Crossrail Q&A: Is £14.8bn rail link under London good value?
Developer says Crossrail will slash journey times, ease congestion and drive economic growth. But will it?
SIX months ago, the company building Crossrail celebrated a milestone: the completion of the first five miles of tunnels beneath London. The Daily Mail acknowledged the achievement with a punning headline, "London's most boring project". But the fact that another 21 miles of "twin-bore" tunnel are yet to be dug beneath the capital highlights the extraordinary scale of the £14.8bn scheme.
So, what is Crossrail?
Crossrail is a new rail link that will "change the way people travel around the capital", says the project's official website. It's also Europe's largest infrastructure project. The 73-mile high-frequency, high-capacity line will stretch from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. Parts of it run above ground, but trains will pass beneath London in tunnels up to 36 metres from the surface. Crossrail trains will stop at 38 stations including nine brand new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House and Woolwich.
When did work start?
Well, plans for a new railway across London were being kicked around in the 19th century, the Daily Telegraph says. Crossrail, in its present form, was originally mooted as part of a study into London's railway system in 1974. Work on the scheme finally began in May 2009. But the Telegraph notes that Crossrail has "lived in the shadows of more glamorous, headline-grabbing projects such as the London Olympics".
When will it open?
Officially, it will open in 2019. But Londoners should be able to board a train in late 2018.
Who's picking up the bill?
Most of the £14.8bn - £7.1bn of it, to be precise - is coming from the Mayor of London via Transport for London and the Greater London Authority, says the Financial Times. The government is kicking in £4.7bn in grant funding and London businesses are paying £4.1bn "through a variety of mechanisms". The funding package was fixed in 2007 and confirmed by the coalition in 2010.
Why do we need it?
Crossrail will deliver a number of benefits, its developers say. The big boast is that it will add an extra ten per cent of capacity to London's overstressed rail network – the single largest increase in the capital's transport capacity since before World War II. The extra capacity will reduce congestion by between 20 to 60 per cent on lines including the Bakerloo, Central, District and Jubilee lines as well as Southeastern trains.
Crossrail will also "dramatically reduce" journey times for those making journeys across London, its developer says. For example, the journeys from Heathrow to Liverpool Street and Slough to Tottenham Court Road will both be cut from 55 minutes to 32 minutes. Liverpool Street to Abbey Wood will be cut from 40 minutes to 18 minutes and Paddington to Canary Wharf will be cut from 30 minutes to 16 minutes.
Passengers in south-east London will benefit from some of the "most significant" time savings, Crossrail says. For example, the journey from Abbey Wood to Bond Street will be around 20 minutes quicker and passengers travelling from Abbey Wood to Heathrow will be able to shave around 40 minutes off their journey.
Any other benefits?
Crossrail is touted as the first transport service to connect all of London's major business centres via a single line. It will bring an additional 1.5 million people within a 45-minute commute of major employment centres such as the West End, the City and Canary Wharf. The proposed economic benefits of this improved connectivity are numerous. Areas along the route will be regenerated, it is claimed, and employers whose businesses are located near stations will have access to a larger pool of skilled workers. That should drive private sector investment and increase employment opportunities. For example, it is forecast that more than 100,000 additional jobs could be created across the Thames Gateway due to the Crossrail stations at Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood. It all adds up to a £42bn injection into the economy according to one estimate.
That all sounds great. Does anyone oppose Crossrail?
Well, not everyone was happy about the tunnelling. Paul McCartney lodged a complaint about the project in 2006 because he believed trains running beneath his studio in Soho would disrupt recording sessions and make the building unsafe. Other complaints came from music fans who bemoaned the demolition of much-loved music venues including the London Astoria and the nearby Metro to make way for Crossrail development at the Tottenham Court Road site. And there have been accusations that Crossrail "bullied" some residents who were served with compulsory purchase orders into selling their homes cheaply.
Are those the only gripes?
No. In August, disability campaigners held a rally protesting against the lack of "step-free access" to some Crossrail stations, the BBC reports. The campaigners say seven Crossrail stations including Hanwell, Seven Kings, Manor Park and Maryland will be inaccessible to people in wheelchairs. Estimates put the cost of making every Crossrail station fully accessible at "0.2 per cent" of the project's total budget – a small price to pay, say campaigners.
Is it a completely new line?
Not really. Parts of the line and some of the stations will be shared with existing services in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Essex. The Maidenhead to Paddington stretch will also operate on existing track.
How many people will it move?
A lot. Each Crossrail train has ten cars and can carry a maximum of 1,500 passengers. It's a high-frequency service, with as many as 24 trains per hour passing through the central tunnel section in peak times. Crossrail forecasts that by 2026 the service will be carrying more than 200,000 passengers a day during the morning peak period. An estimated 200 million people will use the service each year. ·