The Elizabeth Line is a success: so what about Crossrail 2? | So Good News
Since it was officially opened by the late Queen Elizabeth II in May 2022, the Elizabeth Line continues to occupy column inches in the press; fortunately, largely for the right reasons.
In the final days of October, the line’s Bond Street station – which will see as many as 140,000 passengers a day – opened to services and the public. A matter of weeks later and services linking Canary Wharf in East London – the capital’s financial district – and Heathrow Airport, 14 miles west of central London, finally became operational. The two had been delayed for months, at one point as much as 18 months behind schedule, after a tangle of setbacks.
Construction of the nearly £19 billion project began in 2009 when then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson helped lay the foundation stone at Canary Wharf. To mark the opening, Johnson, then Prime Minister, unapologetically heralded the occasion and signaled that he had even greater ambitions – not knowing, of course, that he would be ousted from office in the weeks that followed.
“We have completed Crossrail [the Elizabeth Line],” he told ITV News, “but frankly, there’s more we should be doing.” He went on to detail work across London’s rail network which he believed would ease commuters’ woes, adding tax-increment funding would be a worthy consideration.
“I think the real thing for us now is to think about things like Crossrail 2,” he continued, “the old Hackney/Chelsea line, which is going to be transformative again.”
What is Crossrail 2?
Crossrail – which takes passengers from east to west, and back again – has provided a blueprint for other projects like it, namely Crossrail 2. The proposed scheme has a history similar to that of its predecessor – namely long and mired in proposals, objections and counter-arguments . -suggestion. First launched in the 1970s, it traveled north to south, connecting Clapham Junction with Seven Sisters.
In the decades that have passed, plans have been drawn and redrawn, pushed along and stopped; leading to the project being where it is today. Estimated to cost in the neighborhood of £33 billion – significantly more than the Elizabeth Line – current plans are a significant improvement on previous variants.
Today, the ambition extends from Broxbourne, north of London in Hertfordshire, traveling south and branching off at Wimbledon with four final destinations in Surrey using existing railway lines including Shepperton, Hampton Court, Chessington South and Epsom. The 2015 consultation map shows almost 50 stations, which offer access to other London Underground, Overground and National Rail services via a network of interchanges.
The scheme is being developed jointly by Transport for London and Network Rail, with support from the Department for Transport and sponsored by the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State for Transport.
The project says that when completed, which is expected to be in the 2030s, it will increase London’s rail capacity by 10%, bring up to 30 trains an hour to destinations across the network, ensure that 800 stations across the UK are within an interchange of London, providing additional capacity for up to 270,000 more people to travel into the capital at peak times, relieving congestion and overcrowding on Tube and regional rail services.
By 2030, it is expected that London’s population will have grown to 10 million, one million more than today. According to Crossrail 2, it will equate to an additional 5 million journeys across the capital’s transport network each year. “Crossrail 2 will give our transport network the extra capacity we need to keep the wider South East region working and growing, and to make life here better,” it said.
The benefits the project can provide in the form of reduced travel times and improved access to London and its constituent parts will not be reserved for Londoners, according to the project. It says they would stretch across England from South East to South West, the Welsh borders across the Midlands to East England, as far north as Lincolnshire. Around 35% of the current UK rail network (over 800 stations) will have a direct service to a station served by Crossrail 2.
“Connecting so many of the UK’s most intensively used rail lines will help improve national connectivity,” says Crossrail 2.
As well as the improvements the project would bring to London’s transport network, it would also have some important social and community benefits. Among them is the development of 200,000 new homes and 60,000 new jobs across the UK supply chain (a further 200,000 when completed), according to the project’s management. But Crossrail 2 is a scheme “for the future of the whole country, not just London”, it says.
According to figures, the first Crossrail project saw 96% of contracts go to British companies, almost two-thirds of which were based outside London. This, it says, is something this project could also do, generating as much as £5 billion in business for UK SMEs alone. Naturally, the lion’s share of the spread will be for England, but businesses in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also expected to secure orders if the project goes ahead.
Will it leave the station?
The question is, will it continue? Like so many large infrastructure projects, it is not easy to answer. Crossrail 2 is not unique, it also suffers from the on-and-off variations of any other major multi-billion pound project in the UK and in many other developed countries. The issue, as is almost always the case, is funding and as such political will.
As the shadows lengthened after Johnson’s tenure, he continued to extol the project’s virtues. However, funding has been a topic of much debate and concern for all parties.
The UK government has been steadfast in its insistence that London should fund the majority, mainly through Transport for London (TfL) and private partnerships. In 2014, an independent review by PwC suggested that over half of the costs could be met by London using existing funding mechanisms.
Despite political support at both local and national level, the project hit the buffers in the following years. In 2016, things seemed to fall into place for the project to gain momentum, and the government allocated funds after a series of consultations. However, the project was again bogged down with funding concerns and cost considerations.
Following the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, TfL faced a financial black hole as passenger numbers – and therefore revenues – collapsed. It has since had to rely on short-term funding deals from the Treasury; until recently when a more permanent funding package was agreed. As such, Crossrail 2 was apparently shelved – at least for now.
Project managers admitted in late 2020 that they were unable to confirm when work could restart due to TfL’s “current finances and the lack of a viable funding package for the scheme”.
They added: “Crossrail 2 will continue to be needed in the future to support London’s growth and we have clearly demonstrated the case for the scheme. The project is set in good shape, ready to restart when the time is right.”
Along with Johnson’s call to revive the project in mid-2022, the new funding package with the UK government gave some hope that the project was back on track. The package still leaves TfL with an annual deficit of £800m, meaning major projects remain in doubt. In his final days in office, TfL Commissioner Andy Byford warned that it was still the case that TfL faced financial challenges.
“The deal was not as much, in terms of quantum, or as long in duration, as we would have liked. So we are not suddenly able to say that all the projects are back on track,” Byford said. His departure from the role – and the loss of his enthusiasm for the project – will prove to be a further challenge to the project if it is to regain momentum.
But Byford remained somewhat optimistic about the future of Crossrail 2: “I like to think we won’t be in this situation forever, we’ll move to sunnier highlands. There will come a point where we are able to do more, but I should just manage people’s expectations: big-ticket items are not on the horizon right now.”