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!