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Cross purposes

Analysis Stadiums, Crossrail

With a raft of demands for new stations and enhanced noise mitigation has the Crossrail select committee dealt the scheme a terminal blow?

It is no secret that London's £10bn east-west Crossrail scheme is balanced on a financial knife edge.

Right from the moment in July 2004 when the then transport secretary Alistair Darling announced that the long-awaited scheme was to get its hybrid bill, the sheer cost was identified as its biggest obstacle.

Darling's decision to go ahead came only after a review of the scheme's business case by Network Rail deputy chairman Adrian Montague brought capital costs down from £8.9bn to £8.6bn by axing a branch to Kingston and replacing it with a branch to Maidenhead.

Even then Darling said that the scheme remained a 'huge challenge to deliver and fund'.

Since then a south-east branch to Ebbsfleet has been curtailed at Abbey Wood and promoter Cross London Rail Links (CTRL) has been carrying out a root and branch review of all designs to shave costs further.

Doug Oakervee, brought in as chairman in February, is the driving force behind the reappraisal and has pledged to keep costs below £10.3bn at 2002 prices, excluding inflation. 'Some people have been working on this project for 10 years or more and you get very attached to your work in that time, ' he says.

'But time has moved on, standards have changed and what was the best solution five or 10 years ago may not be the best solution now.'

Since Oakervee took the helm, depots have been axed and tunnelling methodology radically overhauled, all in a bid to keep his pledge to government.

So when select committee chairman Alan Meale MP last week described his colleagues interim decisions as 'bad news', he was not kidding (News last week).

The committee has called for an extra £23.3M to be spent upfront on Liverpool Street Station, a whopping £350M to be spent on a new station at Woolwich and an as yet unquantifi d sum to be spent on improving noise mitigation at various locations along the route, including for Grand Central Sound Studios and residents in Shenfield. Any one of these measures could tip the scheme over the edge.

But it is by no means certain that the committee will be listened to. Just as the scheme's parlous finances are no secret, neither is it a secret that the scheme is the must-do project of senior civil servants and London mayor Ken Livingstone, who has described the scheme as 'more important than the Olympics'.

So with cash tight, will the government choose to simply ignore or overrule the committee? It is certainly an option.

A Department for Transport (DfT) spokesman says: 'We have to respect the committee because its members have a lot of expertise. But it is ultimately for us to decide whether to accept its recommendations.'

Should the DfT choose to ignore the committee, the bill would certainly face a rougher ride through the Commons when it returns for its third reading.

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