It was a high-profile undertaking that could make history. Known as the “Crossrail,” the proposed £15 billion east-west, 118-kilometer fully digital rail system was one of the most complex infrastructure projects in the world. Upon completion, it would speed 250 million passengers a year through the heart of London, slashing journey times while transforming travel and life in the city.
Crossrail Ltd was formed in 2001 to take on the immense civil engineering challenge. After years of planning, public debate, and government approvals, the company and its network of partners broke ground in 2008. Constructing the mixed railway above and below ground involved serious challenges and risks as crews worked 10 stories beneath London to install advanced digital infrastructure and build 21 kilometers of tunnel and 20 major vertical structures. The first years of construction work brought Crossrail much acclaim, as the tunneling and civil engineering efforts produced unprecedented, extraordinary outcomes.
Crossrail started to run into difficulties after 2016, as it moved into the integration of the railway, a phase that required stitching together the railway’s 37 independent but interconnected sub-projects—each with its own team of contractor organizations. As those efforts became increasingly challenged, Crossrail’s leadership announced in August 2018 that its opening— scheduled for the end of that year—would be delayed. The news caught most stakeholders off guard and by surprise, including elected leaders and the media. Soon after, the government sponsors replaced most of Crossrail’s Board and Executive Team, looking for new leadership and governance to take this critical program from being stuck to being delivered.
Amid newly realized internal issues and heightened external scrutiny, Mark Wild, Crossrail’s new CEO, called JMW.
JMW was brought in to support the Crossrail Leadership Team and its broader network of contractor partners in getting the program back on the path to delivery. JMW’s first order of business was a candid assessment of the mindsets with which various teams were approaching the project and one another. Their findings would be the foundation for Crossrail leadership’s work moving forward.
The new railway officially opened in May 2022 as the “Elizabeth Line,” renamed in 2016 in honor of Queen Elizabeth II. More than a million journeys were made in the line’s first five days of operation as London’s mayor deemed the railway a “roaring success.”
It took significant human and leadership effort, as well as more time and financial investment than originally planned, to reach this meaningful milestone. What may be its greatest achievement was that a cast of thousands of highly committed people aligned on a whole new way of working together that turned a tide which had become severely flawed and rose to the occasion of extraordinary challenges of overcoming those flaws while navigating through the impacts of an unprecedented global pandemic.