17 May 2010

A haircut for Crossrail?

With cuts in the offing, many schemes are likely to get the chop. Crossrail, in its present incarnation, must surely be a prime candidate. It began as a much-needed east-west relief route to the Central and Metropolitan Lines and has ended up as a regional express line through London, an east-west counterpart to Thameslink.

Now Thameslink is not a good model to follow. First, it transfers delays across networks that are otherwise independent. Disruption at, say, Luton, will eventually cause problems at Haywards Heath, and vice versa. Second, it means that passengers are forced to travel in discomfort for long distances in trains that are designed for short journeys in crush-loading conditions. Third, the trains must be dual voltage, with heavy transformer equipment that is inefficient on the city-centre stretches of route with closely-spaced stops.

Precisely the same objections will apply to Crossrail. In addition, because so much of the route is in tunnel, there will be substantial extra costs due to the extra clearances that will be needed, and which could have been avoided if the line had been constructed for third-rail electrification or even to the tube gauge.

What could be cut?
What can be cut depends on how far the scheme has progressed. Substantial savings could be realised if the line from Paddington to Stratford and Woolwich could be built as a tube. At the western end of the route, trains might run to Hammersmith via Ladbroke Grove, which would be a useful enhancement to the service. At the eastern end of the route, given a suitable realignment with an end-on connection to the Jubilee Line, trains might run on to Stanmore, avoiding the need for reversing.

Another alternative might be to build the underground section as a DC route with third-rail electrification, again running to Hammersmith.

DC electrification would also enable the line to operate with DC-only stock, which might be the class 378/1 type or the new S-type, but could be existing LUL stock refurbished. There is a very substantial fleet that will be going for scrap when the S-type is introduced; if times are as hard as we are being told they are, there scope for a saving here.

There are of course, further savings to be had from this strategy because existing class 315 stock on Great Eastern suburban routes will be kept in service for another couple of decades. It isn't wonderful but it does the job and there are improvements that can be made that disguise its age from all but the train-spotting fraternity.

1 comment:

  1. If the financial crisis is as bad as I suspect it is I would not be surprised if the whole project was cancelled.

    I'm not wholly against that as you've said it's suffering slightly from mission creep.

    I think that it started out as a replacement for the central line (Stratford to Ealing Broadway) but now with all the extensions has morphed into something more akin to Thameslink.

    As you said; for its original purpose central line doubling, a tube line might be more appropriate.

    Unfortunately tube lines have two major draw backs, one if you pack the passengers like sardines they have the nasty habit of overheating due to the confined space, and two the line is usable only by the stock designed for the line.

    One I believe to be an advantage not a drawback as it should force the tube company to provide comfortable service, unfortunately it's not working like that in practice.

    Two is a bit more complicated.
    This line effectively joins two areas of economic activity, Stratford (banking at canary wharf) and Heathrow (international trade). There are trends in the economy which I think will become dominant over the coming decade. Firstly a major scaling back of the financial services industry(FSI), it's in a large part supported by bad debt, ultimately that debt needs to be written off and with it will disappear most of the FSI. (Not that the government wont try everything and some to pretend that the debt isn't bad its just there are limits to its powers).
    Second is what is happening currently in the Gulf of Mexico its not so much that they have had an accident but where that accident is. I put it to you that 1 mile under the ocean is not the first place one would look for oil, in fact I would say quite close to last. If they are looking there it suggests that the oil companies are having trouble finding oil which means less oil will becoming to market in future(decade time scale). Less oil/more expensive oil means contraction of industries based on oil; aviation? so over the next decade the two areas served by crossrail will become less popular destinations; demand will contract from current levels. In short by the time crossrail is finally built it may not be necessary. But if it is built to mainline specs then it can be used for freight (remember this is a world with more expensive oil current economics of road/rail freight could be radically altered)

    Of course if the goal is freight then cheaper and quicker upgrades to the north london lines maybe more appropriate.

    If I were spending the money, crossrail would be cancelled, a 'new' surface line would be built running ealing, north acton (new station on NLL), queens park, camden road, highbury & islington, dalston (90 degree turn train would have to slow anyway), shoreditch (changed back to zone 2) and stratford. Sections of the central line would have congestion penalties levied, to encourage people to use the other route. The proceeds of the penalty used to claw back some of the costs to make the infrastructure changes. It also has the advantage of being up and running within five years.

    All freight stratford to wilsden would be routed via goblin.

    And money would be set aside for new tube lines/extensions.

    If money is that tight I think we may see the replaced LUL trains on the mainline DC lines (assuming cost of changing power equipment and signalling is less than new trains). The problem with that is that I cannot see where they would go, everywhere is pretty congested with more modern trains.

    regards "At the eastern end of the route, given a suitable realignment with an end-on connection to the Jubilee Line, trains might run on to Stanmore, avoiding the need for reversing."

    Wouldn't that be in effect be Hammersmith to Stanmore via Canning Town. I think reversing problems would be preferable to problems associated with such a long route.