Crossrail connection planned to the West Coast Main Line
In a case of better late than never, the announcement of a DfT study into a connection between Crossrail and the West Coast Main Line is most welcome. This concept emerged as a major opportunity at two rail industry workshops hosted by Greengauge 21 as long ago as May and June 2010 shortly after the HS2 Phase1 design was unveiled. Our report concluded as follows:
“one of two top priority areas to be considered urgently [should be]…[the] creation of a connection from Crossrail to the West Coast Main line …..opening up the possibility of savings on the design at Euston.” [Ref 1]
The concept was taken up by Network Rail and formed part of their London & South East Rail draft strategy recommendations a year later. It is a scheme which has also attracted the support of TfL.
The importance of this scheme to HS2 is that it will allow a substantial reduction in the rail passenger throughput at Euston station that can be sustained into the longer term. This will ease pressure on the access transport system at Euston – a major concern for the London Mayor and for TfL – and provided it can be implemented promptly, will permit a much better programme for redevelopment of Euston to incorporate HS2. The hyperbole still being used to describe post-HS2 travel conditions in the Euston area will no longer apply.
It will bring huge benefits to West Coast Main Line (WCML) commuters at the southern end of the route (between Milton Keynes and London), with most of the ‘slow line train paths’ – 8 trains/hour – being connected into Crossrail rather than running to the terminus at Euston.
In DfT’s press release, the headline is all about benefits to Hertfordshire commuters. In fact the West Coast Main Line over which we can now expect Crossrail services to run follows the Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire border and many of the benefits will accrue in Buckinghamshire. This is worthy of emphasis because it is Buckinghamshire that has been a major focus of local authority and action group opposition to HS2. This is now an area for which it will no longer be possible to claim in relation to HS2 that ‘we get no benefit’.
The stations of Milton Keynes, Bletchley and Cheddington each serve Buckinghamshire. The first and second stations are now in the Milton Keynes unitary authority area, but Cheddington remains in Buckinghamshire. Leighton Buzzard station is used by residents of nearby villages such as Soulby that lie in Buckinghamshire. Tring station is used as a parkway station for Buckinghamshire residents, including from Aylesbury. All of these places can now expect, as a result of HS2, the great advantage of a direct rail service to the West End, City and Canary Wharf, rather than to Euston with the prospect of a connecting journey on the Underground. A Crossrail service would also link Buckinghamshire residents with up to 90,000 new jobs planned at Old Oak Common under the GLA’s Opportunity Area Planning Framework.
Evidence from previous cases suggests that it will not be long before the property market responds with a firming up of residential prices in this Buckinghamshire (as well as Hertfordshire) catchment.
As Network Rail points out, besides the advantages for commuters to central London, the development would facilitate many new connection opportunities from stations at the south end of the WCML, including access to Heathrow Airport (with a single change at Paddington or Old Oak Common, post HS2) and access to the Thameslink network (with a single change at Farringdon). [Ref 2]
The extension of Crossrail will introduce a convenient operational symmetry into Crossrail that has previously been lacking. The Buckinghamshire/Hertfordshire/Milton Keynes branch provides a complement to the Crossrail route to Reading/Heathrow, creating an arrangement on the western side to balance the two branches eastwards from central London to locations north and south of the Thames. It will add further to the value that is being created by the core Crossrail investment – and in the process generate the need for additional rolling stock.
It is only happening because of HS2
In earlier stages of the development of the Crossrail project in 2003, the idea of a Crossrail connection to the ‘DC lines’ that parallel the West Coast Main Line from Watford Junction to Euston was considered but ruled out on cost and value for money grounds. Now, assuming HS2 proceeds, Network Rail has established a good business case exists, and around 8 trains an hour that operate over the WCML slow lines would join the Crossrail network, delivering full value from the 24 train paths/hour across Crossrail’s central section.
Construction of the new link between Crossrail and the WCML is intimately connected with the construction of HS2 at Old Oak Common. According to Network Rail:
“A number of potential route alignments for such a connection exist through the Old Oak Common site. These would pass through, or interact significantly with, the proposed new HS2 station site. Therefore a robust infrastructure solution is only likely to be achievable if the design of this link is considered in conjunction with planning for the proposed HS2 station at this location.” [Ref 3]
The fundamental reason why it would not be built without HS2 is that the business case depends on HS2. Referring again to the Network Rail report that examined this option both with and without HS2:
“The appraisal in a post – HS2 scenario shows greater rail user benefits and additional revenue, such that the [benefit cost ratio] BCR range is 2.2 – 2.6. The scheme is therefore high value for money.” [Ref 4]
In contrast, the BCRs for the no-HS2 case were in the range 1.6 – 1.8. In short: with HS2, high value for money; without it, medium value for money. The difference arises because in the with-HS2 case there are additional crowding relief benefits in the environs of Euston station. Without HS2 it would be unlikely that DfT (or TfL) would choose to invest in the project:
“Under the rules that govern RUSs, schemes which involve infrastructure costs can be recommended for implementation if they can be demonstrated to represent high value for money.”[Ref 5]
In practice, a key driver of the decision to advance the project is to permit a less disruptive and lower cost rebuilding programme for Euston. There will be a quantifiable benefit from this source too – which is not included in Network Rail’s benefit: cost appraisal. The gap between the value for money cases (with and without HS2) would widen further when this factor is taken into account.
© Greengauge 21 August 2014
Ref 1: Workshop Outcomes July 2010
Ref 2: Network Rail London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy, July 2011
Ref 3: Ibid p150
Ref 4: Ibid p152
Ref 5: Ibid p153
 Network Rail London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy, July 2011
 Ibid p150
 Ibid p152
 Ibid p153