What If: Crossrail 1980


The link across London would provide through trains, cut-out inconvenient interchanges between train and underground or taxi, and thus save valuable time. It would help commuters from the outer suburbs of London and Inter-City travellers alike. It would make a journey from Peterborough to Portsmouth or Watford to Woking as straightforward as the London Underground already makes a ride from Barnet to Balham.

We are publishing this during difficult economic times for the country. But it is essential to maintain the impetus of forward thinking as part of [our] strategy for changing our services to meet new demands.

– Peter Parker, British Railways Board Chairman.

As many regular readers will already know, Crossrail is not a new idea. Indeed, the first mention of the name “Crossrail” appears in the 1974 London Rail Study Report. Since then many schemes of varying style and substance have been attached to the name, ultimately culminating in the version we are now seeing built.

One of the more fascinating possibilities never to arise appeared in 1980 (with a prospective target opening of 1991), when the British Railways Board published a discussion paper on the scheme for public consumption. The scheme was costed at £330m +/- 30% (in 1979 prices) and was seen as a relatively economical way of getting a North – South through option.

After disregarding an orbital option (but recognising the future value of the West London Line to freight), the scheme focused on linking the existing infrastructure north and south of London, possibly via a deepbore tunnel beneath the centre of the capital. Overall the basic objective was the same – to create a route that would allow existing Rolling Stock to be used to link the differing British Rail areas and run a variety of through or reduced-change services.

Three routes were looked at in order to achieve this. The first of these was to make use of the then-unused route between Blackfriars – Kings Cross (which would later reopen after the Moorgate electrification) but this was determined to be too expensive an option, and one not necessarily practical due to the difficulty of finding appropriate routes into Blackfriars.

The second and third options thus focused on more direct means of moving railway traffic north to south – a deep bore tunnel. Both these options suggested starting at Clapham Junction and then heading down beneath the river to a deep level station at Victoria. From there, however, the two options diverged. One looked at heading west to Paddington, while the other suggested heading up to Euston, where connections with the various mainlines in the Euston/Kings Cross area could be made.

Ultimately, it was the final of these options that was considered the optimal one and a feasability study was conducted. Starting from Clapham Junction, the line would head underground at Battersea Wharf. There would be a deep-level station at Victoria with four platforms which would need to be “capable of taking the longest tnter-city trains.” A matching four platform, deep level station would be built at Euston and the scheme also included provision for a travelator connection between Euston and Kings Cross. At both Euston and Victoria, the connections with the existing stations would be behind the barriers to facilitate interchanging with other services. Interestingly (and a sign of just how much communication has changed in the last thirty years), there would be provision at the new Euston low-level station for parcel handling.

North of Euston, tunnels would connect to the Euston main line, Kings Cross main line and Midland main line, whilst upgrading the existing line between Acton and Willesden would enable connections through there as well.

In terms of services, it was anticipated that the route would provide a wide variety of options for possible connecting services from the likes of Leicester, Leeds, York, Birmingham and Manchester with Southampton, Brighton, Dover and the Medway Towns. The diagram below gives an idea as to to the various connections envisioned.

In rolling stock terms, British Rail anticipated that most of the new connections could be serviced by existing or planned InterCity stock. The ill-fated InterCity APT, British Rail’s troublesome attempt at a tilting train was considered a possibility for services on the route.

An artist’s impression of the APT at East Croydon

Ultimately, the 1980 scheme is an interesting look at what might have been. Whilst a very different scheme from that which we now call Crossrail today, it was seen as needing to meet objectives not massively dissimilar. Indeed many of the external factors British Rail thought the scheme might need to interface with also look familiar – a then-prospective Channel Tunnel link gains a mention, with this Cross-London scheme seen as potentially opening up options for a Channel Tunnel connection to arrive into London at Victoria. The need for the scheme to potentially connect through to Heathrow Airport is also mentioned. British Rail also suggested that this scheme might relieve future congestion on the Underground, something that is very much an objective of Crossrail today.

Overall then, whilst the vision of Crossrail presented here is very different from that which we will see in times to come, it does nicely highlight that deep down often our basic transport needs don’t really change much at all.

You can read more about the 1980 proposal in the scanned pdf here.

Enormous thanks to Max Roberts for digging out the public brochure for this scheme and for scanning it in so that it’d be available to us.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.