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Cross-London projects languish on the back burner

01 Feb 2007

WHILE the East London Line is finally being rebuilt to provide rapid and frequent services along a corridor linking London's northern and southern suburbs, two major projects to make it simple for rail passengers to travel across London have made spectacularly little progress over the last 15 years.

The Thameslink 2000 plan to expand services through the north-south tunnel between Blackfriars and King's Cross dates back to 1991, when the then government vetoed the scheme. The project was kept alive by British Rail and later Railtrack, which in 1997 applied for powers under the Transport & Works Act. Further delays occurred, and a public enquiry eventually began in 2000. This was completed in 2001, but the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister rejected the scheme in 2002.

Another submission was made in 2004 and a second public enquiry was carried out in 2005. Only on October 18 2006 did the Department for Transport announce that legal powers and planning consents had been granted. Yet even then the decision was not a final go-ahead, as no undertaking was given on how the scheme was to be funded.

A hint of progress came on December 12 2006 when Secretary of State for Transport Douglas Alexander tabled a written statement in the House of Commons announcing that Network Rail had been authorised to spend £30m on project planning and design development to enable 'a more informed decision' to be made when the case for funding is considered this summer. The price tag for the Thameslink programme has meanwhile risen from around £500m to £3·5bn.

The east-west Crossrail scheme, for which a bill was originally deposited in November 1991, has made even slower progress. A hybrid bill for a revised scheme costing around £10bn was deposited in February 2005, and this is currently grinding its way through the parliamentary process.

In a letter to the Prime Minister dated July 12 2006, Alexander insisted that 'we are making good progress'. He wrote that 'as we approach Royal Assent, which I expect will broadly coincide with the 2007 Spending Review, we shall look to have made progress towards identifying an equitable funding solution for Crossrail.' Indications are that work will not start until after the 2012 Olympic Games - meaning that the project is probably still at least a decade away from completion.

Having said that, Crossrail has strong support from Transport for London, which describes it as an 'essential' project. With Mayor of London Ken Livingstone keen to see progress on public transport improvements, an investment plan known as Transport 2025 provides a focus for future developments. Embracing a package of capacity expansion schemes, it has been put forward to the government for discussions in relation to the Comprehensive Spending Review.