Crossrail 2 boss says political nervousness is the main challenge to keeping £31bn project on track

 
Rebecca Smith
Dix is confident of getting revised Crossrail 2 proposals green lit by the government in November
Dix is confident of getting revised Crossrail 2 proposals green lit by the government in November (Source: TfL)

The big question looming over Crossrail 2 at present is whether the team behind it can meet the funding challenges set by the government.

“I am confident that we’ll be able to meet the government’s exam question,” Crossrail 2's managing director Michele Dix tells City A.M.

But while she's hopeful of providing the government with a satisfactory answer on the funding question, the biggest risk Dix sees to the project’s progression is “political nervousness about making a decision”.

“All I can do is to be ready for a decision based on the plan I’m working to, and if for some reason or another it doesn’t happen, then have another plan,” she adds.

While the government has acknowledged the need for the £31bn rail route throughout the south east, it said in July that London had to foot half the bill during construction, as opposed to over the life of the scheme.

So, Dix and her team have been carrying out a range of assessments to see where costs can be cut, and options to raise money earlier in the scheme’s lifetime. The plan is to get the proposals backed by the government for the Autumn Budget in November, paving the way for a consultation in January. Then, the important milestone of submitting a hybrid bill to secure the go-ahead for construction, in 2020.

Read more: Crossrail 2 boss aims to get project's cost-cutting plan backed this autumn

Much has been made of the benefits the route will bring once operational: up to 200,000 houses across London and the south east, and 200,000 new jobs.

So too, of the concerns surrounding increasing pressure on London’s transport network, and how it will look come the 2030s and 2040s. Some 17 Underground stations face chronic overcrowding and the South West main line from Waterloo to Weymouth is braced for levels of standing not seen on any main line National Rail service on the network today, according to Transport for London’s (TfL) analysis.

Crossrail 2’s significance, however, also ties into another major rail project: the £56bn HS2 railway linking the capital, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester.

That is scheduled in two phases, and Dix says planned upgrades to the London Underground network will cope with the first, when HS2 opens to Birmingham, and the rise in passengers it will bring.

But it’s the second she’s concerned about, with a “marked uplift in passengers then arriving at Euston”.

“The upgrades that will be made to the Victoria Line and the Northern Line won’t be able to cope with the second surge of additional passengers which is why we always said that we wanted Crossrail 2 in place for when HS2 Phase 2 was complete,” she explains.

Read more: Crossrail 2 will make HS2 viable in London, says deputy mayor for transport

Without Crossrail 2, Dix says “regular station closures” will be on the horizon. “We have asked, through the bill process, for Phase 1, for additional facilities for cycling, for buses and taxis so you can help disperse passengers, but you’re still going to be putting pressure on the Tube network,” Dix adds. “But it’s when Phase 2 opens essentially, up to Leeds and Manchester, that you absolutely have to have Crossrail 2 in place.”

If there were delays to Crossrail 2’s progression, Dix says: “One also has to ask what’s the timetable for HS2 Phase 2, because that’s got to go through a process, and that’s got to get permission to go ahead, and honestly, the plans on HS2 have to be mindful of the impact that they have on London.”

The ongoing uncertainty over Brexit also raises questions over where the government’s priorities will be in the coming years, as it hashes out new arrangements with the European Union.

“We personally think that if the government wants to show that they’re open for business they should be investing in the infrastructure,” Dix says, noting it is key to attracting foreign direct investment across the UK. “So showing the country is improving, showing the country is connected, showing the country can move people around in the way that it should, I think is an important signal to attract that investment. Stopping gives no-one any confidence.”

As someone who is so immersed in the capital’s transport and its workings, Dix is positive about its overall state. “I actually think we’ve got a really good system, and one thing about ours is it doesn’t smell!” she says. “We clean the graffiti, we clean the station, it’s a pretty pleasant environment.”

She does, however, think the Swiss system is another to admire.

“It’s quite uniform and it works like clockwork, but they just don’t have the volume of trains we have,” Dix points out. “They haven’t got Victoria Line 36 trains an hour, some of the South West trains, the number of trains coming in on those lines. No-one is working their networks to the extent that we are maximising capacity out of ours.

“I think what we do, what Network Rail do, what the rail companies do, is actually quite amazing in terms of the volumes of people that we carry. But it needs more resilience in it, so that when something slightly wrong happens, the knock-on effects aren’t so great.”

Read more: The 17 Tube stations facing severe overcrowding by the early 2030s

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