Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Crossrail 2?

L ondon’s transport system just keeps getting busier. Around 1.37bn passengers travel in and out of the capital’s stations every year, journeying from their homes to shops, workplaces and to visit the sights.

Next year’s arrival of Crossrail, or the Elizabeth Line, will take some of the strain, but more capacity will be needed soon  - writes

Waiting in the wings, Crossrail 2 could arrive some time around 2030. Yet recently plans for Crossrail 2 have begun to look shaky, raising fears of a transport crunch in the capital.

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Formerly a key part of infrastructure and productivity strategies, the project now appears to be on the back burner as Brexit and political instability dominate.

There was no mention of Crossrail 2 in the recent Queen’s Speech. Nor was it in the most recent Conservative manifesto. But what does it mean for the UK if it never breaks ground?

Next steps

The idea for Crossrail 2 dates back to the 1970s, but the project only really got moving four years ago. Then-chancellor George Osborne announced the Government would “look at the case for” a second cross-London line in the Comprehensive Spending Review.

Running from Wimbledon in the south west of London to Tottenham Hale in the north east, the line would include links with major infrastructure hubs including Clapham Junction, Victoria and Euston.

The case for the line had been well rehearsed. A task force of London business leaders, headed by Lord Andrew Adonis, found that even with the major improvement and expansion programmes that are already planned or under way, overcrowding on the majority of London’s rail and tube network will increase beyond acceptable levels by the late 2020s.

On some parts of the network, demand will be such that the system will be unable to meet demand for large parts of the travelling day, it found.

“The south west of London and beyond and the north east of London and beyond: that’s where the problems are going to be in 10 years’ time,” explains Michèle Dix, managing director of Crossrail 2.

She is keen to stress that the benefits of putting the new line in are not just for the capital. “It’s a south east scheme of national importance,” she says.

Supporters of the scheme say it will deliver more than extra capacity.

A recent report from the Westminster Property Association, whose members own huge amounts of office and retail buildings along the length of the line, suggested that it would be a “catalyst for growth”, stimulating the building of around 200,000 new homes, as well as jobs and other development along the route.

The group called on the Government to take into account increases in activity in a wider London area that the project could bring about, not just changes around stations, when considering development policies.

“Crossrail 2 is a one-off opportunity to address some of the issues which have held back economic growth within London and further afield, improving the quality of life across the country as a whole,” the Westminster Property Association says.

But none of this can happen unless the line gets funding, and no one is entirely sure whether that is going to happen.

Those towns and villages outside of London which will benefit from the line need to be putting their hands in their pocketsJohn Walker, Westminster City Council

 The Crossrail 2 team submitted its strategic outline business case to the Government in March but has yet to be given the go-ahead from the Transport Secretary to back the scheme.

And now there is the small matter of a deadline to meet: if the hybrid Bill, which is needed to make the project happen, is not submitted before the end of the current five-year parliament, it will be dead in the water, the team has warned. 

The submission of the Bill has already been pushed back by a year – it was thought to be originally pencilled in for early 2019, but is now due in 2020. In order to keep the project on track it needs to have the go-ahead by the autumn.

“We are asking the Government for a firm commitment for the project and to move to the next stage of the design,” says Val Shawcross, deputy mayor of London for transport.

“We need a shared message from the business community that this venture will deliver high value for money.” Ms Dix reveals that, having written off the idea of attracting private funding for the venture as being too risky, the Crossrail 2 team are now reviewing the calculations.

The total cost of building the line is estimated to be £30bn.

“There have been three separate studies looking into private sector finance and comparing it to public sector options,” she explains.

“The general consensus is that [private sector funding] means more risk and higher costs, but in the current circumstances we are revisiting those things.”

Counting the cost

The Government wants London to demonstrate it can meet half of the cost, and the WPA’s report suggests that allowing London authorities to keep more of their property taxes, which are currently redistributed to central government, could be used as part of the funding.

John Walker, director of planning at Westminster City Council, is more frank.

“We need to look further afield,” he says. “Those towns and villages outside of London which will benefit from the line need to be putting their hands in their pockets.”

Politicians are so anxious about the project’s future that Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, is set to meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling for crunch talks later this month.

Ms Shawcross says she is confident that one way or another, the scheme will go ahead.

“This is too big and too important to let slip away,” she says, adding that the National Infrastructure Commission has already asked the team to shave £4bn off their budget.

She will not say exactly how much it might cost if the project does not get through in the timescale she wants, but says: “It is about lost income down the line, and lost growth for the city, if we have to keep the project in development longer than we had anticipated.”

Other estimates suggest it could cost as much as £1.8bn for every year the scheme is delayed. She adds that timing for the building of the line is crucial: if the team waits too long then construction workers could be pulled onto another infrastructure project elsewhere.

Some have criticised the idea of building another line for London, while other areas of the country lack investment, but Ms Shawcross says the two are not mutually exclusive.

“We do believe that we need to see the delivery of the Northern Powerhouse and so on,” she says, “but Crossrail 2 would sit alongside that.”

She adds: “This is the moment when we’re nearly there and it is the time for us to speak up.” But until it gets the go-ahead from the Government, work on Crossrail 2 has come to something of a halt at the moment.

According to the team behind it, not pushing forward is a decision made now that the country may regret in 15 years’ time.  There is definitely a will, but it remains to be seen whether there is a way.

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