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Elizabeth Line Opens Today

May 2022
Antony Smith and Anna Braden

As the long-awaited Elizabeth Line opens its doors to the public today, it is a momentous day for all those involved in the largest construction project in Europe. The infrastructure project has not been without its issues, least of all the delays and cost overruns, however after 13 years of construction, 42km of new tunnels and 10,000 workers, it is a huge achievement, which other mega projects should learn useful lessons.

From today, the Elizabeth line will run a new passenger service between ten newly constructed London stations from Paddington to Abbey Wood across central London (however Bond Street Station will not open until later in the year). The full direct line from Reading to Shenfield will not be open until May 2023.

We were happy to have been involved in the project, from providing contract law advice in relation to conversion contracts to Option E, providing legal advice in relation to claims relating to the new tunnels at Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road, and in relation to the sudden collapse of the steel frame structure of the tunnel conveyor system.

Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line as it is now named, was due to open in December 2018, however the project suffered significant delay due to problems with the signalling systems and the renovations at some of the stations in West London, including Bond Street which fell significantly behind schedule. Costs also overrun significantly as the project was originally budgeted to cost £14.8bn, however its total costs are now estimated at £19bn. The complexity of the project was cited as one of the reasons for the delays and cost overruns.

It is also important to recognise the health and safety risk of infrastructure projects of this scale. The project saw a number of tragedies including a worker being killed when part of the tunnel collapsed, and two other people were seriously injured in other incidents. The contractor, BFK, was fined over £1m for health and safety breaches by the HSE. In addition, four people died from collisions with Crossrail trucks.

With other major projects, such as HS2 underway, it is critical that lessons are learned from some of the issues and successes that Crossrail faced to ensure the success of future similar mega projects.

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