contrast to other construction projects, the mayor chose to unnecessarily halt work on Crossrail during the pandemic.”
Yahoo Finance also reached out to TfL on Saturday for comment.
Watch: Why has Crossrail been delayed again?