Tuesday 7 November 2017

Crossrail 2: TfL has a plan B. Will it work?

Public news on Crossrail 2 is very limited, however it is slowly becoming clear that TfL has a plan to try and move the project forward. Whether it succeeds or not, depends on the Government.

Plan B

There was supposed to be a consultation on Crossrail 2 in late Autumn last year, 2016. It was stopped at the last minute, when the Government asked for more details on the business case.

So, TfL went away and produced a business case with the goal of funding half the cost of the project. But when the meeting with the Transport Secretary came in July 2017, it was clear that they hadn't entirely seen eye to eye.

What has become clear since is that TfL has now been asked to fund half the cost during construction. This is a much harder task, as TfL is already at maximum borrowing, and much of the money coming in for the next 15 years or so is allocated to paying off Crossrail 1.

One of the asks the government made of us was to pay for half the costs of Crossrail 2 in real time, so not simply paying it after the event, but paying during the course of construction. We think that's onerous and difficult, but we're trying to meet the needs of the government.
Sadiq Khan

The Crossrail 2 team needed a Plan B.

Based on various snippets of information, I believe that the Plan B involves splitting the project into at least 2 phases. Phase 1 would need to be quick to build and relatively cheap. Once phase 1 is open, money from farepayers starts flowing in, and that can be used to fund phase 2.

We've looked at the way you construct this, so what cash you have to spend at different stages of construction to ensure that you don't have to pay everything upfront for the whole scheme all at once. So what you do is you pay enough money to get certain sections of it delivered first of all, and then you pay some more further on.
Mike Brown, TfL commissioner

Other reports have mentioned a 10 year delay in Crossrail 2, which fits with this Plan B. ie. a 10 year delay to full completion of the project, not the opening of the first phase.

But what is Plan B?

The short answer is we don't know. However we can do some thought experiments.

Crossrail 2 as a whole is designed to tackle numerous problems (too many in fact, but that is a discussion for another day). Specifically it is intended to tackle overcrowding on the Northern line, Piccadilly line, Victoria line, overcrowding at Euston, and enable perhaps 80,000+ houses in the Lea Valley and 50,000+ south of Chessington. But meeting these goals makes the scheme expensive. For phase 1, the project has to be viewed entirely differently.

Phase 1 needs to deliver the highest farepayer revenue for the lowest cost in a short time period.

Enabling housing development is a good thing, but it tends to have a long payback period, as houses don't pop up overnight. Thus, our thought experiment suggests that house building would not be a big driver of phase 1, so no need to focus on either the Lea Valley or Chessington.

Whereas providing extra capacity at Euston by 2033 is repeatedly mentioned as being necessary. Thus, our thought experiment suggests that Euston is required in phase 1.

A lot of work has already been done at Tottenham Court Road as part of the Crossrail 1 project, and at Victoria as part of the upgrade there. Thus, our thought experiment suggests that the Euston - Tottenham Court Road - Victoria section will be part of phase 1.

Other leaks have suggested that Chelsea's station may be for the chop. Thus, our thought experiment should probably exclude that.

Now it gets interesting. Phase 1 cannot consist just of Euston - Tottenham Court Road - Victoria because two things are missing. There is no depot to maintain the trains and there is nowhere for the tunnelling machines to work from. Thus, phase 1 must extend either north of Euston or south of Victoria.

Heading north is cheap. All the cheap stations to build are in the north. But, many of the farepayers would currently be using the tube (Victoria or Piccadilly), so this wouldn't be new money for TfL. (Fewer passengers on the tube balanced by more passengers on Crossrail 2, thus not much genuine new money.)

Heading south is more expensive. Clapham Junction, Tooting Broadway and Wimbledon are all in the top 2 bands of cost. But, a lot of the fare revenue would be moving from the South West suburban to TfL. Another key aspect is that the depot was planned to be Weir Road, Wimbledon.

So, our thought experiment only gets us so far. Overall, I believe that phase 1 would need to include Clapham Junction to get revenue from the south. And just building Clapham Junction to Euston would be enough to get a decent amount of extra fare revenue.

Beyond the Clapham to Euston section, its pretty much total guesswork. I could make a case for these and many other routes: to Streatham Hill (surface) via Balham (underground), Wimbledon (surface) via Earlsfield (surface), Lea Valley via Tottenham Hale, the Shoreditch High Street development site (surface) via Angel (underground). We'll just have to see.


Crossrail 2, as planned, was too expensive for the Government, and it has basically told TfL to figure out a cheaper approach. TfL's plan B looks to be a two (or three) phase approach, getting fare revenue in as soon as possible to pay for phase 2. My thought experiment suggests Clapham Junction - Victoria - Tottenham Court Road - Euston will be in phase 1, but there needs to be something else to reach a depot and tunnelling site.

Thoughts welcome!

Thursday 19 January 2017

Metropolitan Line Southern Extension?

The Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, recently killed off the plan to allow the London Mayor to take over the Network Rail lines in South East London. This was despite a high benefit:cost ratio and broad agreement between all groups concerned earlier in 2016.

Given this, and the difficulty more generally of providing enough capacity in south London, this blog considers an alternative plan to provide additional capacity for South East London.

Metropolitan Line Southern Extension

South East London has a reasonable network of rail lines, and they reach two good central London terminals at Cannon Street and Charing Cross. But the time is fast approaching when that network is simply beyond capacity. Rather than look at Crossrail 3, or other super-expensive solutions requiring a new tunnel across Central London, it is time to consider extending the Metropolitan Line. Such an approach would complement the proposed Bakerloo Line extension to Lewisham.

Having looked at the options, an extension to Abbey Wood seems to make the most sense. In this scenario, the Elizabeth line (Crossrail 1) would extend to Dartford (or beyond) using the existing tracks:

The full route would be as follows:

  • Aldgate - rebuilt, interchange with District line
  • City Hall - new underground station
  • Bermondsey - underground interchange with Jubilee line
  • Surrey Quays - underground interchange with Overground
  • Deptford
  • Greenwich - interchange with DLR
  • Maze Hill
  • Westcombe Park
  • Charlton - interchange with service to Lewisham & Victoria
  • Woolwich Dockyard
  • Woolwich Arsenal - interchange with DLR
  • Plumstead
  • Abbey Wood - interchange with Elizabeth line (Crossrail 1)

For comparison, here is the existing map:

The first question to ask is whether it is possible to extend the Metropolitan Line at Aldgate, the current terminus.

Given this is a site at the edge of the City, it is certainly tricky, but it seems that it should be feasible. Just south of the existing Aldgate station is a large bus station (behind the buffer stops in the second picture). The extension would use the bus station site to develop the new interchange station using standard top-down construction. To provide space, the Metropolitan line and Hammersmith & City line trains would have to terminate at Liverpool Street during the works, with the Circle line ceasing to run. The goal of the construction would be to build a four platform station - two platforms for the District line above two platforms for the Metropolitan line.

The Metropolitan line trains would need to descend from the current level to be beneath the District line. This would be achieved using the site of the existing Aldgate station (the first picture). Once complete, the tracks would be covered over, and the station turned into a bus station. The site of the new station (the existing bus station) would be developed.

Once complete and open, the service patterns of the existing lines would change radically. There would be no Circle line and no Hammersmith & City line. District line trains would all run from Earls Court through Victoria and Tower Hill to Whitechapel. Similarly, Metropolitan line trains from Hammersmith and Harrow would all run through Liverpool Street and on to Greenwich and Abbey Wood. In the west, a shuttle service would run from Edgeware Road to Gloucester Road in place of the existing Circle line. This service pattern eliminates most of the flat junctions from the District and Metropolitan lines, making services much more reliable and able to run at a higher frequency. Note that the loss of services from Liverpool Street to Whitechapel (the current Hammersmith & City line) is mitigated by the Elizabeth line, which runs on exactly that route.

Constructing the rest of the proposed extension is relatively easy by comparison with Aldgate station. It would involve two tunnel boring machines and three underground stations. The station at City Hall would be entirely new. The station at Bermondsey would be an underground interchange, designed for ease of use, while the station at Surrey Quays would require a rebuild of the Overground station as well.

The Bermondsey interchange is key to the success of the plan, because it provides passengers from the extended Metropolitan line a simple change to reach the West End. Journeys such as Greenwich to Bond Street become a pleasure, with one simple well-designed interchange. This is vital, as it greatly increases the time benefits to passengers, boosting the business case.

The final piece of the puzzle will be a tunnel portal location to access Deptford. One possibility would be to use the land of the New Cross branch of the Overground. Such an approach would allow more Overground services to run to Clapham Junction, Crystal Palace and/or West Croydon, but would also require the Metropolitan extension to have a short branch to New Cross.

Costs and Benefits

The benefits of this scheme are not limited to the line through Greenwich, because the scheme would free up paths into Cannon Street. (No services would run from Greenwich to Cannon Street - the line through Greenwich would be transferred from Network Rail to TfL.) Currently, there are 7 trains per hour from Greenwich to Cannon Street between 7am and 9am. These paths would be reallocated to other services, benefiting passengers on other lines, including the routes to Sevenoaks, Hayes, Bexleyheath and Sidcup.

Passengers currently using services from Greenwich would still have direct trains to the City, but would have a choice of Aldgate, Liverpool Street and Moorgate instead of Cannon Street. Passengers for London Bridge would get off at City Hall, while passengers for the West End would change at Bermondsey. As such, existing passengers would not see major changes to their journeys causing disbenefits.

Costs are always hard to estimate, but a rough guess can be based on 5km of tunnelling, four underground stations and line conversion works on takeover from Network Rail. Say £500m for the tunnels, £1bn for Aldgate, £2bn shared between the other three underground stations, and £1.5bn of other work, suggests a possible total of £5bn. This compares with £3bn for the Bakerloo line extension, so the cost estimate seems sound enough.

The cost of extending the Elizabeth line to Dartford would need separate examination. I'd note that initially, the Metropolitan line extension could run to Charlton, rather than Abbey Wood to side-step that problem.


This is a proposal to extend the Metropolitan line from Aldgate to South East London, taking over the line from Deptford to Abbey Wood via Greenwich and Charlton. It provides a step change in service to that line, a radically simpler and more reliable service on the District line, and an additional 7 peak-hour paths into Cannon Street for the rest of South East London and Kent. And all for around £5bn.

Given that there won't be a TfL run South Eastern Overground any time soon, a plan like this may well be the best way to improve rail services in this part of London. Thoughts welcome!