As a full public consultation on the route of the proposed High Speed 2 line from London to the north kicks off this month, prepare to hear much about the vital importance of not Crossrail, but its sister project, Crossrail 2.
Plans for a line to link the south-western and north-eastern suburbs of London via the West End were first proposed almost 50 years ago and a possible route, known as the Chelsea-Hackney line, from Wimbledon to Leytonstone, was identified and safeguarded in 1991.
The project was last seriously considered in 1995, and while forgotten by many, it remains a vital part of London’s future.
Indeed, as recently as five years ago, senior Transport for London (TfL) engineers were privately telling NCE that of the two Crossrail lines, the rebranded Chelsea-Hackney line stood far more chance of getting built first.
It hasn’t worked out that way, but serious plans to build a high speed rail terminus at Euston have brought the scheme crashing back onto TfL’s radar. NCE understands that London mayor Boris Johnson will be saying a lot more about Crossrail 2 in the months ahead as pressures on his commuter network mount.
The reason is clear-cut. The government’s High Speed 2 company envisages running up to 18 trains per hour into Euston on the two-way high speed line. With each train capable of carrying 1,100 passengers, that translates into nearly 20,000 passengers per hour arriving at the already congested Euston rail hub.
Without Crossrail 2 existing London Underground lines will be simply unable to disperse those sorts of numbers.
Crossrail 2 has much going for it – not least in cost terms. With fewer central London stations it is much cheaper than Crossrail 1, which with its 21km of tunnels and eight subterranean stations is currently expected to come in at around £14.5bn at 2017 prices.
Back in 1995 TfL saw Crossrail 2, with its 7.3km long tunnel, as costing between £2.4bn and £2.8bn. Even allowing for 20-odd years of inflation, engineers tell NCE it’s still a lot cheaper.
The line would also connect Euston to King’s Cross St Pancras, partially resolving concerns that High Speed 1 (which terminates at St Pancras) and High Speed 2 are not properly connected.
It connects with Crossrail 1 at Tottenham Court Road and also opens up access to the wider south east rail network and offers options for direct rail links from high speed rail services terminating at Euston and St Pancras to Gatwick and Stansted airports.
Crossrail 2’s original route ran from Wimbledon in the south-west to Epping in the north-east. A 7.3km long tunnel under central London would connect existing District Line services in the south-west with Central Line services to Epping.
New underground stations would be built on the King’s Road in Chelsea and at Essex Road, Dalston, Hackney and Homerton. The line would include stops at Sloane Square, Victoria, Piccadilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road, King’s Cross and Angel.
Late last year, Network Rail recommended that the safeguarded alignment be adapted to add in an interchange at Euston. It said that if London was to cope with more rail passengers, it had to brace itself for more capital outlay.
“More extensive options – for example, the building of entirely new lines – may be needed,” said Network Rail, in its 20-year Rail Utilisation Strategy (RUS) for London and south-east England services.
It believes that the number of passengers travelling into London in the busiest hours will grow by more than a third by 2031. The coalition government has pledged to start running trains on an initial High Speed 2 network by 2026.
Network Rail planning and development director Paul Plummer said: “Some of the conclusions in this report are stark. This strategy should act as the starting point for a wider discussion, looking beyond rail planning to changes to how we live, work and travel.”
Network Rail, and indeed the London Assembly, recognises that Crossrail 2 is not affordable at present. But it is clear that if High Speed 2 becomes a reality, so must Crossrail 2.