Open Ac­cess

Rail (UK) - - Contents - Peter Bryson, West York­shire

Some­thing to say? This is your plat­form.

As some­body who can re­mem­ber the em­bry­onic Cross­rail project as a dozen peo­ple work­ing in a tiny of­fice near St James Park Tube sta­tion, I was sad­dened (but frankly not sur­prised) to learn that this mega-project is now run­ning a year late and is also now mas­sively over bud­get.

Even back then, in those very early days of 2005, it was quite ob­vi­ous there were some ma­jor flaws in­her­ent within Cross­rail’s con­cep­tual de­signs.

The root causes of this very ex­pen­sive fail­ure we see in 2018 are not the ones which Chris­tian Wolmar re­cently iden­ti­fied in

RAIL. Ex­plod­ing high-volt­age elec­tri­cal sub-sta­tions and un­der-sized ven­ti­la­tion fans are sim­ply the most ob­vi­ous symp­toms.

The ini­tial de­signs for all of the Cross­rail un­der­ground sta­tions were, in far too many cases, sim­ply wrong. All city cen­tre sta­tions, es­pe­cially those ser­vic­ing high-ca­pac­ity and high-fre­quency un­der­ground metro sta­tions, are not about trains - these sta­tions need to be de­signed around re­al­is­tic es­ti­mates of the pedes­trian flows.

Un­for­tu­nately, in Cross­rail’s ear­li­est days, that par­tic­u­lar ex­er­cise does not ap­pear to have been done prop­erly. Thus, the ini­tial de­signs for Cross­rail sta­tions - es­pe­cially the busy one at Liver­pool Street - just ig­nored all well-known good de­sign prac­tice… that is, copy­ing what Lon­don Un­der­ground had first and bril­liantly de­signed way back in the 1930s.

They then stead­fastly re­fused to change their ini­tial draw­ings. It is no sur­prise to me now that these un­der­ground sta­tions are all now very late and also all sig­nif­i­cantly over bud­get.

Then came the de­ci­sion to in­te­grate Cross­rail’s timetable into the Na­tional Rail net­work, at both ends of the main tun­nel. This in­tro­duced a com­pletely un­nec­es­sary de­gree of com­plex­ity into the whole project.

This whole con­cept of in­ter-link­ing city-cen­tre op­er­a­tions into the ever-chang­ing na­tional rail timetable there­fore com­pletely over­whelmed the one key prin­ci­ple - the one that nor­mally says that city cen­tre metro sys­tems must al­ways be kept very sim­ple and com­pletely self-con­tained. From then on, the fi­nal out­come was in­evitable.

Fi­nally, and most se­ri­ously, the whole Cross­rail scheme al­ways was back then - and un­for­tu­nately still is to­day - com­pletely and ut­terly lop-sided in terms of its pas­sen­ger load­ings.

At the eastern end, it will at­tract mil­lions of com­muters, all of whom will want to alight at Liver­pool Street for their jobs in nearby City of Lon­don of­fices. Mean­while, the trains on the west­ern end will be (in the words of a for­mer Trans­port Sec­re­tary) cart­ing lots of fresh air around.

Ac­cord­ingly, the big­gest chal­lenge which the El­iz­a­beth Line will have to face when it even­tu­ally opens is the re­ally big one, the topic that no­body to­day wants to talk about: se­vere con­ges­tion and over­crowd­ing at Liver­pool Street. Once it opens, the poor lay­outs and in­ad­e­quate sig­nage at this sta­tion will un­doubt­edly cause op­er­at­ing is­sues.

What­ever else you might think of the re­cently de­parted Net­work Rail Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Mark Carne, he did get one thing right: when he said that he had trav­elled all over the world, but that he had never be­fore come across an in­dus­try where all of the ma­jor projects were de­signed and ap­proved on the back of an en­ve­lope.

“Chaos at Liver­pool Street” al­ways used to be one of the Lon­don Even­ing Stan­dard’s favourite head­lines. When the El­iz­a­beth Line fi­nally opens for busi­ness, I rather sus­pect that this head­line will be ap­pear­ing rather too fre­quently.


On April 21 2017, the ticket hall roof is be­ing in­stalled at Cross­rail’s new Liver­pool Street sta­tion. Peter Bryson be­lieves that the new sta­tion will not be able to cope with Cross­rail traf­fic.

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