Funding agreed for rail vision

JON WELCH A scheme that will cut journey times across London and ease overcrowding for East Anglian rail passengers has moved a step closer after a multi-million pound funding package was approved.

JON WELCH

A scheme that will cut journey times across London and ease overcrowding for East Anglian rail passengers has moved a step closer after a multi-million pound funding package was approved.

But there are fears that the Crossrail scheme could reduce capacity on the Norwich to Liverpool Street mainline, cutting passenger services and forcing some rail freight on to the road.

The Crossrail scheme, the biggest rail project in the northern hemisphere, will slash travel times from Liverpool Street and connect the capital's key economic centres, which between them provide about 850,000 jobs.

The high-frequency route, first proposed in 1989, will run from Heathrow Airport and Maidenhead in the west to Paddington, through the West End, the City of London and Canary Wharf and on to East London, Essex and Kent.

The new trains will reduce the current journey time from Ealing Broadway to Liverpool Street from 37 minutes by Tube to 20 minutes by Crossrail.

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Building work could start as early as 2010 with the first trains running by 2015.

The City of London Corporation's ruling body, the Court of Common Council, held an emergency meeting this week, voting unanimously to approve a financial package, estimated at between £250m and £350m.

Gordon Brown pledged his support for the scheme while still chancellor, telling City leaders in June: "Because I do recognise the benefits Crossrail will bring to the City, we are using every effort to find a solution to its affordability. I will ensure this work is stepped up."

More than £1bn of extra contributions to Crossrail have been pledged by city institutions after a concerted government campaign to get a funding deal agreed in advance of next week's Comprehensive Spending Review and a possible snap general election.

The cost of the project, which will involve the construction of new tunnels under the capital, has been estimated at £16bn, which will be paid for by the government, London businesses and fare revenues.

Crossrail's supporters claim the new service will provide the extra capacity needed for London's transport infrastructure, increase the nation's prosperity by £30bn over the next 60 years and save business time worth nearly £5bn.

They predict it will also cool London's overheated homes market. Among the businesses supporting the project - although not financially - is Aviva, Norwich Union's parent company.

Group chief executive Andrew Moss said: "The UK's capital needs a state-of-the-art transport infra-structure which reflects the modern world we live and work in.

"We operate in an increasingly globalised world, and Crossrail's potential to provide fast and direct access to the rest of the world by significantly improving links between the City of London, Canary Wharf and Heathrow makes it an attractive proposition."

Peter Lawrence, president of Norwich-based pressure group Rail Future, said: "It will bring benefits to rail passengers but I have one concern at the moment.

"The last I heard Network Rail wanted to give Crossrail exclusive use of one set of tracks from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. That would mean a lot of rail freight would have to be transferred to road. Likewise, that could affect passenger services to Norwich."

But an industry source said Rail Future's concerns were "unlikely to be an issue".

One Railway declined to comment until an official announcement on the future of Crossrail.

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