By Lord Faulkner of Worcester - 23rd June 2010
Lord Faulkner of Worcester writes for ePolitix.com ahead of his House of Lords question on Crossrail.
Britain's railways are at last being given the opportunity to show what they can do. As reliability and comfort improve and passenger numbers hold up despite the recession, the railway renaissance is under way. Rail, rather than the car or short-haul flights, is increasingly seen as the first choice, not just for commuters, but for leisure travellers, and longer distance journeys too.
This increase in the railway's popularity has brought capacity problems, and investment in new lines and services has become urgently needed. My former boss, Lord Adonis, worked hard first to persuade his colleagues to back rail electrification, a new high speed route to the Midlands, the north of England and Scotland, and investment in the system generally. Then he sought a consensus with the other political parties to ensure that this change of direction would not be jeopardised by a change of government.
Crossrail is a project of crucial importance. Linking Maidenhead (and I hope, eventually Reading) on the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, and running through the heart of central London on brand-new lines with a train every two and a half minutes, it will bring 1.5 million people within a 60 minute journey time to the city. It will relieve overcrowding on the Underground and on National Rail routes, and make a huge contribution to economic growth in London and the south-east.
There are very few public transport projects which produce a rate of return on the scale of Crossrail – an independent study by Colin Buchanan and Partners predicted that over the next 60 years it will produce transport and wider economic benefits of £36 billion, which is more than twice the current delivery budget of £15.9 billion.
My question gives the government the opportunity to say unequivocally that they back Crossrail. Shortly before the election – on 15 April – the then shadow London minister, Justine Greening (now economic secretary to the Treasury), said on LBC "I can't give a guarantee that it [Crossrail] will continue". I am looking for an assurance that they won't cancel, delay, or cut it back.
Crossrail was first proposed by the Greater London Council in 1969, and formally included in the London Rail Study of 1974. Construction was finally authorised following the passage of a hybrid bill through Parliament which required hundreds of hours of scrutiny. We must not jeopardise its completion now.