Caroline Pidgeon has been a Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly since 2008, commanding cross-party respect, not least for her grasp of transport issues. She is a past chair of the Assembly’s transport committee and currently its deputy chair. This is her first guest article for On London and, I hope, not the last.
We are now in a 500-day countdown to the start of the first Crossrail services running through London. The route, to be officially known as the Elizabeth Line, will cover 100 km from Reading to the west of the capital and Heathrow, through new tunnels under Central London to Woolwich and Abbey Wood in the south-east of the city and Shenfield in Essex.
Crossrail will transform rail transport in London and the surrounding region, increasing passenger capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the capital. It will deliver wonderful new trains, 200 metres long, the same length as two football pitches. It will also deliver 10 new stations and key improvements to many others, making all the stations on the route step-free and therefore accessible for everyone.
Yet, before Crossrail is even up and running many businesses and politicians are calling for a firm commitment to be made over Crossrail 2. In response, some might think London’s appetite for expensive infrastructure projects is simply insatiable. Surely the needs of the whole of the UK’s transport systems need to looked at, as opposed to just those of its capital? These are understandable questions. But I believe they can be answered and fully addressed.
To begin with, it is worth noting that Crossrail is not just a London project. It will benefit a huge number of people outside London too. And when you look at plans for Crossrail 2, its benefits will extend even further, to train passengers from as far away as Hampshire and East Anglia. And that is even before looking at the supply chain of work that such a huge project creates for companies across, quite literally, every part of the UK.
The second key issue to stress is that of timing. While the opening of parts of Crossrail is little more than a year away, its genesis has taken many decades. People need to be reminded that the first serious proposals for it were made as far back as in 1974, the year Edward Heath was replaced by Harold Wilson as Prime Minister and Richard Nixon stood down as US President over Watergate. And for those less interested in political history, it was also the year Mud were in the charts with Tiger Feet and Bagpuss was first aired on UK television, seen by most viewers in black and white.
I really hope the delays and other complications that faced Crossrail will not be repeated with Crossrail 2. We cannot face anything close to 44 years from first proposals to completion again. Let’s not kid ourselves about the realities: any substantial transport project faces many hurdles, involving legislation, planning permission, extensive local consultation and finance arrangements being put in place. And that is all before construction can commence. Simply ensuring Crossrail 2 is up and running by the early 2030s will be a challenge. But it is precisely because of this that steps need to be taken now.
Around the UK there is rightly a debate about the need for increased transport infrastructure, especially the electrification of many rail routes. But there are important points to make about the financing of such projects.
Firstly, it is not a zero sum game. Delaying investment for Crossrail 2 will not automatically benefit railway infrastructure in the south west, north east and north west of England, Yorkshire or parts of Wales and Scotland.
Secondly, the capital and the south east do not just get a cheque from the Treasury covering the full cost of every transport project they desire. Canary Wharf made a significant contribution towards the upgrade of the London Underground Jubilee Line and over 60 per cent of funding for Crossrail has come from Londoners and London businesses. Any deal for Crossrail 2 will almost certainly involve 50 per cent of the cash coming from those same sources, with the condition that it is provided before the project is completed, rather than repaid over many years after it starts to operate. That ability to raise funding locally should be extended to other parts of the country.
A third point on finance is that London has benefited greatly from what is almost certainly the lowest possible form of lending in the world, by going to the European Investment Bank. Crossrail alone has received £1bn from that source. Although not yet obvious to the public there is something truly disturbing about Boris Johnson while Mayor of London overseeing so much cheap finance flowing into infrastructure from this EU institution, then deciding to play a key role in ripping the UK out of the EU. Making the raising of finance for Crossrail 2 a greater challenge will seen as part of his legacy.
So just what are the arguments for Crossrail 2?
Above all else it will help deal with population growth in the London region. In the capital alone, numbers are set to grow to 10 million by 2030. Those additional people, combined with an influx brought in by that other huge rail project, High Speed 2, will mean five million more journeys each day on the London transport network.
Without Crossrail 2, TfL expects Clapham Junction and 17 Underground stations to have to adopt control measures, such as temporary closures and one-way systems, to deal with overcrowding. The Northern Line would be particularly badly hit. Full details can be seen in this reply to a question I asked in the summer.
Non-delivery would also add to overcrowding on commuter rail routes. Through a Freedom of Information request I have discovered that peak hour standing densities on suburban services on the South West Main Line (SWML) would reach 5.4 passengers per square metre. That is higher than many of the busiest sections of the Tube network. Train passengers travelling through Waterloo might note an expected 65 per cent growth in demand on SWML services into the station between 2011 and 2031 and a 79% growth between 2011 and 2041. Given that the majority of arriving passengers change onto the Underground at Waterloo, the only outcome would be yet more overcrowding at that stage of their journey too.
Crossrail 2 would also ensure that the most is made of HS2. Without it, the gains of cutting journey times from Birmingham to London to 49 minutes and from Manchester to London to just under one hour and 10 minutes would be lost in the scrum of passengers, queues and poor onward connections from Euston. Crossrail 2 and HS2 should go hand in hand.
In short, the case for Crossrail 2 is overwhelming. It would free up space for around 15 more trains in the morning peak from Hampshire and Surrey, providing 11,800 extra seats into Waterloo. More than a million public transport journeys every day would be significantly better because of it. An additional 200,000 new homes and 200,000 new jobs would be supported. When we take pride in the opening of the Elizabeth Line next year, my plea is that we do not rest on our laurels. If we want to even begin dealing with overcrowding on our trains, in our stations and on the Underground we have to get straight on with Crossrail 2.
More arguments for Crossrail 2 can be found here.