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Why London needs more railways

Last week former London mayor Ken Livingstone used the London Transport Awards to set out the case for not just Crossrail, not just Crossrails 1 and 2, but Crossrails 2 and 3 as well.

It’s a pretty bold agenda, albeit from someone eager to set out his credentials as the man to drive London forward ahead of mayoral elections next year. Livingstone is expected to go up against current incumbent Boris Johnson in a rematch of the 2008 mayoral contest.

Surely, given the UK’s current fiscal constraints, any London mayor should be happy with one multi-billion pound rail scheme in his city? Not Livingstone - nor, to be fair, Johnson, who is also understood to be keen on Crossrail 2 at least.

But Johnson has yet to come out publicly in favour of Crossrail 2, and last week Livingstone stole a march on him.

Crossrail 2 is a revival of a project formerly known as the Chelsea-Hackney line, and has strong support - unsurprisingly - in the London boroughs that it would serve. But as yet it does not have much support elsewhere.

Crossrail 3 would run between Waterloo and Euston stations and has come somewhat out of the blue. So why is Livingstone pressing for so many extra railways?

He cited business and economics researcher The McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), which in March published a report highlighting the rapid development of rival cities across the globe. By 2025 MGI has calculated that by 2025 London will have dropped from third to fourth in its global cities ranking, with its GDP sandwiched between those of Shanghai and Beijing.

But crucially, when it comes to businesses seeking out new cities in which to set up, MGI looks at predicted GDP growth between 2007 and 2025. This sees London skittled down to 12th, behind 10 Chinese cities and New York - itself knocked down from first to third.

If London really does want to be in the top four cities of the world in 2025 we have to commit to investing in transport. We need to get the backing of central government and mobilise the finance. Because it could quite easily go the other way

Ken Livingstone

London and Moscow are the only European cities in the top 20. “The urban world is shifting,” says MGI’s report. “Today only 600 urban centres generate about 60% of global GDP. While 600 cities will continue to account for the same share of global GDP in 2025, this group of 600 will have a very different membership.

“Over the next 15 years, the centre of gravity of the urban world will move south and, even more decisively, east,” it says. “Companies looking for cities that will generate the most GDP growth will find another different list of potential urban hot spots.”

MGI - and Livingstone - are clear that infrastructure investment is critical to remaining competitive in what is clearly a changing business environment.

Currently, London is doing well. In 2009 a House of Commons Transport Select Committee investigation into taxes and charges on road users found that in 2007/08, per capita spend on transport in London was £195, compared with £100 for the UK overall. Government spending on Crossrail and the Tube upgrade means that this spend will be easily matched over the coming years.

MGI accepts that India and China will have to build infrastructure on a grand scale to meet the needs of their surging urban populations. India’s annual capital spend of £10 per head and China’s £70 per head are a fraction of London’s.

MGI estimates that India needs to invest £730bn in its cities over the next 20 years, equivalent to £81 per head per year. More than half of the capital investment is necessary to erase India’s infrastructure backlog and the rest to fund cities’ future needs.

China is coming from less far back, but could still be needs to construct 800km to 1,500km of metro each year for the next 20 years.

Livingstone, however, stresses this is no time for complacency. London may not need 1,500km of new metro, but, he believes, it certainly needs three more lines than its got now.

“McKinsey thinks that broadly our position is secure. But it’s only secure if we remain attractive. We have seen a huge turnaround in what we offer in terms of transport over the last decade. But you can’t rest on that,” he said last week.

“If London really does want to be in the top four cities of the world in 2025 we have to commit to investing in transport. We need to get the backing of central government and mobilise the finance. Because it could quite easily go the other way,” he said.

Readers' comments (1)

  • CrossRail is most attractive if it provides through services between Central London and its hinterland. Network Rail’s latest Route Utilization Study (RUS) therefore suggests extending CrossRail 1 to Reading, Watford Junction and the small towns served by the West Coast Main Line (WCML). Those extensions are needed before HS2 works start disrupting Euston.

    The RUS also acknowledges the potential need for a CrossRail 2 station serving Euston when it becomes crowded by the extra passengers from HS2 Phase 2. The RUS suggests extensions of CrossRail 2 - to main lines north of Kings Cross/St Pancras and south of Victoria - which could imply through services from South of Clapham Junction, to the Midland Main Line and WCML.

    Without CrossRail 2 or other mitigation measures Northamptonshire, Leicestershire and the area served by the southern end of WCML are economic losers from HS2, but they, Aylesbury and a swathe of the South Midlands could benefit from the following potentially ‘‘HS2 branded’’ mitigation measures.

    The core of CrossRail 2 could be limited to Euston/Kings Cross to Victoria/Clapham Junction via a single station at Tottenham Court Road. The rest could follow as CrossRail 2a – or CrossRail 3 - if Ken Livingston’s ideas are followed up. Eventually half of the envisaged 24 trains per hour on each Crossrail ought to be assigned to a) within and b) out of London services. The core phase
    1. would bring central London closer to areas which don’t gain from HS2 and
    2. could benefit Chiltern residents by allowing some CrossRail 1 services to be extended to Aylesbury, saving around 10 minutes in their journeys to Canary Wharf etc
    3. could enhance regional connectivity and network resilience and
    4. would spread the benefits of HS2 more widely across the South East of England,

    Stuart Porter MICE - Kettering

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