After years of waiting and overruns, and with one week remaining until it is open to the public, the Queen today visited Paddington Station to officially open the line named in her honour.
Crossrail as the project is known, is a west-east connection across London which will reduce journey times as well as increase capacity. Journeys from Abbey Wood to Paddington, currently take up to an hour and will be reduced to 29 minutes. Liverpool Street to Woolwich routes will be reduced from 30 to 15 minutes and Farringdon to Canary Wharf will reduce by 14 minutes to a short 10 minute trip.
Although we still have to wait a few more months for the entire line to be connected as per the map, individual stretches of the line will be in operation starting from May 24th.
Four year wait
Like many infrastructure projects before it Crossrail has been dogged with delays and cost overruns. The cost had ballooned from £14.8bn to £18.8bn although from an initially higher budget with 70% of the investment coming from the capital, covered by TFL, the Greater London Authority, a Crossrail levy with businesses such as Heathrow and Canary Wharf also paying in. The remaining 30% came from central government.
Perhaps as bad as the cost overruns has been the delay in opening, initially slated for a December 2018 opening it will come in three and a half years late, leaving many businesses that had planned for the opening to be on time out of pocket as passengers did not arrive.
These delays and cost overruns, as well as a potential deprioritising of investment in London infrastructure brought about by the Levelling Up agenda, and the poor state of the public finances following the pandemic seem to have killed hopes for a Crossrail 2. This £41bn rail line was scheduled to open in the 2030s, running underground from the north east to the south west of London.
The project was put on hold in late 2020.
There can’t really be a final thought on the Crossrail project in 2022. The cost overruns and delays in it’s opening will hopefully form an insignificant part of it’s history in the decades to come. Historically London is a city that has both grown and shrank and it’s unclear just how urgent this near £19bn investment was.
Will London continue to grow as it has done for the last three decades or will Brexit, technology and a newfound willingness for companies to allow staff to work from home leave Crossrail high and dry? Who knows, perhaps driverless cars will drastically increase commuter range?
On more sober reflection however, it seems likely that London will continue to grow at least at the rate of the rest of the UK. A well functioning, well funded public transport system has repeated proven to be faster, more efficient and better for the environment, both local and global. If history is anything to go by the new Elizabeth Line will soon be as essential to London as the rest of the tube network.