Plans to open Crossrail next summer are an “aspiration” amid “very challenging” conditions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport has said.

Heidi Alexander said project bosses must “look in detail” at the impact of the virus before committing to the summer 2021 start date.

It comes just two weeks after the chairman of the long-delayed rail link pledged to “meet or beat” the schedule for opening its central section.

The Elizabeth line will link Reading, Berkshire, and Heathrow in the west and Shenfield, Essex, in the east to central London, Bexley and Greenwich.

The railway will increase public transport capacity in the capital – vital if Covid-19 social distancing rules are kept in place.

Originally due to open in December 2018, current plans will see the Paddington to Abbey Wood section open two and a half years late.

Costs have also spiralled from £14.8 billion to as much as £18.25 billion at the last estimate.

'Like an offshore oil rig'

Most construction work on Crossrail was paused during coronavirus lockdown – but project bosses remain optimistic about opening next summer.

Some niche work continued on site, with 2,000 staff also working from home.

As construction restarted earlier this month, chief executive Mark Wild said his team will “blockade” the central part of the line “like an offshore oil rig” and work 24/7 to get it done on time.

But the Local Democracy Service has previously reported ongoing delays at the project – even before lockdown.

A series of consultant’s reports on the scheme highlight growing hold ups and criticise optimistic targets.

'Very challenging' times

Now Deputy Mayor Heidi Alexander has admitted that while next summer is still an “aspiration” for opening, the virus has brought new uncertainty.

“None of us know what’s going to happen in the autumn – whether there will be a repeat wave of infections or perhaps repeated waves,” she told the London Assembly transport committee yesterday (Monday 15 June).

“With a lot of construction projects you need to look at what the implications are,” she added. “To be honest, it’s very challenging at the moment.”

Ms Alexander said Crossrail would “need to look in detail at what their programme is going forwards” before committing to the summer 2021 date.

Promises must be kept

A spokesperson for Crossrail said the Deputy Mayor’s comments did not contradict earlier commitments – claiming they simply showed a different emphasis.

The project has faced challenges from coronavirus like all businesses, but the focus remains on opening in summer next year or sooner, they said

“Crossrail is working hard to ensure that the programme remains on track and is ready to commence intensive operational testing, known as trial running, at the earliest opportunity,” the spokesperson said.

“This includes rescheduling parts of our programme and continuing to innovate and adopt flexible ways of working as we move towards this next important phase.”

But London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon said any Elizabeth line targets must be achievable.

“Everyone wants Crossrail to open as soon as possible,” she said. “But providing false hopes after so many disappointing delays is the last thing Londoners need.

“If there is one lesson that should be learnt from Crossrail it is the need for greater transparency and honesty over the real progress being made in completing infrastructure schemes.”