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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