Crossrail logoEarlier today I went to an exhibition for Crossrail, the project to build a railway line under London from east to west, to match the existing north-south route. The project was begun in 1989 after Thameslink was opened, but this is a much bigger undertaking; all that had to be done was to re-open an old tunnel between Blackfriars and Farringdon. This will consist of an underground line all the way from Paddington to the Docklands. (The exhibition is at the Building Centre in Store Street, WC1; see this map).

I’ve always wondered how useful the line will be. OK, not everyone from south London wants to go to Cricklewood or Bedford, but it does link south London straight to Kings Cross and Luton airport, and north London to Gatwick. This new line will link west London to the City and Docklands and east London to the West End, but other lines already exist that do that, although this one does it in fewer stops. Thameslink caused nothing like the huge level of disruption that Crossrail is doing; whole areas of central London, such as around Tottenham Court Road station (and, I’m told, Whitechapel as well), have been turned into building sites, with huge numbers of businesses having been forced to close.

The exhibition featured a scale model of London with its railways highlighted (Crossrail less prominently so, for some reason). There was a tube model of Tottenham Court Road station, which you could look into and just about make out signs and people standing on the platform. The station designs don’t seem to be too flashy — this isn’t going to be a repeat of the “Star Trek sets” on the Waterloo-North Greenwich stretch of the Jubilee line. But I can’t help wonder if it will be money well spent. It took ages to get the thing rolling, even during the “boom”, so why is it a priority now that the boom’s over?

I suspect that the real reason is to provide a faster link between the Docklands and Heathrow — the Docklands as we know them are, of course, a Thatcherite product and the people in power now think she did not go far enough. Besides Heathrow, other end points include Shenfield, where trains to Southend and East Anglia stop, but also Abbey Wood (an obscure south-east London suburban station) and Maidenhead (rather than the more obvious Reading). The Heathrow link uses the Heathrow Express branch, which makes it look likely that you will not be able to use a Travelcard to get there. Perhaps it’s a way of injecting money into the economy, but public works projects for their own sake sound a bit old-fashioned and Keynesian for this government.

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  • Saggal

    Salaams from France.

    Did the design show the specific places the Crossrail stations are going to be situated in in the Docklands? Trying to sell a flat in the Docklands and although public transport in that area is excellent already, a crossrail station might make the flat more attractive to prospective buyers.

  • YusefH

    When the Channel Tunnel was started there was a lot of talk about railway improvements to somehow link it all up to the rest of the country - one example was how some massive sidings at the M5 / M6 junction were to be a freight terminal (OK maybe not the best idea). Seemed like it served it’s purpose - to shut everybody else up whilst the South East got the lions share of infrastructure cash.

  • Salaams, Saggal: the Docklands stations are at Canary Wharf and Custom House, both on the Abbey Wood branch. (There’s also one at Stratford on the Essex branch.)

  • M Risbrook

    and Keynesian for this government

    You’re not the first person to notice that.

    It was the Conservatives who adopted Keynesian economics back in the 1930s. Labour with their largely uneducated membership couldn’t make head nor tail of it which is why they went into meltdown as they could offer no solutions to the recession. After Milton Friedman’s monetarism was embraced by the Conservatives in the 1970s, anything Keynesian was thrown out of the party. The consequence of this is that today’s Conservative party is filled with Thatcher’s barsteward children. Perhaps it isn’t a Keynesian public works project but a gift to the suits and spivs who work in the city.

    the Docklands as we know them are, of course, a Thatcherite product

    What was your vision for Docklands? Believe me, the place was a dump 30 years ago.

  • Well, my point was that the Tories are keen to put a prestigious rail link through London from the Docklands to Heathrow because the Docklands are “their baby”. Not meant as a judgement on the Docklands as they are today.

  • Saggal

    Thanks Yusuf,

    Wonder where all the working-class people that were indigenous to to the Docklands area moved to? Everyday there are more and more new sleek skyscrapers being added to Canary Wharf and everybody is so cosmopolitan and they all look and sound the same (clones).

  • M Risbrook

    Wonder where all the working-class people that were indigenous to to the Docklands area moved to?

    South Essex. The new home of the Cockneys. Also a fertile area for the BNP…

  • There are other places which took displaced East Londoners, including New Addington in Surrey.

  • M Risbrook

    There are many white flight towns in England. Market Harborough is one of them that is filled with former residents of Leicester.