Crossrail 2: Doing Nothing Is Not An Option


Because of an article being planned analysing the October 2015 Crossrail 2 consultation, this thread is now locked and it is no longer possible to add comments.

“The ultimate false economy would be to delay decisions on Crossrail 2 in the face of overwhelming evidence that its going to be necessary. Engage in a lot of patch and mend work which will be unavoidable if you don’t do it AND THEN have to put into place a really serious Crossrail style line from the South West into the North East afterwards.”

– Lord Adonis, Transport Committee, May 2013

In February 2013, London First published Crossrail 2: Supporting London’s Growth. The report, which first appeared in provisional form in May last year, was accompanied by a well organised flurry of media activity which included high profile commentary from Lord Adonis and public backing from the Mayor. This ultimately resulted in some relatively in-depth coverage from both the BBC and the Evening Standard.

Interestingly, TfL themselves remained largely apart from the media activity surrounding its launch. By-and-large they appeared as respondents to the report’s conclusions, rather than as promoters. Following its publication, for example, the Financial Times talked to Michèle Dix, Head of Planning at TfL, who almost begrudgingly seemed to admit that TfL had begun thinking similar thoughts to London First. The IET’s coverage quoted her more extensively, and followed similar lines:

Transport for London’s (TfL) planning managing director, Michèle Dix, said: “We welcome London First’s recognition and support for the need of Crossrail 2.

“The capital needs continuous long-term investment in its transport infrastructure to keep pace with London’s increasing population and to support economic growth.

“TfL has been considering the route options for Crossrail 2 in light of this as well as the impact from projects such as the Government’s proposals for (high-speed rail project) HS2.

“We are currently considering two options for the route; we will be developing these options in more detail before carrying out a strategic consultation starting this spring.”

The narrative, at least as far as the mainstream media were concerned, seemed relatively clear:- London’s businesses felt that a new cross London line was vital, and they had a good idea of what form that should take. TfL’s job was now to take their ideas and turn them into reality. This TfL dutifully then did, leading to the publication this month of their public consultation into the route of Crossrail 2, offering two distinctly different proposals for the line.

London and its businesses had led, TfL had followed. It’s a good narrative, but (as is often the case), it isn’t quite the full story.

It’s The Way You Tell ‘Em

As those familiar with London’s various rail schemes will be aware, Crossrail 2 is not a new idea. The Chelsea – Hackney Line has existed as a concept since at least the late forties, when it was considered as part of the process that would eventually lead to the construction of the Victoria Line. The idea then resurfaced in the 1974 London Rail Study, in which both Crossrail and the London Overground also effectively debuted. In fact, a route for “Chelney” (as it has become known to its friends) has been safeguarded for future development, in some form, since the early nineties.


The current safeguarded route

It’s against – and indeed because of – the historical backdrop of this safeguarding that the current flurry of activity around Crossrail 2 takes place because back in 2009, the DfT asked the Mayor (and TfL) to investigate and review the safeguarding for Chelney, indicating that they wished to know within five years whether it should be retained.

The timing of both London First’s report, and now TfL’s consultation, is thus no coincidence. The narrative may be that London’s businesses may have asked for Crossrail 2, but they did so at a time when TfL very much wanted to be asked (and given that they contributed to the technical elements of London First’s report they effectively wrote the question). Indeed thanks to the arrival on the scene of High Speed 2 (HS2), the need for a clear push for Crossrail 2 has become increasingly important, from TfL’s perspective at least. For as both the Mayor and TfL have continually made clear, Euston Underground station is by no means capable of coping with the additional passenger throughput that HS2 would bring. The only way that the additional demand can be met is through bringing additional rail capacity to the station – and that rail capacity can only really come from Crossrail 2.

All this may seem to be splitting hairs – surely its the form the line, not the narrative, takes that really matters? As the battle to build Crossrail proved, however, both will be crucial in getting Crossrail 2 off the drawing board.

The Battle To Meet Demand

Before looking at the specific route proposals, it is worth stopping to consider why a new line is thought necessary at all. On this point the consultation is pretty clear – London’s population is still growing. Not only this, but it is growing faster than previously thought.

London’s population continues to rise and, based on the forecasts used in the work undertaken to date, was expected to have grown by 14% from the 7.8 million forecast for 2011 to 8.9 million by 2031. That increase in population was expected to be accompanied by an increase of 14% in employment. In combination this was expected to lead to some 16% additional trips per day.

With the release of figures from the 2011 census, it became apparent that London’s population had already reached 8.2 million in 2011 and is now expected to grow to between 9.7 and 10 million by 2031, a 9% to 12% increase on the forecasts used to date.

That increase in population brings with it increased demands on London’s transport infrastructure, even before HS2 is factored into the equation. In effect this means that any benefits set to be accrued by the improvements to the Tube network, and the opening of Crossrail, will have been negated by 2031. Indeed in real-terms overcrowding is likely to increase by 10% – with most of that focussed on North/South routes on the Piccadilly, Victoria and Northern Lines.


Overcrowding 2007 – 2031 (forecast)

Following the publication of the consultation, a number of the scheme’s key players, including both Lord Adonis and Michèle Dix, appeared in front of the London Assembly Transport Committee and this was the point that they clearly wished to hammer home – Crossrail 2 is no vanity scheme, it is a vital and near-inevitable requirement of future efforts to relieve pressure on the network. Were it not to be built, it would be necessary to carry out alternate piecemeal mitigating works – such as extending the DLR to either Euston or Victoria – which would provide only a fraction of the relief and connectivity yet still cost upwards of £8bn.

As Lord Adonis eloquently put it:

Doing nothing is not an option. If you don’t do Crossrail 2 then you have to do substantial work on the Overground, particularly in the South East and you have to do something, really significant, to the Tube.

One of the areas that already seems likely to contribute to this overcrowding is the Upper Lea Valley, where considerable growth and development has already begun to take place. It is also the development of this region that contributes greatly to the economic case for the line, something we will explore in more detail when we look at the specifics of the regional option.

Moving on to look at the proposed options in more detail, it is interesting to note that although TfL have only taken two options forward to full consultation, more were considered. Of these only the Metro, Regional and original Safeguarding made it as far as the final report.

A number of variations were considered during the planning process

A number of variations were considered during the planning process

The Original Safeguarding

As the consultation describes it:

The safeguarded route that was protected in 1991 and 2008 had proposed to take over part of the Central line. This would have entailed converting the Epping branch north of Leyton to Crossrail 2 operation, with all trains south-west of Leyton taking a different alignment and no longer offering a direct service to the City of London. The Central line would still have served the route to Leyton and the Hainault Loop via Newbury Park, where Crossrail 2 would have branched off the existing Central line, and would thereby have doubled the capacity between Leyton and central London. It was also proposed that the route safeguarded in 1991 and 2008 would take over the District line from Parsons Green to Wimbledon. This does relieve some crowding on this stretch of the line but does not address the more significant crowding challenges on National Rail lines from Wimbledon or the Northern line from Tooting.

Given that it did not make the final cut, it is not worth spending too much time on the original safeguarding. The reasons why it didn’t make that cut are given in the consultation’s supporting documents. Since the safeguarding was put in place, relieving the Piccadilly and Victoria lines in the long term has acquired a much greater priority. The existing route would also sever the link between the Epping Branch and the City, with similar results for Wimbledon in the south.

As a side note, the section of the report covering the safeguarded route does include one interesting nugget of information (bolding ours):

The Central line operates a high frequency 30tph peak period service, with 33tph services from the east during the peak hour. The Central line has long suffered from crowding. The opening of Crossrail should provide some relief to the line although crowding is forecast to continue. To help address this, there are future plans to upgrade the Central line before the completion of Crossrail 2 (forecast for around 2030), which will help to relieve the crowding. Those plans are in development as part of the work on a New Tube for London.

LR assumes that “A New Tube for London” is what was previously known as “Deep Tube” – the plan to produce a single, unified, new rolling stock for the Northern, Bakerloo and Central lines. Just as Crossrail 2 has begun to take on its narrative it seems that TfL are positioning their rolling stock programme to do the same, in this case taking a thematic lead from “the New Bus for London.”

Option 1: The Metro Option (Wimbledon to Alexandra Palace) – £9.4bn (£12bn with optimism bias)

Of the two options ultimately taken forward for final consultation the Metro is the smaller in scope, bearing more similarity to both the existing Underground network and DLR than to Crossrail.

Crossrail 2: Metro Option

Crossrail 2: Metro Option

This option would largely focus on relieving the Victoria Line and the mainline termini of Victoria and Waterloo, with limited relief to Liverpool Street in the east. Initially it had been posited that the Metro option terminate at Clapham Junction in the south, but the additional benefits of serving Tooting Broadway and Wimbledon were ultimately realised.

The line itself would be built with 5.5m metre diameter tunnels and relatively short platforms, and would be served by four-car trains. Assuming technology developed to support it, the intention would be to run up to 40tph.

From the relatively scant coverage this option receives in the consultation, it is clear that the Metro option is pitched as the “budget” version of the scheme. When pushed at the Transport Committee, Dix insisted that it was a genuine option – not something being offered up merely to provide a contrast to the larger option. It was clear, however, that it was the Regional option that was very much preferred by all parties within the room, including Network Rail. Indeed Dix admitted that if the Metro model was pursued, future conversion to a variant of the Regional would likely be an expensive, but ultimately necessary, activity.

Option 2: The Regional Option (Hertford East/Alexandra Palace – Wimbledon and beyond) – £15.7bn (£19.7bn with opimism bias)

The Regional option takes the route of the Metro option as its core, but adds considerable overground mileage on top.

Heading up from the south, trains from Epsom, Surbiton, Kingston, and Twickenham would head underground at a new station at Wimbledon, then follow the route of the Metro option on a newly-bored alignment through Tooting Broadway, Clapham Junction, Kings Road Chelsea, Victoria and Tottenham Court Road (where passive provision for Crossrail 2 is part of the current Crossrail works). It would then head up to a new “Euston St Pancras” station, continuing on to Angel.

At Angel, the line would split into two branches. The western branch would continue north through Dalston Junction (where passive provision again exists), Seven Sisters and Turnpike Lane before terminating at Alexandra Palace.

Meanwhile, the eastern branch would continue in tunnels to Hackney Central and then surface south of Tottenham Hale, close to Coppermill Junction. Here it would join the WAML through which it could continue on to Angel Road, Cheshunt, Broxbourne and Hertford East.

Crossrail 2: Regional Option

Crossrail 2: Regional Option

The Regional option would very much follow the Crossrail model. It would feature 6.4m diameter tunnels and 250m long platforms. It would have 10 car rolling stock, with the potential to upgrade to 12 car (indeed the consultation even suggests that Crossrail class 345s would be used). 30tph would be the target frequency.

The scope of the regional option is clearly much greater than the Metro, as indeed are the benefits – using DfT methodology the Metro has a Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR) of 1.2:1 whilst the Regional Option has a BCR of 1.8:1. Those ratios rise to 3.5:1 and 4.1:1 respectively, once wider economic benefits are taken into account. For the regional scheme, those wider economic benefits are considerable.

Following the Money

Ultimately, the relative benefits of both options amount to nothing if the funding can’t be found to build them. This is why, as we highlighted at the beginning of this article, Crossrail 2 is as much about the narrative within which it is framed as it is the plans laid down.

It is clear that TfL, London First and indeed Network Rail believe that it is vital that the scheme’s benefit to, and support from, businesses within the Capital is highlighted. What also became clear from the Transport Committee meeting was that all parties involved are being realistic about the amount of support they expect to receive from the DfT itself. As Lord Adonis rather bluntly pointed out:

In my experience the DfT is not very good at thinking more than five years ahead. It thinks in spending review cycles and its officials are deeply reluctant to engage in anything unless their political masters put it firmly on the agenda, which goes well beyond their spending review and possibly the one after. There’s also a strong view in the Department that London has done very well out of investment in recent years, and this is becoming politically contentious.

His comments go some way to explaining why Crossrail 2’s narrative seems set to focus heavily on the higher long-term cost of doing nothing at all. As he continued:

The pragmatic view you have to look at when evaluating projects of this kind is: ‘Is the status quo an option?’ And if its seriously NOT an option, what is the realistic choice you’ve got between different options?

The issue we face as decision makers is not a £12bn scheme or nothing, and that’s £12bn with a very strong economic case behind it and transformational increases in capacity, or a whole lot of patch and mend jobs that are going to be very expensive

It’s a strong argument, but whether it will be strong enough to persuade the Treasury, who will ultimately find themselves footing a considerable percentage of the bill, remains to be seen.

Indeed even should the initial support of the Treasury be secured, it is clear that the experience of Crossrail itself has played a considerable part in the decision by TfL and Crossrail 2’s other backers to try and present the scheme as a business led, and hopefully business funded (at least in part) scheme. For although Crossrail is now forging firmly ahead, it is not so long ago that its fate, and its funding, were very much up in the air.

Lord Adonis, it seems, believes that the fact that the scheme was not solely in the hands of the Treasury financially was a considerable factor in its survival:

I am fairly confident that if Crossrail had been a conventionally funded Treasury scheme it would by now have been cancelled. The reason it proved uncancellable was a combination of the HUGE political authority of the Mayor and the Greater London Authority, PLUS the fact that there was a Partnership Funding Model, including the supplementary business rate raising £4bn of the £16bn and direct contributions by London businesses. Which meant that if the Treasury had tried to cancel it then the FIRST people who would have wanted their money back would have been London businesses directly and indirectly.

The fact that TfL seem so keen to highlight London Business’ role as a wider partner seems to suggest that they at least tacitly agree.

You can find more details about the consultation, and how to take part, on the TfL website here.

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.