Infrastructure issues: Crossrail and other struggling rail projects

- London, UK
Abbey Wood Elizabeth Line roundel

Four months after the original planned opening of Crossrail, reports have been released today that could push the Elizabeth Line's inaugural journey back to 2021. That prediction is, according to a source that spoke to the BBC, the worst-case scenario but even in the best case it won’t come before spring 2020 – nearly two years behind schedule. The primary reason for the delay is down to the signalling system, which owing to a software mismatch between the infrastructure installed in the 13 miles of tunnels and on the 70 Bombardier trains. A spokesperson from Crossrail said that signalling testing – currently in the 'dynamic' phase that test functional behaviour and performance – is “progressing well”.

The rail network that will link Reading in the west with Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east is also suffering major setbacks on the construction of the train stations. 10 stations will be built for the 41-station Elizabeth Line: Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood, Paddington and Bond Street – the last two of which are reportedly experiencing the most significant delays. The station building for Abbey Wood was completed on schedule in October 2017, a four-year project that now includes a large ticket hall and step-free access, but as can you see from the above image (taken today) the progress of the beleaguered Elizabeth Line is writ large, with its distinctive purple roundel mostly covered up.

Much has been made of the delays to the Elizabeth Line, which when it does begin working will increase central London rail capacity by 10%, but it is far from the first infrastructure project that has run over schedule… and it's unlikely to be the last. Though many more remain in our far-from-conclusive list, we thought it only fair that we look at some other rail projects around the world that are also experiencing similar time, engineering and budgetary problems, starting with Stuttgart.

Stuttgart 21

Stuttgart 21 [Credit - Deutsche Bahn]Known as Stuttgart 21, plans for a major redevelopment of the city city-centre station began nearly 15 years ago in 2015 but completion of the hub – which will one day comprise part of one of the longest high-speed lines in Europe linking Paris Vienna and Bratislava – won’t be ready until around 2023. The major work that is being undertaken is not expected to affect the services that run through the station, but with the total cost of the project expected to hit nearly €10 billion – four-times the original €2.5 billion budget – that will be of scant consolation to the station’s critics. 75% of the region’s residents are predicted to experience significantly better connections after Stuttgart 21 has been built but it certainly has had its detractors; in 2010 30,000 people marched in protest because of its growing cost and environmental impact.

California High-Speed Rail Project

California High Speed Rail [Credit San Fran County Trans Auth]Linking the US East Coast’s cities of San Francisco and San Diego in double-quick time was the vision for the next rail project on our list, a reported $77 billion network that would give the North American country its first true high-speed line. That dream has appeared to have hit the buffers in early 2019 after President Trump announced his demands that the $3.5 billion of government funds it had given to the state of California should be returned. The Democrat California governor that is currently behind the construction of the high-speed line, Gavin Newsom, said no money would be returned. The line is reportedly 13 years behind schedule and $44 billion over budget, a situation that has led planners to consider running new services on existing commuter lines that would make its planned 220mph top speed impossible.


In September, Israel opened the majority of its controversial high-speed link between Tel Aviv airport and Jerusalem last year, the Middle Eastern country ‘s first electrically-powered train. It opened for service in late 2018 – 10 years later than originally scheduled. With a budget first set at around £600 million (2.8 billion Israeli New Shekel) in 2008, that figure rose to around £1.5 billion just two years later. Building began in 2001 on the network that is referred to as the high-speed line (despite its 160kmh top speed being below the generally accepted definition of high speed) to differentiate it from the scenic, but much slower line that takes around 90 minutes. The new line completes the journey in around 20 minutes. The significantly improved time is also thanks to two sections of the line that are predominantly underground and which run through the West Bank that is – internationally –  considered occupied Palestinian land.


Honolulu Ansaldo train [Credit HART]The final trip on our journey takes us to the sun-kissed islands of Hawaii and U'ahu. The third-largest island of the chain of islands is aiming to install an impressive 20-mile elevated rail project that unfortunately for residents won’t be ready until at least 2025 – seven years later than originally planned. Like the other examples in this feature, the budget has also got somewhat out of control, with the original $5 billion nearly doubling to $9 billion. Construction of the most complicated section of the line – which will run through heavily congested downtown Honolulu – is yet to be started. The progress of the proposed 21-station network has not been helped by the resignation of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) executive director in 2016, following reports of financial mismanagement after a city audit found irregularities and inadequate records.

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