Crossrail 2 update
ANDREW MOURANT finds out why things have gone a bit quiet on the Crossrail 2 front
ANDREW MOURANT finds out why things have gone a bit quiet for Crossrail 2.
These are crucial days for Crossrail 2, London’s next great infrastructure project, which aims to provide a seamless link between the capital’s north and south. Transport for London ( TfL) is waiting - perhaps with a degree of trepidation - to see what the Department for Transport (DfT) will make of its business case.
It all boils down to money, but no one seriously expects C2 to run away with the public purse, as has the electrification of the Great Western line. Its supporters, however, point to Crossrail 1, which appears to be on time and within budget. And if anything, C2’s projected cost has shrunk slightly from figures quoted last year.
Crossrail 2 is a proposed south-west to north-east rail line, based on the ChelseaHackney route. It will feature a twin 24-mile tunnelled section between Wimbledon and Tottenham Hale and New Southgate, connecting to existing National Rail routes in Surrey and Hertfordshire.
When RAIL interviewed C2 Managing Director Michèle Dix this time last year, she had plenty to say about funding, the business case and the technical challenges. But when we called for an update, TfL was notably reticent, as though fearful of rocking the boat while DfT money men and technical advisors are poring over their case.
Both parties were vague about when that verdict might be delivered - guesses revolved around late spring/early summer. However, it was possible to glean some clues about elements of the latest thinking from London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) which, earlier in April, hosted Dix at a business breakfast.
The LCCI is anxious for C2 to go ahead, but still wary about the financial burden the capital might incur. “Nowhere else ( but London) do ( business and residents) have to pay so much. The cost of doing business here is constantly increasing,” says policy manager Siwan Puw.
The chamber is “perfectly happy with the business case”, though it might find the bill hard to swallow if London is asked to contribute more than 50% through various money-raising devices, such as the infrastructure levy. In fact, TfL’s latest estimate is for a final cost of £ 31.2 billion, a little less than the £ 32.6bn - designed to cover all eventualities - that Dix spoke of last spring.
The momentum seemed firmly behind what Dix called “a big bold scheme that London wants and London needs… with benefits from the Solent to the Wash.” The then chancellor, George Osborne, had sanctioned the expenditure of £ 80 million – half the £160m price of an environmental impact statement and all work needed to prepare for a hybrid bill to go before Parliament.
Much has been made of the enormous long-term economic benefits - hopeful forecasts that Crossrail 2 will support up to 200,000 jobs, enable 200,000 new homes to be built across the southeast and yield productivity benefits of more than £100 billion to the UK economy.
Across the C2 supply chain there will be apprenticeships and investment in training, and there will be continuity, with teams of Crossrail 1 technical experts involved. Such are the hopes of the LCCI. It wants potentially productive overseas students who’ve graduated from British universities with useful knowledge and skills to be free to remain in the UK, so they can apply their qualifications to C2.
Last spring, few had seriously contemplated the economic consequences of Brexit and its effect on government thinking about big spending projects. It’s hard to find anyone who thinks C2 will be scrapped, but there’s unease about a potential delay to passing the required legislation.
Doubts have seeped out from within government about whether the route offers best value for money, even though C2 says it has done all the evaluations. Any slippage would dismay the LCCI. “We don’t want to be playing catch-up, instead of being ahead of the game,” says Puw.
“Michèle Dix suggested that by having rigorous consultation before submitting the bill you could tease out parts of the legislation that might cause hold-ups in committee - though that hasn’t stopped HS2 from being bandied around the Lords and Commons.
“That government asked for a revised business case does raise concerns and increases the need to keep up the pressure - there was a call for action to make the case.” But as Dix pointed out to her breakfast audience, there’s a new challenge - with Brexit destined to eat up so much Parliamentary time, a C2 hybrid bill, along with a lot of other things, risks being squeezed.
One option suggested at the meeting was to build C2 piecemeal - beginning with a station at either end of the line followed by intervening stops, as sources of money
become available. But as Dix points out, complex and expensive stations along with things such as ventilation shafts are integral to the overall plan.
Last July, Network Rail said that by autumn it would publish updated plans for technically problematic and contentious station sites, such as Balham/Tooting Broadway and King’s Road, Chelsea. But that’s all gone quiet. “We’re awaiting government approval of the business case before we make our revised plans publicly available,” an NR spokesman said.
However, it’s continuing to work on looking at where costs could be saved, preparing for future public consultations and how Crossrail 2 would link into existing transport infrastructure.
In September, TfL and NR summoned a range of experts from the engineering, design and construction industries who could become involved in C2’s next stage. The gathering was “intended to encourage collaborative working and early innovation, drive down costs, ensure the railway can be delivered on time and represent the best value for money.”
Recently, leaders of some of the UK’s largest construction companies wrote to Chancellor Philip Hammond with a plea to continue funding development of Crossrail 2 - “to show the world that the UK is open for business, despite its looming exit from the European Union.”
The shadow of self-interest is also looming. Observations made some time ago on C2 by David Leam, infrastructure director at London First, seem ever more relevant: that for London to swallow half the bill will involve “creativity and, inevitably, an element of pain”, and that the construction industry must ask itself “searching questions” about costs.
The LCCI is anxious for C2 to go ahead, but still wary about the financial burden the capital might incur.
Crossrail 2 will run from northeast to southwest London through 24 miles of twin tunnels at an estimated construction cost of £31.2 billion, but more detailed plans will not be revealed until the Government has approved the scheme’s business case.