Exclusive: TfL chief on Crossrail, progress on a funding deal, and why levelling up needs London
SOME fifteen years after the project was given government approval, TfL staff beam with pride as they escort journalists onto the gleaming Elizabeth Line platform at Paddington’s new Crossrail hub.
“The Shard will fit in here quite comfortably. It’s the size of three Wembley stadiums,” explains Crossrail’s chief executive Mark Wild.
Built jointly by construction giants Skanska and Costain, the station was developed with the post-pandemic commuter in mind.
“In a post-Covid world people want more than ever spacious and clean transportation,” TfL commissioner Andy Byford said. “Going forward, they will not tolerate being rammed in on the Central or Northern lines.”
It may be the last major infrastructure investment in London transport for a while, with Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo Line extension now effectively shelved after the pandemic took a scythe to revenues.
But Byford is more worried about more run-of-the-mill upgrades, be they to signalling or upgrading old rolling stock.
“To me, sorting out our funding deal addresses government priorities such as the levelling up and environmental agenda,” Byford told City A.M.
“A well-functioning London transport system and a well functioning capital city, that’s how you get the financial benefits flowing throughout the country again.”
Byford’s words come just days after yet another band-aid deal to keep TfL moving – a two-week extension to the fourth emergency short-term cash injection the network has needed since revenues collapsed.
“We are very focused along with the government to try and get a long-term capital deal and operating support to take us through 2023 and 2024 by which point we said we will be financially self-sufficient,” Byford added. “Will we get that? I don’t know but we’re really trying.”
A long-term deal would allow the capital’s transport bosses to plan for the future. It would also benefit the rest of the country: the roundels on the platforms, for instance, are made on the Isle of Wight.
Amidst all this, TfL has still managed to get Crossrail’s Elizabeth line (almost) across the finish line.
After four years of delays and changes at the management level, the central branch of the line – from Paddington to Abbey Wood – will open in the first half of this year.
All stations will be operational except Bond Street, which will join the line in due course. Since the project was brought effectively in-house at TfL, an eighteen-month delay has shortened to just three.
According to TfL’s lead operational development manager Ralph Davison, consistency is the key at the line’s “cathedrals of travel”.
“Platforms at Liverpool Street are the exact same length as those in Paddington and were accepted by London Underground in July 2020,” Davison added. The platforms are currently longer than the trains – TfL will add two carriages to the trains if demand is there.
Before the line is ready to welcome its predicted 230m commuters per year, TfL needs to make sure the lines are emergency-proofed.
“Trial operations range from what you do if you have an active shooter and all the escalators are not functioning to full mass evacuations,” Byford said. Other tests – descriptions of which are not for the squeamish, but involve alcohol – are more perfunctory, but equally important.
Trials take time and TfL is in no way rushing to deliver a product that is not top notch, as the Elizabeth’s line opening is expected to become the ultimate symbol of London’s recovery after a miserable couple of years.
“No other city in the world will have something like this, or something as spectacular and enabling as the Elizabeth line,” Byford concludes. “It will provide a massive morale boost to both TfL and to London,” the Commissioner reckons.
“Londoners will be blown away when they see the magnitude and magnificence of these stations.”