Crossrail approved

22 October 2007

The UK government has finally approved the construction of Crossrail to take main line trains east-west across London, and which is due to be opened over 2017-18.

The greenlight from Prime Minister Gordon Brown came only days after the rail project won a vital private sector funding commitment from the City. The City’s sudden approval, in a closed door meeting, came just before the government was set to issue its spending review with funding details, which was due after T&TI went to press.

Subject to the Bill for the project securing Royal Assent from Parliament by mid-2008, main construction of the link is scheduled to be fully underway by 2010 – when the capital will also be in the throes of building for the 2012 Olympics. A further large tunnelling project that has been mooted for the city is Tideway, approval for which would lead to a particularly high peak in activity in the UK (T&TI, April, p6)

Principal tunnelling works for Crossrail will be under central London from near Paddington east to Liverpool St and Whitechapel, after which it forks, one branch surfacing close to Stratford and the other going up and down though Docklands and below the Thames. There will also be a mostly tunnelled spur to Heathrow.

The total length of the project is 118.5km, including a total of 41.5km (earlier estimated at 46km) of bored tunnels, plus seven (possibly eight) underground stations and also numerous deep shafts. The 6m i.d. tubes are to run generally 20m-25m deep, occasionally 30m-35m, and at most 40m-50m in east London. The link will have 38 stations in total and at peak hours the service in central London will provide 24 main line trains in each direction.

The outturn budget for the scheme is US$32bn, which has been assessed as enough to cover inflation as well as project costs such as land acquisition, compulsory purchase and contingencies. The budget is to be split between the government, business and passengers, though details were not disclosed.

Shortly before the government’s announcement early this month, the City of London Corporation voted to fund the project, though the contribution was not disclosed. The Corporation has lobbied for the link since the mid-90s as Crossrail would give the City a direct link to Heathrow and boost London’s transport capacity by 10%, it is estimated.

Securing sources of sufficient non-state funding has been the main barrier to the scheme. While seeking to tightly control public sector spending over the last decade, the Labour government was not keen to be sole backer of a major project with, some may argue, inflationary risks.

With renewed impetus behind the scheme, new feasibility studies were launched in 2001, and they led to the Bill to Parliament in 2005. The estimated cost, including contingencies, was then put at approx. 80% of that now forecast (US$32bn with inflation adjustment). Following interim feedback from Parliament last year it was then anticipated the scheme might be built by 2015.

There was speculation this year that Gordon Brown, should he become prime minister, would soon back Crossrail. Speculation increased when a plan for private sector funding for a dropped aspect of the project - a station at Woolwich - appeared from a property developer, Berkeley Homes (T&TI, April, p8).

A confidential planning deal was struck with the local authority as the tunnels would still run below Woolwich, next to one of the builder’s prestige developments. Parliament welcomed the move, but the station must not cost anything for Crossrail developer - Cross London Rail Links Ltd.