Whitepaper: Crossrail: An investment into UK infrastructure – the journey so far
Crossrail: for some people it’s an exciting and innovative project that is putting the UK on the European construction map. For others, it’s a frustrating commitment that is taking too long to deliver. Wherever you stand on the matter there’s no doubt that the addition of Crossrail will have a big impact on the UK’s transport network, and on passengers in London and the south.
From connecting destinations to reducing commuting times, there are lots of potential benefits to the new Elizabeth Line. In this whitepaper we will look at the development of Crossrail, the issues that the project has had, how its numbers add up, as well as the extent of its environmental impact.
What exactly is Crossrail – train or Tube?
The name “The Elizabeth Line” has caused some confusion when it comes to what Crossrail really is. Although the naming of the line in this way allows it to be referred to as a London Underground line, strictly speaking, it doesn’t fall within the definition of a Tube line.
Why? Well mainly because the trains are bigger, the tunnels larger and the line itself extends far beyond the areas of London that even the furthest reaches of the existing Tube network can get to. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t constantly referred to as part of the London Underground network – which, given the route that Crossrail takes, is at least partly true.
So, although Crossrail isn’t purely a London Underground line, it does cover a number of stops on the London Underground network. And, if you consider it to be part of the London Underground then it’s the first new line to be constructed for this network in more than three decades. The size and scale of Crossrail also makes it one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever begun in the UK – one of the reasons why it has been subject to so much scrutiny from so many different sources.
The biggest construction project in Europe
Crossrail is a very ambitious project and one that is currently the largest of its kind in Europe. It is setting precedents on a number of different levels and could pave the way for other transformation to take place in key transport infrastructure hot spots in the near future. It first began in 2009 and, although completion has now been delayed, trains are already being tested along the miles and miles and track using the new automatic train control system.
We’ve also had a first glimpse at what the new line is going to look like – it will appear in royal purple (appropriate given that the line is named after Queen Elizabeth II) and will share five stations with the London Underground.
- The new Elizabeth Line is very long and will have 41 stations in total
- It’s estimated that around 200 million passengers will use the new Elizabeth Line every year once it is up and running
- 10 new stations have been added to the line in key locations, including Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood
- 42km of brand new tunnels have been created in the course of the Crossrail construction. This required eight tunnel boring machines.
- A total of 200,000 tunnel segments were used to line the freshly created tunnels
- All of the new stations that were built under Crossrail are fully accessible i.e. they have step free access.
Costs and workforce
Ever since the Crossrail project began back in 2009 it has required a significant workforce, with some 15,000 people contracted since it started. The total working hours that have been put into creating this vast construction project have far exceeded 130 million. There have also been some significant opportunities created for the construction industry, including:
- 1,000 apprenticeships to help get new talent into the UK construction sector
- The creation of around 55,000 new jobs
- More than 75,000 business opportunities generated
- Specific opportunities for UK construction with 96% of Crossrail contracts going to UK based companies
- Construction jobs for 5,000 unemployed local people as a result of the Jobcentre Plus and Crossrail partnership
- It’s also estimated that Crossrail could have a very positive impact on residential construction in the areas that are touched by it, with 90,599 new homes predicted to be built along the route by 2021 and 180,000 by 2026.
Of course, the costs of Crossrail have been spiraling, particularly given the delays. The current total cost is around £15.4 billion – more than £600 million over budget. It’s thought that, once finished, Crossrail will contribute £42 billion to the UK economy. If those figures turn out to be sound then the benefit could far outweigh the cost.
The Elizabeth Line
In central London, the new Elizabeth Line is being designed to help take the pressure off some of the busiest areas by providing an alternative route via some key stations, such as Paddington, Liverpool Street and Tottenham Court Road. However, it goes much further than the centre of the capital, extending 60 miles outside of it. To the west of London, the Elizabeth Line will run all the way to Shenfield and Heathrow. And to the east it will run to Abbey Wood. It looks set to benefit a lot of people who live in and around the London area, including:
Commuters who live in areas like Reading or Essex
Currently, anyone making this daily commute to the centre of London has to change trains and allow for a pretty extensive journey time (depending on origin). When the Elizabeth Line is up and running, the journey time from areas like this to the centre of London will be much faster and there will be no need to change stations or lines. For example, an additional 1.5 million people will have just a 45 minute commute to major centres like Canary Wharf.
Anyone travelling to, or from, Heathrow and Central London
It can be a hair raising experience trying to get from the busy stations in the centre of London to Heathrow on time – and getting direct connections or taxis can be expensive. Once the Elizabeth Line is up and running this will be much easier. The journey will be at least 20 minutes faster from central London out to Heathrow airport, making the total travel time just 40 minutes.
The London Underground network is currently a crush, especially during rush hour in the centre of the network. With the addition of the Elizabeth Line it’s hoped that this crush can be reduced. The new line will increase the capacity of the network by around 10%. A boost of revenues to TFL (of £200+ million a year) should hopefully also provide more money to invest in stations and lines that have seen better days.
It’s not just central London commuters that have benefited from Crossrail, as the project has also been responsible for a variety of improvements and upgrades of stations and tracks that have delivered benefits for passengers across the line. There are even some sections of the Great Western Main Line that have been electrified as a result of the project’s engineering.
All this appears to be very positive so why has Crossrail suffered from such bad PR? The principal reason for this is that there has been significant delay. Given the size and scale of the Crossrail project it’s perhaps not surprising that there has been a delay but this hasn’t stopped the government and the media from taking aim at those in charge.
The Crossrail delay
Crossrail was initially supposed to begin operating in December 2018 and the high profile nature of the project has meant that missing this completion date – as now looks likely – has drawn all sorts of criticism. Although some parts of the line are already functioning, it’s not enough – according to Crossrail – in order to properly launch the project.
This month, the Abbey Wood to Paddington core section of the Elizabeth Line was supposed to be up and running. This would have covered some of the busiest and most central parts of the Elizabeth Line, including stations such as Farringdon and Liverpool Street. However, the section has missed its deadline and Crossrail Limited has justified a delay “to ensure a safe and reliable railway.” Now, the core section of the Elizabeth Line will not open until Autumn 2019, which is far later than anticipated.
Why has Crossrail become so delayed?
A number of different reasons have been given as to the delay that has affected Crossrail.
- The size and scale of the project, and the complexity of the details, have simply been underestimated
- More time is required for more testing
- Additional time is also necessary to develop the software to control the railway systems
- According to Crossrail there is still more construction work to do in the Elizabeth Line tunnels
The delay is a real bone of contention and has caused issues up and down the supply chains involved in Crossrail, as well as with MPs and the government. Many people wanted this to be the flagship transport infrastructure project for the UK so it’s unfortunate that it has ended up triggering so many disputes.
What impact does this have?
The most obvious impact is with respect to the reputations that are involved in the project. Currently, due to the delays, no one is really covering themselves in glory. However, it’s hoped that once the line is up and running, generating revenues and saving commuters time, that this will change.
Unfortunately, the delay to the main central section is likely to have a knock-on effect on completion dates for the latter parts of the project in other sections too. Plus, there is the potential impact that Crossrail overrunning may be having on the wider construction industry. Many people fear a talent drain as a result of the project overrunning, which could mean workers are not free to complete other large infrastructure jobs. One big infrastructure project that was delayed at about the same time as Crossrail was the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium. It’s been speculated that this is as a consequence of the Crossrail issues.
Later delivery of cross rail could also have a negative impact for commuters, for example:
Delays in the project completion
The Northern Line Battersea extension was supposed to be ready for use by London travelers by 2020. Although the tunnels for the extension have already been finished, the rest of the work has yet to be completed, including station fit outs and work on the tracks. This project is viewed as the next big infrastructure objective after Crossrail but the delay to the Elizabeth Line could mean that there aren’t enough contractors available to complete the Northern Line extension on time.
National Rail timetable chaos
The plan was for a new National Rail timetable to be launched at the same time as Crossrail. This may now need to be reconsidered for the stations that share track, stations and platforms with the Elizabeth Line, to avoid inconveniencing commuters.
Can a project like Crossrail ever be seen as sustainable?
For any construction project today, it’s necessary to consider the impact that the construction has on sustainability and the environment. This might be how sustainable the construction is, the effect on locals who are living around the construction of the line, or the impact of pollution etc from construction sites. Given the high profile nature of the Crossrail project it was essential for there to be some eco and environmental credibility established. These are some of the ways in which Crossrail tried to make the Elizabeth Line more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
Pollutant reducing emission controls were used wherever possible across Crossrail construction sites. For example, 84% of the construction machinery used for the central section of the Elizabeth Line was fitted with emission control systems.
Supply chain sustainability
Initially, criticisms were leveled at Crossrail with many assuming it would purely benefit businesses in London and the areas that the Elizabeth Line would reach. In the end, only just over a third of Crossrail contracts were given to London businesses and 62% were awarded to companies outside the capital. Many businesses benefitted greatly from being involved in the project, not just in terms of the income and profile but in other ways too. For example, 44% of small and medium sized businesses involved said they formed new networks as a result of Crossrail contracts.
Sustainably handling materials
The volume of earth that had to be removed to make space for the Crossrail tunnels could have been a big issue for the project. However, plans were put in place to make use of this earth somewhere else. In the end, the majority of it was used in other locations, including in the Jubilee Marsh as part of the Wallasea Island Wild Coast project.
Protecting the local living environment
Construction sites can be difficult to live close to, particularly when such an extensive project is being undertaken. Crossrail ensured that local residents’ environmental needs were considered with measures such as offering noise insulation to residents who lived close to where the work was taking place.
Although construction can often be responsible for pollution, Crossrail hoped to offset this through performance. For example, the design of the Elizabeth Line will result in an expected 2.5 million tonne CO2 reduction over its 120-year lifespan.
Nature and wildlife
Crossrail has planned regeneration for the natural landscapes that have been disrupted by the project. Multidisciplinary working groups have been set up to maximise the opportunities for biodiversity enhancement.
More than 100 archeologists have worked on the Crossrail sites throughout development. Their purpose was to protect historic finds and ensure the project was not disruptive to key sites. Tens of thousands of historic items that may never have seen the light of day were recovered during the Crossrail construction. These spanned 55 million years of London’s history.
Although Crossrail has run into many issues – and hit delays and additional costs – it still remains one of the most ambitious infrastructure projects in British history. Given the delay in completion is still not possible to fully appreciate what an infrastructure improvement like this will really be able to deliver to passengers in the UK, especially those commuting in and out of London on a regular basis.
As the largest construction project in Europe it’s still a flagship initiative and the hope is that it will prove to be a good investment, not just for the 200 million passengers who will use it on a regular basis but also for UK infrastructure and construction as a whole.
RG Group takes a keen interest in iconic construction, such as Crossrail, and its broader impact. Contact us to find out more today on 01732 526 850.