Crossrail was first envisaged almost 20 years ago. Now, 2 decades, 4 prime ministers, 6 chancellors and 15 transport secretaries later, what has been described as the ‘greatest engineering project in the Northern Hemisphere’, finally appears set to become a reality.


Crossrail is a project to build high-frequency railway connections across Central London, directly linking up the UK’s key economic centres. It will almost certainly be the biggest infrastructure project seen in the UK since the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. It is a 50/50 joint venture between Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DfT).


Up until October 2007, many feared that Crossrail would only ever be an expensive white elephant which would never come to fruition, despite various governments having already spent some £400m on the project. However, the Prime Minister confirmed on 5 October, 2007, that Crossrail has the funding to go ahead.


Although Crossrail has long had support from most of London's politicians and business community, it has been held up for a long time due to wrangling over its financing. However, it was announced that the project will go ahead after the City of London Corporation finally agreed to help finance the project. The government had sought around £300m from the City, arguing that City companies would benefit most from the scheme. The total cost will be some £16bn. The government will pay for a third, businesses will pay for a third and a third will be raised from ‘advanced ticket revenues.’


The route of the proposed line will run east-west with one connection to the west and two to the east. This Crossrail route will travel from Heathrow and Maidenhead in the west, to Paddington, through the West End, the City of London and Canary Wharf and onto East London, with the route splitting into two branches at Whitechapel, with one branch travelling onto Shenfield in Essex and the second branch passing through the Royal Docks and onto Abbey Wood in Kent.


The line will provide direct interchange with other rail, underground and local transport services in London. Crossrail ticketing is intended to be integrated with the other London transport systems, with travel cards being valid within Greater London.


Crossrail has often been compared to Paris's RER - a hybrid system bringing together a modern city-centre underground and pre-existing regional rail. Within the city of Paris, the RER serves as an express network offering numerous connections to the Paris Métro.


The Positives

  • Crossrail will generate estimated benefits of £37bn to £68bn (present value) to the UK economy over 60 years.
  • It will provide additional national tax revenues of at least £14.8bn, assuming Crossrail services begin in 2015.
  • The time that Crossrail will save business is valued at £4.86bn.
  • Transport for London (TfL) has calculated that Crossrail will provide 40% of the extra rail capacity London needs by 2015.


The Negatives

Some freight train operating companies are opposed to the current plans for Crossrail, because they say it would use up much of the remaining rail capacity within the London area, and do not provide the necessary extra capacity on connecting lines. This will make it harder to route freight services from the southern ports to the north and will increase freight transit times.

Rail Freight Group, in particular, is also concerned about the fact that the Bill gives Crossrail trains priority over the slow lines to the west and east, which could seriosuly hinder freight movement. This worry was raised by a number of Members of Parliament during the parliamentary Second Reading debate on the Bill which took place on July 19th 2006.


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