Mayor Pressured to Act on Elizabeth Line Delays

Cancellations reached the highest of any service in the country

The Elizabeth line. Picture: TfL


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October 25, 2023

Sadiq Khan has been told to take tougher action on the Elizabeth line’s poor performance in recent months, as it emerged the £20bn line suffered disruption every weekday last week.

The east-west train had already struggled with historically low punctuality over the summer, when one in six of its services was delayed or cancelled.

Now, the Mail Online has reported that disruption was experienced on the line every day between Monday and Friday last week. The line also suffered six separate issues in just over 24 hours between Thursday and Friday morning.

Caroline Pidgeon, the London Assembly’s Liberal Democrat group leader, said: “Services on the Elizabeth Line have clearly deteriorated over the course of the summer.

“As London’s flagship piece of transport infrastructure, customers rightly demand more reliable levels of service.

“Work to solve issues with overhead power lines and signalling equipment must be the absolute priority and I would expect to see the Mayor pushing Transport for London (TfL) to deliver this as fast as possible.”

TfL has apologised for the disruption and said it is “urgently reviewing recent incidents”.

The new overhead power lines referred to by Ms Pidgeon are thought to be an important component in reducing the line’s problems, but work to install them is not expected to start until next year at the earliest.

Disruption has also been caused by a number of issues on the Network Rail route west of Paddington – which is used by the Elizabeth line along with national rail services.

Network Rail said earlier this month it has “brought in industry experts from the UK and the continent, as well as the manufacturers of some of our components, to understand precisely why some of our infrastructure isn’t performing how it should, and this forms the basis of our improvement plans”.

Ms Pidgeon was joined in her criticism of the Mayor by Green Assembly Member (AM) Siân Berry, who said: “Passengers deserve the luxury service they were promised.

“The frequency of the trains through central London was genuinely transformative, but many people living on the ends of the lines absolutely depend on these trains running – so there is real harm being done with this sudden spike in problems.

“I want to know what the Mayor is doing to dig down into the source of this disruption, so that we don’t see a repeat of the failures of leadership while the Elizabeth line was being built.”

Susan Hall AM – Conservative mayoral candidate in next year’s City Hall election – meanwhile posted on X, formerly Twitter, “Once again Sadiq Khan is failing to keep London moving.

“Around four years late and four billion over budget, the Elizabeth line has faced constant disruptions since opening last May. It is simply not acceptable for a brand-new service to be this unreliable”.

The line was originally scheduled to be open in December 2018, but took until May 2022 – a delay of three and a half years.

Data from the Office for Rail and Road (ORR) last month showed that only 82.5 per cent of Elizabeth line trains arrived on time between April and June – down 5.6 points on the first three months of the year.

Separate ORR figures also revealed that in the four weeks to August 19, the Elizabeth line had the most cancellations in the country – 9.1 per cent of services.

This cancellation rate has dropped to 4.3 per cent in the four weeks to September 16, but that is still the joint second highest figure since Mr Khan opened the line in May 2022.

London TravelWatch, the capital’s transport watchdog, has said it wants to meet senior TfL operations staff to discuss what can be done to improve services.

A spokesman for the organisation said: “We’re seeking assurances from TfL that there are robust plans in place to address the issues at hand – including faulty train doors, signalling and disruptive emergency engineering work.”

Responding to criticism about the line’s reliability, Sadiq Khan told the Local Democracy Reporting Service, “It was raised at the last TfL board meeting, because the commissioner [Andy Lord] himself understands that the level of service on the Elizabeth line hasn’t been as good as we hoped.

“Of course it’s been a source of pride to us, how popular the line is. But it’s not good enough, the concerns that have been raised.

“We are speaking to Network Rail – a lot of these issues are to do with [the part of the line] west as you go past Paddington, and east as you go past Liverpool Street, which aren’t TfL lines. We are working more closely with Network Rail.

“I fully understand the concerns commuters have. The commissioner has apologised for the service received by commuters – I echo that apology.”

He added: “It’s really important [that] people receive a first class service from a first class line. It’s not been first class on some occasions and I apologise for that.”

Howard Smith, Elizabeth line director, said, “We sincerely apologise for the disruption that has affected some Elizabeth line services recently and we recognise that recent delays and cancellations have been frustrating for our customers.

“The causes have included problems with the signalling and power supply on Network Rail tracks in the west; trespassers on the line, where we have to stop services for safety reasons, and some track and train faults.

“As well as urgently reviewing recent incidents, we are working hard with Network Rail and Alstom, who maintain the trains, to minimise the impact on our customers and provide a safe and reliable railway.”

Noah Vickers - Local Democracy Reporter