'No guarantees' Crossrail will be open by 2021, but bosses optimistic

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Media captionBusinesses warn the delay to Crossrail is putting their future in doubt

Sitting in the front office of Nim Bhadare's small minicab company in Abbey Wood on the outskirts of London, the driver explains to me why a map of Crossrail hangs on his wall.

"I wanted this to become a transport hub," he says. "All these new passengers would come off the new trains and into here. But someone has pulled the handbrake."

Nim tells me he spent £35,000 upgrading his systems and employing more drivers for an increase in punters.

The east-west route, officially called the Elizabeth Line, will run between Reading and Shenfield in Essex, through central London.

It had been due to open in December 2018 but that had been postponed to allow for more testing.

But because of the delay, those customers Nim had been counting on have not arrived and now he has to pay back his loans.

If it does not open by 2021, he thinks he will go under.

Up and down the Crossrail line, I have been speaking to businesses about the impact of the delay.

Nim doubts he will be in business if Crossrail is delayed again.

Image caption Bond Street station will take a while to complete, bosses say

Crossrail is currently entering a crucial stage if it is to hit its new opening window between October 2020 and March 2021.

The delay has been caused broadly by station delays and problems with the three sets of signalling not "talking" to the new trains.

With the signalling, Crossrail say it is now slowly getting rid of the bugs in the system.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption The ticket hall for the new Elizabeth Line at Tottenham Court Road station

But a trial run of schedules and routes is yet to begin.

Due to current safety restrictions, it can only run four trains at any one time on the line.

What is Crossrail?

Image copyright Getty Images

Crossrail is a new railway that will run beneath London from Reading and Heathrow in the west through central tunnels across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.

Construction began in 2009 and it is Europe's biggest infrastructure project - it had been due to open in December 2018 although last summer that was pushed back to autumn 2019.

It has been officially named the Elizabeth Line in honour of the Queen and will serve 41 stations.

An estimated 200 million passengers will use the new underground line annually, increasing central London rail capacity by 10% - the largest increase since World War Two.

Crossrail says the new line will connect Paddington to Canary Wharf in 17 minutes.

Despite this, I was given a sneak peak at the new and nearly completed Tottenham Court Road station, which looks like an underground cathedral and will certainly surprise Londoners.

Bond Street's new station, however, looks like a building site.

Crossrail boss Mark Wild says Bond Street is 18 months away from being operational and it will not be open to the public even if the rest of the line opens in March 2021.

So to make sure they can start the trial running of trains, teams are racing to build an emergency escape route through the station for train crews.

But even that is a challenge. Trial running must begin by March 2020 if bosses wish to keep the scheduled opening dates.

Mark Wild is optimistic the line will be open by March 2021 but he cannot give a 100% guarantee.

And that will worry many who are waiting desperately for it to open.

More on this on Inside Out on BBC One London at 7.30pm on 16 September or on iPlayer.

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