The Transport Committee: Crossrail and the Overground Talk Shop

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Today’s London Assembly Transport Committee meeting covered Crossrail and wider London Rail developments – two areas of great interest to LR readers. Andrew Wolstenholme (CEO) and Terry Morgan (Chairman) both attended from Crossrail.

Taking Crossrail Forward

Crossrail updated on tunnelling and procurement progress. As it stands, it appears that the rolling stock competition will be a straight 4 way contest without an intermediate “narrowing down to 2” stage. This is because the financing has been simplified. Despite some pressure about the trains “needing” to be built in the UK, the Crossrail representatives would only say that they had to the best trains that offered the best value for money.

The politicians spent a lot of time challenging the fairness of the procurement process, access for smaller London businesses to win work and also the “blacklists” issue. A very robust defence of Crossrail’s position on blacklisting was given – i.e. that it is not acceptable and not evident.

The questions then moved on to scope related items such as the fitting out of Woolwich station, the construction of an Old Oak Common Station and extension of services to Reading. Perhaps understandably the representatives would not be drawn on changes to scope. That was a matter for the project sponsors, they said, who would need to instruct the project to implement a revised specification.

Interestingly there appears to have been progress on the agreement on fitting out the Woolwich Station box. It is not yet finalized, however, and from a Crossrail viewpoint there is only a few months before a decision must be taken so as to avoid extra risks materializing. This is apparently all to do with what happens when the TBMs arrive at Woolwich and how they are dealt with. The decision on whether to fit out or not seemingly has a bearing on this, but further detail was not forthcoming.

Getting Forensic on the GOBLIN

Representatives present for the second half of the meeting were Geoff Hobbs (Head of TfL Rail Planning), Howard Smith (Chief Operating Officer, London Rail), Paul Harwood (Principal Network Planner, Network Rail) and Jim Steer (Steer Davies Gleave).

On the subject of London Rail several topics were covered including GOBLIN electrification, 5 car expansion of non diesel routes, rail devolution, Thameslink, Crossrail 2 and HS2 impacts.

On the subject of the GOBLIN electrification it was clear that there is a consensus on getting it done. It was confirmed that TfL’s contribution is £25m based on the operational savings that will accrue from electric operation compared to diesel. It is now the case that Network Rail have commenced GRIP 3 of their planning process to get the scope and costs clarified. This should report in October this year. This might then allow the funding opportunity in the Autumn Statement 2013 to be exploited.

Two other related issues also received a mention. First was the diminishing market for diesel trains due to emissions regulations. If electrification is not forthcoming soon TfL will be forced to buy (not lease) longer DMUs and carry their cost on its books. This is because leasing companies will not take the residual life risk of stock that may have no life beyond the GOBLIN. This poses a dilemma for TfL – because if electrification is/was to be authorized a few years hence, it will have stock with no purpose or else face the prospect of still running them under the wires on the GOBLIN!

The other issue, one that has received little press as of yet, is one of timing. When pressed TfL said the earliest completion date for electrification is 2017 (assuming a smooth approval process from here on).

Network Rail, however, said their latest completion date is 2018 – because after that date Crossrail will cause the diversion of far more freight over the GOBLIN meaning less access to actually do the electrification works.

TfL then inadvertently suggested that the last date for approval was actually “infinity” (suggesting approval may never come forth). This earned him a very sharp rebuke from one London Assembly member who said “do nothing” was simply not an option, given the scale of overcrowding on the service.

TfL also confirmed that they had expected a go ahead at the last Autumn Statement and there was an extremely strong suggestion that it was the Treasury that pulled the scheme at the last minute. The Assembly members said they would want to conduct a forensic investigation as to why the decision making for such a well supported scheme had been so perverse. It was also confirmed that 4 or 5 car EMUs were the preferred option for further improving the route (as part of the electrification scheme).

Extending the Overground and Oyster

On the subject of the 5 car scheme it was confirmed that progress is being made on planning processes and land acquisition for the expanded depot and sidings. The contract for the longer trains should hopefully be signed in two months. The target is to deploy 5 car trains to the ELL in 2014 with other lines following by the end of 2015.

On the topic of rail devolution, TfL is continuing its dialogue with stakeholders and MPs to try to calm the anxiety about any transfer of services to TfL. Only three stations beyond the Greater London boundary fall within the scope of the TfL devolution plan for South Eastern.

Interestingly, TfL went into some detail to dispel rumours about fast train services being cut, slowed down, passengers being forced to get off at the boundary and get on slow trains and various other issues. The TfL representative explained that if it went ahead, Oyster would be extended to Dartford, Dunton Green and Sevenoaks. This was the number one demand from stakeholders. Fares at Dartford and Dunton Green would be zonally based but Sevenoaks would not change from current levels (presumably because fast services stop there and to avoid cutting income on the residual SE franchise). On Greater Anglia fares are already on Oyster PAYG so there is not the same demand for that sort of change.

An announcement on devolution to TfL from Government is expected in April or May – in line with decisions on the wider franchise programme. If a positive decision is made then the earliest date for TfL taking over would be mid 2015.

Tackling Thameslink

The key issue on Thameslink was the impact of the Government’s decision to retain Wimbledon Loop services running via the core, something we’d previously highlighted was potentially problematic.

There was obvious disappointment from Network Rail, who now face the problem of how to deal with the implications of this change. They suggested that more money will be needed to change the layout south of Blackfriars to deal with the implications of an amended service pattern.

It seems that proposed services from the Kent lines (Dartford & Orpington) via London Bridge and on to the core route will not now happen. They would be diverted to Cannon Street. It was not clear what services will terminate in the Blackfriars bays but probably the Sevenoaks service. Depending on the track layout on Thameslink, the track pairing arrangement from Elephant southwards may mean conflicting movements to get Sevenoaks trains into the bays while Wimbledon loop services run through.

The other stated impact was that proposed frequency improvements for the loop service will probably not happen and – just to add further spice to the mix – it seems the DfT have not finalized the service specification for Thameslink and are still musing on whether to give franchise bidders “more commercial freedom” to plan the service pattern. Needless to say there was little sympathy from politicians who criticized the scheme planning being based on engineering and operations and not what the passengers actually want.

Crossrail 2

Crossrail 2 and HS2 were seen by some of the politicians as interlinked, but TfL stated clearly that Crossrail 2 is justified on a standalone basis rather than needing HS2. There was some challenge about HS2 trains reaching Euston rather than being diverted to Old Oak Common, but it is worth noting that this came from the Assembly member with responsibility for Camden, so there is perhaps a vested interest in him not favouring a project that will bring widespread demolition and disruption in the borough of Camden. Naturally enough he favoured HS2 depositing people at Old Oak Common. TfL felt that Euston was by far the better option because of established transport connections, even though those connections are already under pressure which will worsen with the arrival of HS2.

There was a bit of dissent from Jim Steer as to the preferred scope of Crossrail 2 – he favoured an automated metro type option (Scheme A+ in project parlance) rather than the regional Metro scheme with through running from the South Western lines (Scheme B). There was a general political consensus that Crossrail 2 should follow on immediately from Crossrail 1 to avoid the dissipation of skills, knowledge and experience that will have accumulated by 2018/9. Clearly we have a long way to go, but TfL are in the process of securing funds to allow further planning to take place and to resolve the issues surrounding safeguarding of the original and any revised alignment. This has to be resolved by 2014.

TfL did confirm that a regional metro scheme would take over stopping services on the Lea Valley north of Tottenham Hale. In response to questions about extending Crossrail 2 to Stansted Airport there was a clear preference not to do this. This was to avoid mixing service types (stopping, semi-fast) on one railway. There was a feeling that Crossrail 2 should provide the all stations service, and new infrastructure would release track capacity for an enhanced semi-fast and fast service north of Tottenham Hale. This would allow faster services to Stansted while preserving easy interchange to Crossrail 2 and the Tube at Tottenham Hale.

TfL also said they were very confident of securing agreement and filling a funding gap to add tracks from Walthamstow Marshes to Tottenham Hale and then, in a second phase, up to Northumberland Park to support substantial housing development in this area. Network Rail said they were planning on an early Control Period 5 start for this work. This extra track capacity would allow a 15 minute service from Stratford as far as Northumberland Park. Although not stated, it seems likely that the funding for this has been found from the housing developer, plus recently announced regeneration funding for Tottenham & Tottenham Hale station. Completion would be in 2017 assuming agreements are finalized soon and the Network Rail business plan is approved and funded.

For those who have a spare 2.5 hours, the full webcast for this session can be found on the London Assembly website.

Written by The Walthamstow Writer