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Cross capital investment

The shadow Strategic Rail Authority has thrown its weight behind London's Crossrail and Chelsea-Hackney lines in a report now being considered by deputy prime minister John Prescott. Diarmaid Fleming reports.

WHILE RAILTRACK licks its wounds from Hatfield and Ken Livingstone and Bob Kiley wrestle with the Government over public private partnership for London's Tube, commuters might be forgiven for not being too interested in how London's rail network will look in 10 years time.

But a confidential report from the shadow Strategic Rail Authority, seen by NCE, gives some hope that London could eventually have the urban rail network it needs. Proposals put to deputy prime minister John Prescott earlier this month give renewed impetus to the Crossrail and Chelsea-Hackney lines.

If these are completed many rail commuters will be able to travel to the heart of the capital without having to switch to the Tube when they reach the terminus stations around central London's periphery.

A massive £10bn spend is proposed in the sSRA's London EastWest study, currently on Prescott's desk. Produced by a group representing the sSRA, London Underground, Railtrack and Transport for London, it certainly represents current thinking for the future of rail in the capital.

Unsurprisingly, the report says that London's overground and underground networks are near capacity. Peak time passenger growth on the already overloaded network is expected to be 15% over the next 20 years, while off-peak growth is expected to double over the same time. Forecasts predict central London will continue to be the destination for two thirds of trips, with the City, the West End and Westminster the most popular destinations.

Plans to reduce congestion by upgrading existing infrastructure were examined, but the study concluded that none of these options would alleviate crowding in central London.

Three options looked at included upgrading the North London and South London lines, linking the northern section of the Circle Line into the national rail network, or 'upgrading the existing radial routes into Paddington and Liverpool Street'. Instead, the report concludes that overcrowding in central London can only be dealt with by new cross London links.

Rail links identified as being the nearest to choking point in terms of passenger flow and train numbers are the Victoria and Central Tube lines, and the Great Eastern and South West main lines. 'On examination of individual lines and termini stations, it is clear that capacity is restricted by pinch points on the lines, by the mix of traffic or by terminal capacity, ' says the report.

Line capacity restriction prevents expansion of traffic into Waterloo and Cannon Street, while the size of terminals at Paddington and Fenchurch Street restrict expansion there.

Any hope of solving these immense problems with what is available now is ruled out.

'There is little opportunity to provide the significant increase in network capacity required to support the forecast growth in rail travel by upgrading the existing system, ' the report says.

Among the schemes looked at were Railtrack's ill fated plan to link the northern section of the Circle Line to the rail network, and plans to lengthen platforms, increase tracks and boost train frequencies.

The report suggests that relieving overcrowding and bottlenecks near termini requires new routes through central London. Constraints posed by existing buildings and tunnels has limited the choice to three new lines.

One is Crossrail, the proposed east-west tunnel from Royal Oak near Paddington to Bow beyond Liverpool Street. The other two are based on the Chelsea-Hackney line. One, linking Wimbledon and Liverpool Street, comprises a tunnel from Raynes Park near Wimbledon in the south west through Liverpool Street to Bow.

The other, known as the Wimbledon-Hackney option, is a tunnel from Wimbledon via Kings Cross to separate portals at Hackney Wick in the east and Finsbury Park to the north. Each tunnel would have intermediate stations and connect to main rail lines at either end of the city.

The efficiency of each option was modelled against regional express and regional metro alternatives. The metro would serve passengers within the M25 with frequent services stopping at all stations en route. As far as possible they would use dedicated track not shared with other operators.

Express trains would only serve stations in the centre of town, linking up with National Rail Network services beyond the M25.

In the end sSRA has recommended that feasibilty work on the bigger Wimbledon-Hackney scheme go ahead, rejecting the Wimbledon-Liverpool Street option.

It also recommends immediate progress or 'project definition' on the Crossrail metro option as the backbone of future London rail upgrades. Because of work already done on Crossrail, the option would have a lower risk and quicker delivery time with less disruption.

The report also endorses plans for a direct rail link between Heathrow and St Pancras. This would involve sixtracking the Great Western Main Line from the current four lines - 'a complex task' - plus electrification works.

'St Pancras would then form part of a 'super hub', including Kings Cross, possibly linked to Euston by a people mover, serving the East Coast Main Line, the Midland Main Line and Thameslink, ' the report notes. More capacity on the Great Western tracks for the Heathrow route could be provided by longer platforms at Paddington and extension of the train shed.

Controversially, however, the report is against extending Crossrail to Heathrow. 'While this would seem to be at first sight a sensible connection, there are issues as to whether a cross-London tunnel link is appropriate for an airport link and whether such a connection optimises the use of the limited rail facilities at the airport, ' the report adds.

Luggage bearing airport passengers heading for central London are incompatible with commuter services. Airport trains require a longer 'dwell time' at the airport to allow for baggage and passenger unfamiliarity. While the St Pancras route would not suit those heading east, they could interchange at Hayes and Harlington. The Airtrack scheme proposing to link Heathrow with the south west rail network near Staines if Terminal 5 goes ahead is also approved.

A range of options is proposed for freight routes, starting with upgrading the Barking to Gospel Oak line in North London. Here, however, tunnelling options would need to be investigated if links to the Great Eastern and Great Western networks are to be built. This is because of limitations imposed by the existing Hampstead tunnel which cannot accommodate deep sea freight containers.

The report recommends that Prescott proceed to various stages of action and further investigation. Some work is recommended to start over the next two years.

This includes platform and train shed extension work at Paddington and upgrading the Gospel Oak to Barking line. But the real meat for civil engineers is likely to be some way off. Construction of the estimated £2.8bn Paddington to Liverpool Street tunnel is not pencilled in until 2008 with the £5.3bn Wimbledon-Hackney link to starting around 2010.

The Crossrail option would require construction of a £600M tunnel between Old Oak and Neasden to connect through to track running out of Marylebone to Amersham. Including this, performing the surgery to heal London's ailing rail system will come to a total bill of £10.8bn.

While passengers may complain of delays, completion of the lot is not envisaged until around 2017.

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