Starting via Crossrail 1
If Crossrail 1 is currently symbolised by ‘not on time, not on budget’, then how much does this tarnish, delay or otherwise impede progress with further rail schemes, particularly Crossrail 2? What other lions and elephant traps lie in the path of CR2? Does that scheme actually have a pathway? Is its current context happier than some navigational cairns on a inter-stellar journey to Planet Treasury? These articles aim to describe such matters.
We should start by understanding the factors behind Crossrail 1’s transmogrification in its most recent gestation period, from the Shenfield to Western suburbs/Aylesbury railway that had been rejected in the 1994 Parliamentary Select Committee, to the Crossrail 1 we know now. Crossrail 2 is already facing similar review processes, and it has now just undergone re-assessment of its business case for the fifth time, at the Government’s request. So let’s begin by looking at the general format of project development and approval, and then the sequence as it arose with Crossrail 1.
A ‘normal’ big project background
Quite often there is a ‘SAP’ type of assessment – Survey, Analysis, Plan – for example a review of current and foreseen needs projected over time into the future, then gap definition, then processes setting out a range of solutions not necessarily limited to one mode of transport or one land use masterplan.
The assessment may be tactical – for example, in relation to transport supply, there may be congestion or crowding on a group of rail services or corridors, or over- or under-provision of bus services. Such an assessment is then prioritised into service and capacity options and implications for budgets. If problems are endemic, or some solutions don’t get to the heart of the matter, then maybe a significant re-planning of service structures is needed, with capital investment requirements not just operational changes.
Sometimes the assessment is instead at city region strategy level – for example if London decides it needs to sustain or improve its World City capabilities, or the Northern Powerhouse wants to secure a 30 year network programme – when large-scale quality transport is most likely to be part of the long term planning requirement. Growth areas are defined at, say, zones S, A and Z, they need to be better connected, and there is a general requirement for extra capacity. Overall this may point to extra or revised railway corridors (and/or more wanted from trams/buses/walking and cycling etc) – and car capacity if outside dense urban areas. London’s 2050 infrastructure planning is an example of this.
However to make strategic changes on their own would ignore other prevailing shortcomings, and you can only spend the money once (if available at all!), so in practice the tactical and strategic assessments are often combined. The intention is to try to address issues on the foreseeably most crowded/operationally critical/politically high priority corridors at the same time as accommodating wider economic and growth desires.
It is this type of background which is faced by a Crossrail-scale of scheme.
Defining and getting project approval
The actual sequences of project definition and progress to construction are logical, even if they can be on a massive scale and always presenting new challenges and ‘known unknowns’ in the real world. Key topics to prioritise are:
- A winning combination of project elements: What mix of routeings, existing and new growth locations served, long-term strategic capacity and tactical problem-solving represent the best outcome as an effective, value for money proposal? A long-term project is also vulnerable to the risks of seeking approval with that decade’s norms, for something which only benefits future decades, and when the collective voices of existing users and voters may not be the main beneficiaries of the proposed scheme, particularly if the result is more than one decade into the future.
- Available funding: What are the affordability and financial constraints for a multi-billion scheme, and how can those be solved by willing authorities and partners? What combination of public and private funding sources will be acceptable? How much central government funding is needed, subject to what political rules and constraints? In all this, the how, how much and when of third party funding, has been an important element since the 1980s re-introduced the idea of railway funding not all coming from a state purse.
- Political and policy challenges to overcome: Are there significant political hoops, policy targets and strategic challenges including changes to rules and objectives, which must be satisfied along the way? A large budget scheme needs clear Government (and all-party) support and funding acceptance. Think too of the new UK Net Zero Carbon requirement by 2050, as an example of significant policy impact at the current stage of Crossrail 2 specification.
- Public and technical factors: What consultation, project adjustment, environmental standards and mitigation issues, design standards, operability, technical, software and other practical bottlenecks including supply-side constraints need to be managed effectively, along with a coherent and safety-orientated construction and delivery plan? In the case of Crossrail this has been a major challenge in all dimensions, as it was to be one of Europe’s largest projects. Consider just a few examples:
○ transitional and permanent access agreements and contractual commitments required on Network Rail lines;
○ large-scale interfaces with London Underground in terms of station safety, passenger flows and information handling;
○ train slot protection for other national rail users including freight;
○ up to 14,000 supply-chain staff at the height of the works programme; and
○ myriad construction sites and successor operational locations, each with individual safety, environmental, staffing and logistics challenges
- Project support: A big project needs large-scale backing from stakeholders, communities, leading businesses and local authorities, and supporting bodies who can lobby at and above their weight. What supporters exist, and are how effective are they? The East London Line extensions had that, and so did Crossrail 1. There was also the Thameslink Consortium of supporting local authorities (not the similarly-named Consortium who bid and succeeded in supplying the Siemens Class 700 trains for Thameslink).
- Powers to build: Which option to adopt to secure powers? – generally a choice of Hybrid Bill, Transport & Works Order (previously Private Bill), Development Control Order, or scheme of National significance.
- Go ahead to build: With a big scheme, the Government invariably holds the controlling share. Preliminary acquisition and works might be funded ahead of approval for main works (as with HS2).
How Crossrail 1 survived the 1990s
What we know as Crossrail 1, aka the ‘Elizabeth Line’, had been favoured in the 1989 Central London Rail Study as the top priority rail capacity scheme to address known and foreseeable congested corridors and to support the capital’s economic growth, by offering large-scale capacity expansion for Central London. This one line would expand Central London’s transport volume by about 10%, hence commensurate economic growth was practicable. Second priority was a Chelsea-Hackney tube line, and third a Jubilee Line extension to East London. ‘Thameslink 2000’ was also favoured as a main line railway project, and had the highest benefit-cost ratio of all four schemes.
We have covered in Diving into the Fleet Part 5 how Canary Wharf Group succeeded in getting a revised Jubilee Line extension, via the Isle of Dogs, as the top railway scheme ahead of Crossrail. The main levers were a significant offer of private funding, and effective stakeholder dialogue with senior Government ministers. This was linked to a recognition that the change in land use achievable by a tube line was now worth having – a perception which the earlier Fleet Line schemes had lacked, when intended land use densities in Docklands were too weak to validate any business case.
However British Rail and London Transport also continued with the Crossrail project. With Government approval, they jointly sought powers in 1991 for a Regional Express Railway-style of tunnel between Paddington and Liverpool Street via the City and West End, for through running of main line commuter trains between Shenfield and Western suburbs/Aylesbury, as a similar concept to the Paris RER system’s Line A.
A 1994 House of Commons’ Private Bill Select Committee rejected the 1991 Crossrail Bill. The Committee’s specific reasons for rejection were that it didn’t serve Heathrow Airport, and lacked a connection with the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. This does not explain away the large economic effect of rejecting additional urban transport capacity (where Heathrow and CTRL are marginal to that issue). The implication is that not enough political touchstones were given attention in that version of the scheme, and that the Crossrail team didn’t argue strongly enough about the wider economic impacts for London and the South East. In contrast, RER Line A had explicitly been a cornerstone of the Paris Region’s development plans, see for example the intentions discussed here.
A technical block also arose – evidence by Steer Davies & Gleave (on behalf of LB Tower Hamlets) showed that Crossrail’s eastern tunnel entry/exit ramp at Shoreditch, between the Great Eastern Main Line and Liverpool Street, would conflict directly with the proposed alignment of the East London Line northern extension, where powers had also been requested. An at-grade diamond crossing for the two railways, Chicago-style, wasn’t viable with the planned frequencies.
The large scale Crossrail Private Bill was also promoted in the face of increasing parliamentary dissention about having to spend time adjudicating on the merits or not of major railway schemes. The DLR Bill for the Lewisham extension had nearly died when being assessed by a Commons Private Bill Select Committee in 1992/3, during which period the Government re-allocated the DLR from London Regional Transport to the LDDC and the extension’s Committee rebelled at this change. Only quick and astute briefing at a special session of the Committee had kept that Bill alive.
If this wasn’t enough negativity, the recession which arose in the early 1990s meant that it was possible to argue that it wasn’t urgent to press Crossrail forward at this time, even though any scheme would only open at the earliest during the next economic outturn – and more likely the one beyond that! Crossrail as a scheme barely survived such Treasury scrutiny in the mid-1990s. A ‘Crossrail-lite’ scheme was favoured by Treasury, to re-purpose paths on the Hammersmith and Circle Lines, but after investigation this was rejected as impractical and poor value.
There was a supportive rear-guard action by various officials, and by Ministers such as Steve Norris – then Minister for Transport in London – who relied on the fortunate existence of a 1990 ‘safeguarding direction’ to protect the planned tunnel alignment from adverse developments above or alongside (eg, deep piled foundations blocking future rail tunnels or stations). Transport Secretary Sir George Young was also cautious, and asked BR and LRT in 1996 to defer proceeding with a new parliamentary application (using a different authorisation process) until after the Jubilee Line Extension, Channel Tunnel Rail Link and Thameslink had been dealt with.
A Labour Government was elected in 1997 and the new Transport Secretary was John Prescott. There was an ambitious programme, which accepted the existence by then of Railtrack (in contrast to the pre-election suggestions of re-nationalisation) and looked to that organisation to take a lead in managing and financing major rail infrastructure projects, and getting involved in modernising the Underground sub-surface network. Three London area PPPs were advocated, with two tube PPPs and a third to modernise the sub-surface lines and also enable through Underground/main-line operations east-west and orbitally.
The east-west scheme was another attempt to re-purpose the north side of the Inner Circle. The findings were not encouraging, while the Ladbroke Grove train crash of 5th October 1999 gave another reason for the Transport Secretary to reject that PPP scheme (when Railtrack was already starting to head for its own buffers). The orbital scheme survived as the East London Line northern and southern extensions. The northern extension already had powers and was awaiting financial go-ahead, and the southern extension Order inquiry took place in 2000. Its new backer and funder was initially the Strategic Rail Authority (see below).
Defining the core project elements
Finally in December 1999, a London East-West Study was given the go-ahead by John Prescott, with an implied acceptance that something like a Crossrail service really would need its own tunnels. A favourable Transport White Paper, ‘Transport 2010’, was also published by the Government in 2000.
The East-West Study reported by the end of 2000 and was published in 2001, having been led by Keith Berryman. This re-opened the Crossrail agenda, and looked at East-West, East-SW, and SW-North/NE options. It concluded by supporting early progress with an East-West line as a Regional Metro with its core between Shenfield and Slough. Various branches were to be considered further. A SW-NE railway was supported as a slower pace project, with overtones of the Chelsea-Hackney tube though possibly at main-line size. Cross-London freight options were also considered.
This time around, Heathrow rail access was incorporated, while a CTRL link of sorts would be available at Stratford, so the Select Committee’s ‘naughties’ had their boxes ticked. However a rail link into the Thames Gateway corridor, which was another emerging political and planning priority, was not considered in detail by the study.
It helped that there was still a clear basic purpose for Crossrail, with an identified need for new rail capacity. The renewed impetus was taken up taken up in 2000-1 by two new transport bodies, the Strategic Rail Authority (initially the ‘shadow SRA’) and Transport for London, both being creatures of the 1997 Labour Government. Crossrail 1, as it eventually become known, was fortunate to get backing from Transport Secretary John Prescott and his 2002 successor, Alistair Darling. They accepted the need to back the London region as a key part of Britain’s growth plans for the 2000s and beyond. This was partly as a result of strong lobbying by London economic backers, such as London First and others.
Crossrail could be espoused as a genuine and also symbolic example of the Government’s determination to invest in transport. Bear in mind also that versions of these projects were previously foreseen and desired in the 1972-74 London Rail Study, so already these were 30 years later than the earlier aspirations for project progress. London didn’t have a dearth of schemes, it had a dearth of up-to-date projects ready to secure powers, and uncertainty about funding.
In Crossrail’s own history record, the London East-West Study was well-received by Government and as a result a project organisation, Cross London Rail Links Ltd (CLRL), jointly owned by the SRA and Transport for London (TfL), was set up to undertake project definition work on Crossrail and a feasibility study of a possible Hackney-SW London scheme. CLRL’s initial budget was set at £154 million to proceed towards parliamentary powers, and the company was launched in January 2002. Keith Berryman was appointed to lead the project. A basic Crossrail 1 cost was then guesstimated as £3-£4 bn. A stakeholder consultation exercise was launched in May 2002. When the SRA was abolished by Government in 2006, the Department for Transport became the joint sponsor of CLRL along with TfL.
Not yet a winning combination
There was an historic imbalance of peak-time passenger demand east and west of London, with the latter offering lighter passenger loadings. So quite a number of trains would still terminate westwards at Paddington, returning east after a reverse on the surface at Westbourne Park. Options were then reviewed to make better use of the new tunnels, as just one line in the east and turning westbound trains short at Paddington risked poor use of the new tunnel and potentially poor value for money. Mapping from the Crossrail history shows the scoping and short-listing of options.
For example, a Paddington to Norbiton branch, via Richmond and Kingston, was proposed, with two route options, via Acton Central or Turnham Green. Canary Wharf Group (CWG) also lobbied strongly for a Crossrail branch in inner East and SE London, in the 1999-2005 period, as it saw political leverage with the Thames Gateway, strategic opportunities for a SE London catchment able to access Canary quickly, and also scope for direct Canary-Heathrow services. There was also a choice of route towards the Thames Gateway, via Charlton or the Royals.
Links to BBC archives show the range of Crossrail route options existing in 2003, with a map illustrating those. The BBC news headlines also provide a snapshot of Crossrail issues and its progress then, for example the item below:
“It would be “foolish and misleading” to suggest that London’s Crossrail project could be done “on the cheap”, the Transport Secretary has said. Alistair Darling warned MPs that the cost of the proposed rail link, which would connect east and west London, was likely to be “pretty substantial” – somewhere in excess of £10bn. At question time, Mr Darling said: “The cost will depend to a large extent on the nature of Crossrail itself … I am very cautious about costs, my experience over the last 12 months is that costs in relation to railways in particular usually turn out to be rather more than people first anticipated…So far as Crossrail is concerned, I think it is a very important project for the future development of London but I think it is important that we get it right.”13 May 2003: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/3024199.stm
The strategic realism adopted by Alistair Darling by 2003, about the long timescale and the high cost but also long term importance of the Crossrail 1 project – is a signal to successor schemes. If the Government of the day isn’t so clear-sighted, and the purposes of the scheme aren’t well understood and, equally, advocated by leading politicians (as shown below) as well as stakeholders, then one might be in for a long wait for the next steps to be positive. Looking ahead, Mr Darling was later to be a Chancellor of the Exchequer under Gordon Brown as Prime Minister, at the time when Crossrail funding was at its critical go/no-go point in 2008/09.
In the background, much supportive technical and lobbying work on an extension towards SE London via the Isle of Dogs was sponsored by CWG, including breaking new ground on modelling which could anticipate the value of a different scale of land uses at the same time as changed transport links. Previously either the transport link or the land use model had to be fixed while the other was varied. Much of this modelling was then made available for the Crossrail Bill proceedings which followed from 2005. As a highly motivated stakeholder, the CWG work helped to ensure that a SE Crossrail branch would be included in the main proposals.
The July 2003 news headlines were that:
A multi-billion pound rail project to link west and east London will not be built for at least a decade, according to the government. Crossrail will not be ready in time to carry people to the 2012 Olympics, should London be successful in its bid to host the games, says Transport Secretary Alistair Darling. He told BBC’s Breakfast With Frost: “It was never going to be in place for the Olympics, we have made that clear from the start when we decided to put in a bid.” He believes London mayor Ken Livingstone was too optimistic in suggesting the project to link Heathrow with Stratford could be ready by 2012. “I think he knows full well it can’t”, he told the programme. “Crossrail is about building a new east-west rail link through a tunnel through central London – now in any view that is going to take some time to do. “We believe it is essential for London’s expansion, the big question is how is it going to be paid for?” He said the next stage would be to consult on the route and to ask for a “substantial contribution” from the private sector. “We are talking about a project that could be between £10bn and £15bn in cost. It is a huge project, one of the biggest the country will see.”
Last month Mr Livingstone and five council leaders wrote to Mr Darling to ask that he make a decision before Parliament rises on 17 July. They are concerned if a decision is not made before then, the timetable for the whole project will be thrown off course. Transport minister Tony McNulty said on Sunday the government was committed to making an announcement to Parliament this week.
Turning a wish-list into a project acceptable to Treasury
All this followed the anticipated (and updated) Crossrail Business Case which was presented to Mr Darling in July 2003. He announced that the Government supported the principle of a new east-west Crossrail link, but wanted to be assured that CLRL’s proposal was deliverable. He appointed a review team, led by Adrian Montague, a Treasury adviser, to assess this in 2003-04 alongside stakeholder consultation. The evident message was that there was Government support, but not unconditionally and would need to take account of Treasury sensitivities.
The government has given the go-ahead for the £10bn Crossrail project that will link east and west London.
“Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said he fully supported the scheme in principle and that he would be consulting with the Treasury to see how much taxpayers’ money would be going into the project… Mr Darling is also assembling a team to look at the proposal for the link, which will speed train journey times through London. Crossrail could carry 200,000 people during the morning peak period and it is thought could create up to 100,000 jobs.”
A second Crossrail line was also referenced as a future project:
The Paddington-SW London line was dropped during the 2003-04 review, and the core scheme was determined to be Shenfield (E) and Abbey Wood (SE) to Heathrow and Maidenhead (W). Sections with any complications or evident risks were excluded (operational, construction related or financial – including the risk of scheme costs being loaded onto the Crossrail business case rather than other sponsors). These were from Abbey Wood south east to Dartford and Ebbsfleet, west from Maidenhead to Reading, and all north west schemes. Montague’s Review of the Crossrail Business Case is linked here.
A final consultation round was held between August and October 2004. The Autumn 2004 Spending Review provided no direct funding for the scheme, although the Government then committed to introducing legislation to enable Crossrail to proceed (which will have required agreement between DfT and Treasury), and to work closely with TfL and wider stakeholders to develop a funding and financing package.
The Crossrail Hybrid Bill was presented to Parliament in February 2005, and took three years to proceed through Bill scrutiny to receive Royal Assent in July 2008 – not a small period of time…
It should also be noted that alternative Crossrail schemes were proposed in 2002 and 2004. In 2002 GB Railways (Michael Schabas and colleagues) put forward a scheme called SuperCrossRail which would link regional stations such as Cambridge, Oxford, Southend and Ipswich via an east-west rail tunnel under central London. The tunnel was hoped to follow an alignment under the River Thames – similar to the current Thames Water tideway scheme. The year 2004 saw another proposal, Superlink, which was promoted by other current and ex-railway directors. In this case the proposition was to use the intended Crossrail tunnels for a longer distance commuter rail network with higher earning capacity, setting aside some of the shorter distance services.
Crossrail’s history chapters say that CLRL evaluated both proposals and rejected them due to concerns about network capacity and cost issues. The timing of these schemes suggests also that both were too late to be taken on board as significant alternatives, as they failed to secure political buy-in. (By contrast, CWG was proposing a specific branch to be added to the core official scheme.) The best time to influence the basics would have been not later than 1999-2000 when the London East-West Rail Study was announced. By then the real audience was Government, and especially DfT and Treasury.
In its planning through to the 2008 Crossrail Act and beyond that date, Crossrail 1’s detailed specification was constantly under review. Amongst other elements, the parliamentary proceedings required:
- inclusion of a station at Central Woolwich for access and regeneration at this major SE London town centre – the station design was made better value with a shallower tunnel which allowed less costly cut-and-cover rather than bored tube at that point (and the station BCR was better than Crossrail as a whole). The then Transport Secretary, Douglas Alexander, was pointedly told by the Hybrid Bill Select Committee that either a station was included or the Bill would not progress further (a Hybrid Bill Committee has real teeth, it is not just advisory);
- reconsideration and relocation of the main maintenance depot, from Romford to Old Oak Common (at that time, there were no plans for HS2, nor for a major interchange or area development there);
- changes to Liverpool Street/Moorgate passenger capacity and links;
- ‘plain line’ provision for an additional inner West London station at Kensal gasworks to support area redevelopment and regeneration in North Kensington;
- a new resilient track design to minimise noise and vibration from some tunnels;
- revision to the tunnelling programme to reduce the number of construction shafts and avoid the requirement for a long conveyor in inner East London;
- adequate train slot provision for rail freight services, which hadn’t been considered fully by Crossrail and needed intervention by ORR.
Most of these requirements increased costs, which had reached £15.9 billion by November 2007. With foresight, rebuilding of Tottenham Court Road also included, as a precaution, adequate tunnel and circulating space for an eventual Crossrail 2 station on a north-south alignment.
However, apart from Montague’s initial branch lopping, Crossrail simultaneously sought to contain and reduce other costs. For example initial public consultation had suggested the possibility of escalators at many suburban stations, but these were pared back in the final capital programme, with more reliance on stairs. Such ‘value engineering’ – latterly associated with station design reviews to RIBA Stage F specification – became increasingly urgent beyond Royal Assent in July 2008, as the Treasury required £1 billion-plus savings. The Treasury sign-off was based on final estimated outturn costs of £14.6 billion, ie just below Alistair Darling’s indicative headroom of £15 billion stated in 2003.
A final funding package?
This will be discussed in more detail in a later article. In summary, the contributions ended up roughly in thirds: from the forecast farebox; from Government to reflect the national net value of the scheme; and from London and its businesses. The latter included a Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to be levied by London local authorities on medium and large businesses and developments, as a charge on the future value to them of building additional infrastructure. Crossrail would in turn be a primary charge on the CIL funding pot.
Construction was launched in May 2009 at Canary Wharf, where CWG was ready to go. Meanwhile Crossrail had announced in April 2009 that 17 firms had been accepted for ‘Enabling Works Framework Agreements’. The bulk of the large-scale construction packages were signed-off in 2010 and 2011. Although Crossrail demand modelling had looked to a 2016 opening, this was unlikely by 2008, and 2018 was adopted as the preferred date by the Coalition Government in 2010. At the time this was considered to incur a less costly and less pressured pace of construction and trial operations. It deserves repeating that this is one of the largest engineering projects in Europe, so the fundamental scale of the project merits recognition for what had to be planned and anticipated.
Treasury officials made a final request to stop or defer the scheme, when during the spending cuts decision-making they asked the new Coalition Chancellor in 2010, George Osborne, to consider dropping the main Crossrail spend which was about to start. The new Chancellor supported its continuation.
Scheme mutation and adaptation since go-ahead
We are not discussing here the cost and timescale overruns which have arisen with construction, except to note in passing that at least one bid to be the ‘Project Delivery Group’ for Crossrail included an experienced Director of Systems Integration, from a Swiss tunnelling environment. That bidding group was not appointed. Systems integration has turned out to be possibly the riskiest gap arising in the following nine years of Crossrail’s silo-based project management, until Mark Wild was appointed as Crossrail Chief Executive in 2018. Failure to appreciate the criticality of modern software systems developed by different suppliers, underpins that situation. The outcome has also raised questions about the pay and performance award criteria when managing such mega-projects.
For the authorised project, there were subsequent large and lesser proposals and alterations. In the case of Custom House, the removal of escalators from the plans was contested by Newham Council in 2012, against a planning appeal by Crossrail. Newham was successful. Crossrail had to agree to the provision of escalators there, as the proposed lift capacity would be inadequate for people with reduced mobility (PRMs) with some events at ExCel and other factors at that station. Provision for PRM also had to be increased at Ealing Broadway.
The political arrival of the HS2 project from 2009-10, with a proposed interchange at Old Oak Common, was not foreseen by Crossrail planners, neither before or during the Crossrail Bill. This has been an entirely new factor. If HS2 proceeds, there will be a four-platform Crossrail/GW relief line station. There may be four (or five) other fast track platforms, and now the possibility exists of another couple of platforms for any Chiltern overflow station once Marylebone fills up, after the latest West Midlands and Chiltern Route Study. HS2 would have six platforms of its own. Network Rail has still not finalised the track and signalling for ‘national rail’ OOC. HS2 now has architectural plans for its part of the station.
Even if HS2 were not to happen, which is a matter of current discussion among parliamentarians, the area redevelopment that was originally stimulated by the proposed Crossrail/HS2 interchange but now has a planning regime of its own under the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation (OPDC), could leverage changes in where Crossrail trains reverse from the east. Some or all Westbourne Park reversers might instead use new sidings west of OOC, or see more trains heading further west. Options are open. As Harold Macmillan said: “Events, dear boy, events”.
Early development hopes for ‘Over-Site Development’ (OSD) in and around OOC were pulled back because the upfront build costs over railways or depots or sidings are unattractive for early development yield. It is likely to take several decades before any viable OSD can proceed. Initial estimates in 2012-13 pointed to Crossrail and London Overground service and access improvements around OOC being the better schemes to stimulate significant area development, with less achieved by HS2.
2014 also saw another ‘step-change’ for Crossrail, as in October 2014 the Mayor and TfL agreed that all Crossrail stations should become step-free. This incurred significant knock-on cost and substantial redesign of some suburban and commuter Crossrail stations, with consequent delay to local planning permissions and physical reconstruction. This was to be delivered as a project by Network Rail, and currently is not expected to be completed until the end of 2020, as stated on 17th July 2019 by Mark Wild to the TfL Programmes & Investment Committee.
Rail industry planning also re-opened the discussion about some extensions to the basic Crossrail scheme. In 2011, Network Rail’s London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy (RUS) looked at services towards Reading, Ebbsfleet or Gravesend, and on a NW corridortowards Watford and suburban stations along the West Coast Main Line to Tring:
- Reading was reportedly a cost-avoidance deal on two fronts, that it was better value not to plan to run a separate GWR shuttle service between Reading and Slough, and instead to extend Crossrail to Reading – but only once the basic Reading station and junction rebuild costs were assigned within Network Rail rather than a share being allocated to Crossrail. An extension from Maidenhead to Reading was finally authorised in March 2014.
- An Ebbsfleet or Gravesend extension fits with Thames Gateway housing priorities, but costs are large and it is possible to build the extension incrementally. The Southeastern main line network is quite unhelpful for a metro-type overlay, with multiple flat junctions and operational constraints east of Abbey Wood, so that any Crossrail extension has to be segregated as least as far as Dartford. Consequently ‘Crossrail to Ebbsfleet’ (C2E) is still a project dependent on housing projections and some belief that many costs can be paid for by developers. Helpfully, £4.85m project development funding was awarded by Homes England in March 2019.
- The Crossrail-WCML schemewas stimulated by the possibility of reducing Euston’s transitional and final reconstruction costs in association with the HS2 scheme, by removing a significant number of commuter trains from the terminus. Average journey times via a Crossrail-WCML line would also be quicker than via Euston. However the step-free commitment for Crossrail caused a large financial impact, as all WCML platforms on the Crossrail extension would need to be made step-free.
- This eventually undermined the extension BCR and the scheme was shelved in August 2016. In parallel there was nervousness within Crossrail Ltd about the performance risks to Crossrail services. This extension would make it reliant on through running across the Great Eastern, Great Western and West Coast lines, as well as the fundamental operability issues faced by tight headway management under Central London – a ‘Crossrail Main Line’ (CML) – about which, see here for the incentive and penalty regime faced by the Crossrail train operator!
- Simplification of rail services to Heathrow was also desired in the 2011 RUS, and after much legal ‘ping-pong’ between Heathrow Airport and the rail industry, about slots and track access charges for use of the Heathrow tunnels, a solution has been agreed which lasts until 2028, with HAL withdrawing from rail operations but retaining marketing of Heathrow Express (HEX), GWR running the Heathrow Expresses with new trains suitable for standard ETCS signalling, and track charges pegged at reasonable levels for Crossrail trains, which will now also serve Terminal 5 as well as 2,3 and 4. Crossrail single fares will be less than HEX, but more than standard Zone 6.
Two other possible stations remain in the balance. The potential for a North Kensington station at Kensal Portobello continues to be reviewed. A Silvertown station to serve London City Airport is also advocated (for example see here and there). Who pays, and the project timing, would matter with both schemes. Both need planning permission.
Portobello station and track costs would be recovered from third parties, and could slot in with timing for OOC station works; its operability is currently being reviewed. However funding and timing for a Silvertown station is unclear. Any early construction is unrealistic there, as there are no powers for a station and the design impacts are significant because of anti-flooding walls (also for noise mitigation) close to the Thames Barrier. Further delaying the opening of the Crossrail SE line to Abbey Wood in order to build a stop (as has been advocated) is likely to get short shrift. Silvertown’s chances are best if considered as part of an Ebbsfleet extension which could improve station usage with direct access from SE London and North Kent.
Fitting in around
Crossrail 1 will still have to fit in with GWR and freight operations on the western tracks as well as sharing eastern tracks with freight, and depot operations at Seven Kings with Abellio and London Overground. At least a £25m Acton flyunder was opened in West London in 2017, to allow a conflict-free path for Acton freight yard and the spur to/from the North London Line.
Any combination of Heathrow Southern, Western or Windsor Link schemes (the latter has now arisen again) also has the potential to create service overlay and track access complexities via the Heathrow tunnels. The best that can be said is that this is all work in progress, among various rail industry and governmental interests. The possible scale of required interlocking of timetables on a previously simpler western main line with an airport branch, could bring on new train planning headaches west and south-west of London, and invoke the lurking devilment of accommodating the SWR timetable where everything revolves around the flat junction at Woking! Any further overlay from the Williams rail review is unknown at present.
It does however serve to highlight the considerable complexities of seeking to introduce a dense metro service onto tracks which historically have been other operators’ primary fiefdoms, and the impact of joining several fiefdoms together. The 2014 Track Access agreement between TfL, Crossrail and Network Rail, which also underpins the invest, delivery and reward relationship for multi-billion works on behalf of Crossrail, on the main lines west and east from central London (the On-Network investment), illustrates just one layer of complexity which has had to be addressed.
Orders for new trains and a maintenance depot and stabling sidings are another facet, with a £1 billion-plus cost. The parliamentary Bill diverted focus from Romford to OOC, for the main depot. The foreseen train requirement has grown, with an original 2008 estimate for 610 cars (equivalent to 61 x 10-car trains at 20m per car, about 205m per train). The car length has grown, so we will now have 66 x 9-car trains in a 205m format, with a reserve order of up to 18 trains. Already 4 of those 18 have been ordered, for the Reading extension and Heathrow 5 services.
The remaining 14 allow for expansion towards Ebbsfleet, but not enough for long term higher demand volumes which might require basic central London frequencies to rise from 24 to 30 trains per hour, and with an additional depot or stabling (possibly on a SE extension). The 9-car trains, and Crossrail infrastructure as a whole, have passive provision for enlargement to 11-car trains (nearly 250m length). However this will be a multi-billion pound capacity expansion so is not yet on anyone’s priority agenda. TfL considers that greater passenger benefit would be obtained by increasing service frequency rather than train length, although Network Rail would normally prefer to see longer trains rather than denser spacing of train slots.
To put the overall project into context, while the problems which emerged in 2018 have added about 2-3 years and nearly £3 billion to capitalised costs, TfL has also been forecasting £800-900 million additional annual revenue once the bulk of Crossrail opens. You can’t spend the money twice over, and TfL is also looking to Crossrail to help underpin other large-scale transport system costs such as contributions towards roads maintenance and bus operating deficits. However funding assistance towards some high-net-worth Crossrail extensions may also be viable and self-funding over time.
Unfortunately the extra project time and costs also postpone the day when Crossrail 1’s ‘Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) mortgage’ is paid off and can be re-allocated from CR1 to Crossrail 2 or a wider range of projects. This is discussed in a later article, which will consider funding profiles.
A McDarling take-away?
What can we learn from all this, and consider how to apply to Crossrail 2?
- Crossrail 1 and its overall economics are good for the national and regional economy, for London as a world city, and for the travel capabilities of millions of people in the wider East and South East. The greater the use of the core railway then the better the outcomes, it appears, providing that you can withstand the 15-20 year lead-in time and all the hassle of a truly huge project. (This is not necessarily the same as extending services to multiple distant destinations!) There will be a big payback nationally, even if delayed.
- Without explicit, continuing, dependable political support lasting over six General Elections (and three of those for the formative period), you can allege that you have the best rail scheme around, but it won’t necessarily go anywhere. A continuous all-party all-Britain scale of backing was vital for Crossrail 1, for three elections in a row.
- The nation as well as the London, East and South East regions should be grateful that one North Eastern MP, one Yorkshire MP, and two Scottish MPs, personally supported one of the biggest infrastructure schemes ever authorised in the United Kingdom. One was Prime Minister from 1997, another was Chancellor of the Exchequer and then Prime Minister, a third was Transport Secretary then Deputy Prime Minister, and the fourth became Transport Secretary and then Chancellor. The geographical line-up and the scale of visible national buy-in now, is different in these more febrile days.
- Following the LRT/BR Crossrail debacle in 1994, there was barely enough Conservative ministerial support in the pre-1997 period, for project survival. The re-starting point was very rocky before London governance had been re-established. After 1999, two London Mayors, the newly-formed TfL, and London region stakeholders and businesses were eventually equal to the task of project validation, authorisation and finding enough local funding. The DfT’s direct involvement from 2001-02 under political direction, and with direct engagement as a sponsor from 2006, should also be underscored. It is the DfT (and Treasury) who have rescued the project in 2018.
- Project cost capping was a self-evident factor from the moment that Government were involved. Crossrail 1 had a broad £10-15 billion cost headroom set from above, and £15 billion is roughly where it stuck until 2018. The full Crossrail 2 is currently north of £30 billion, but expectations are that considerable slimming will be mandatory, possibly below £20 billion as the outer limit. The scale of other big rail schemes, on HS2 and classic rail, plus strong claims from other regions, mean that affordable pork barrel politics are very much alive alongside Treasury cash-flow concerns.
- The rail industry project management methodology showed itself to be inadequate for the sheer scale of project interactions and dependencies during European-scale construction, as is now self-evident with consequences which we are now paying for. The aspirations for a ‘world-class railway’ didn’t quite cohere.
- 21st Century software complexities are highlighted as a huge rod for the rail industry’s historic 20th Century backs. The Thameslink project has also experienced delivery shortcomings as a consequence of silo-based project management, with software shortfalls and train non-availability, and shortfall of staff availability, training and familiarisation. A current airline equivalent could be perceived as the 737-Max, in respect of software and staff training – at least trains are being tested until they are risk-free on basics, before being put into any sort of passenger service (and then only on routes with compatible signalling).
- The robustness of the post-Montague basic Crossrail specification will be evident once services start running – there is clear confidence in that. However there is an irrepressible transport industry desire, reflecting wider human society, to enlarge the scope and benefits of a basic project. The validity of each addition will need to be tested robustly. At least the post-Montague railway has built-in margins to be able to accommodate some extra volumes and retain deliverability.
The concluding question is, how many topics will people remember and reapply from all this, for Crossrail 2, and what new features and risks will have to be learnt anew? Not all those answers will be found from a re-examination of Crossrail 1.