Terry Morgan and Andrew Wolstenholme from Crossrail appeared before yesterday's transport committee to provide an update on this vital project. Tunneling the central section between Liverpool Street and Paddington is due to begin next month. The first section to open to the public will be the branch running to Shenfield in 2017. In late 2018 the central section will be running and the whole line will be operational in 2019 including the branch to Heathrow.
Journey times to the airport will be cut to 40-50 minutes and the whole journey will be much easier without having to change trains in West London. The new stations between Liverpool Street and Paddington will all be much larger than the existing tube stations and they will have public toilets - except for Bond Street. The trains will not have toilet facilities, a decision made with the intention of giving over as much room as possible to commuter seating.
I was concerned to learn that plans for the stations on the Shenfield branch have been scaled down. In particular, the opportunity to redevelop Ilford and Romford stations will be missed because Network Rail do not have a large enough budget to do more than provide basic disabled access. This is much less than we were promised several years ago and is very disappointing, as the stations are looking tired and their immediate surroundings suffer from graffiti, begging and petty crime.
Crossrail aims to provide employment for local people and they have an agreement with Job Centre Plus who are looking for suitable candidates. There will be 400 apprentices and the new tunneling skills academy in Ilford will play a key role. The academy will also train workers for HS2, the Thames Tideway Tunnel and other utilities projects. I emphasised the need for jobs to go to local people, following a disappointing performance from the ODA whose contractors imported a lot of labour from outside London.
TfL and Network Rail also gave evidence, telling us that surface rail in London has a bright future. The recession has not affected passenger numbers which continue to rise, with ridership on the trains expected to rise by over 40% in the next 20 years. Employment is only expected to grow by 14% over the same period in London, but most of the jobs will be created near to main line stations, so the effect on surface rail will be disproportionately large.
The London Overground lines have proved very popular and some parts are suffering from overcrowding. TfL will be providing longer trains to increase capacity and there are plans to electrify the Barking to Gospel Oak line.
Network Rail priorities will be to increase capacity on lines serving the Lea Valley and running South West from Waterloo. There will be longer trains for the C2C lines running out of Fenchurch Street.
High Speed 2 plans will create a need to enlarge Euston Station, otherwise overcrowding on the concourse will negate any time saved on the journey to Birmingham. Interestingly, Euston is the only underground station that can only be accessed through a main line station - not a lot of people know that!