In the first part of our London and South East RUS overview, we saw how Network Rail plan to extend some of the trains terminating to the west of London to solve anticipated capacity problems. Here, we first look to the east at a plan which almost mirrors what is proposed in the west, and then we look at a new plan to take advantage of all those trains that under current plans will terminate at Royal Oak – just beyond Paddington – before making their way east again.
The original proposal was for Crossrail’s south-eastern arm to terminate at Ebbsfleet. Ebbsfleet seemed an obvious choice, but more thorough analysis showed some disadvantages. Curtailing it at Abbey Wood had distinct attractions to the planning team who would naturally would take a risk-adverse attitude to the project.
From an operational point of view, it would eliminate the need for Crossrail trains to run on third rail routes and therefore simplify train construction and add robustness to the plan. It would also leave this route self-contained and not at the mercy of trains on the south-eastern sector, which was already notorious for being vulnerable to problems anywhere on the crowded network affecting the whole service. It also had the added attraction of reducing the cost of a minimal-viable Crossrail project.
It seems that it was always accepted that Abbey Wood might not always be the terminus. An earlier Route Utilisation Study for Kent first hinted at the attractiveness of extending Crossrail to Gravesend once theDartford area had been resignalled and rebuilt to be suitable for 12-carriage trains. Like the extension to Reading, it seems that the approach from Crossrail was that it did not want to be burdened with costs that would inevitably have to be taken on by some other scheme later. The attractiveness of Gravesend was that it would enable a large number of commuters (and hence some train paths) to be taken off the south-eastern commuter network into central London. Like the Reading scheme the possible extension was soon safeguarded together with land at Hoo junction for a depot.
The issue of the type of power supply for any proposed extension has not been definitively confirmed. Third rail seems the obvious choice, either with new rolling stock or conversion of what will then be existing Crossrail rolling stock. It is interesting that the current Crossrail rolling stock tender includes “the request for bidders to put in a priced option that would allow Crossrail trains to run on third-rail fitted routes”. In other words, lets keep our options open.
The final plan for Crossrail is probably the most interesting. The RUS presumes that HS2 is going ahead and therefore there is a desire to reduce the number of trains terminating at Euston. The proposal, therefore, is to connect to the West Coast main line and run services to Watford Junction, Tring and even Milton Keynes. This would mean that there would be no Crossrail services terminating from the east at Royal Oak (last passenger stop Paddington) and could even almost completely free off a pair of tracks into Euston making HS2 easier to build. The RUS produces a neat diagram of how Crossrail could look like in 2031.
This scheme introduces an anomaly, however. Milton Keynes, even for the fastest trains, is around 36 minutes from Euston. If it is acceptable to run Crossrail to Milton Keynes (and presumably provide a very limited stop service) then surely it must be acceptable to do the same thing from Reading (approximately 28 minutes)?
The times quoted above are times to London, which include generous recovery time. The time from London is a few minutes less. So, therefore, why propose that Heathrow Express is to be taken over by Crossrail (discussed in part I) instead of adopting the simpler strategy of running Crossrail trains fast from Reading to Paddington (or at least to the new station at Old Oak Common)?
In both cases there is the issue of suitably fast rolling stock and many would argue that high-density Crossrail stock is not suitable for long distance commutes. Actually, more strictly speaking, the second issue is one of time. It’s a guideline that passengers should not be expected to stand for more than twenty minutes. Clearly if the services have standing passengers and the time between station stops exceeds 20 minutes then this objective will not be met. Some compromise such as tip-up seats, relaxing the guidelines or derogations in certain circumstances may be necessary but to this would seem a less evil than attempting to take over the Heathrow Express service and mixing airport passengers with commuters which is well known not to produce problems – not least increasing the all-critical dwell time at station stops in the central London area.
Whatever finally emerges it is clear that the Crossrail of 2021 will probably be quite different to the Crossrail of 2031. It will be interesting to see what develops.