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Crossrail gets down to detail to survive cuts

 

Crossrail gets down to detail to survive cuts

 

With the Treasury axe about to fall, many are predicting that his £15.9bn Crossrail project is primed to be one of the first victims.

The Crossrail chairman would have been within his rights to feel rather nervous, given the rather half-hearted support the project received from Philip Hammond, the Coalition's Transport Secretary last month.

In a letter to his Labour counterpart, Sadiq Khan, Mr Hammond said it was essential to "keep available" a range of contingency options as he searched for cost savings to safeguard the scheme.

But what these cost savings might be is a moot point, even though Mr Morgan remains determined to deliver 37 stations on the line across London running from Shenfield in Essex to Maidenhead in Berkshire.

The aim is to slash journey times, ease congestion in the heart of capital and, thanks to a branch line running from Abbey Wood via Canary Wharf, whisk businessmen from the London's new financial district to Heathrow in only 43 minutes.

Overseeing the project form his 28th floor office in the heart of the Canary Wharf estate, Mr Morgan, 61, admits he is working in an environment in which the "Government has to make some extremely difficult choices".

But he is not ready to throw in the towel. "Obviously our key role is to make sure we put forward the case for Crossrail as positively and energetically as we can."

This is not the first time Mr Morgan has had to deliver a project as the Treasury pulled the purse strings tight.

"I ran Land Rover for a while," he said. "At that time the Government owned Land Rover; Margaret Thatcher didn't particularly like Land Rover in her portfolio. If you had a programme that cost more than £30m you had to go to the Government for approval."

So Mr Morgan delivered the Land Rover Discovery for £29.9m. The sums involved now may be considerably larger, but the task is the same – deliver the scheme within a budget.

According to Mr Morgan the £15.9bn is not a budget. It is what he describes as "funding capacity" – and he hopes to deliver the scheme for less than that. At least he doesn't have to depend on the Government for all the cash.

Two thirds is coming from other sources: Transport for London and private sector backers including the City of London Corporation, Canary Wharf, Heathrow owner BAA and Berkeley Homes.

So the Department for Transport cut is an almost modest £5.5bn. But in the current financial climate where the DfT issues a press release when it spends £40,000, it is evident that the cash will not be gushing out of Whitehall even for prestige and much-needed projects such as this.

In Mr Morgan's words, delivering Crossrail will be an exercise in "value engineering" – which means pouring over the fine detail of the scheme and stripping out what some might regard as gold-plating.

"For example, how many escalators do you need? How many lifts do you need? What length of platform do you require? How many trains do you need?"

Even the signalling is being re-evaluated as the Crossrail team tries to find savings. Companies bidding for work on the project can expect to be squeezed hard as Mr Morgan combines saving costs with driving as hard a bargain as he can on what will still be a series of very lucrative contracts.

But even if he does manage to cut costs to the bone, there are other political realities. There is some bad feeling that once again it is the capital which is getting a huge amount of Whitehall cash – some would argue at the expense of other provincial cities.

Mr Morgan, a Welshman, is unrepentant. "You can never ignore the fact that London is the powerhouse of the economy," he said. "If there is a compelling programme in Manchester of Birmingham or Liverpool or wherever, they have to come forward with their case."

 

 

Decades in the making: history of the London link

Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone may agree on little else, but they are at one on the need for Crossrail.

But it is a project that seems to be taking an eternity to come to fruition. Robert Stephenson – the co-inventor of the Rocket steam engine – was kicking around an idea for a line across London in 1836. His line, however, would have run from north to south, linking Euston to Savoy Wharf on the Thames.

In the decades that followed the London Underground network was created. But throughout its history, the Tube has struggled to keep up with the pace of the capital's growth.

In 1989 the Central London Rail Study proposed an East-West Crossrail intended to link Wimbledon to Hackney. However, the scheme was dumped because of the 1990s recession and the idea was not resurrected until the publication of the London East West Study in 2000.

Years of lobbying followed before a funding package was agreed in 2007 and the necessary legislation passed to turn an idea into a reality.

But the project is not home and dry yet, even though work has begun on creating Crossrail stations at Canary Wharf and Tottenham Court Road.

The strongest argument for pressing ahead with the scheme is that demolition work has started in some places and contracts have been signed for even more to be done.

Scrapping the scheme now would leave London with a raft of holes in the ground and unsightly and unloved building sites.

But, given that the purse strings are being pulled tight, it maybe too much to hope that the 37 stations will all be architectural gems.

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