When I heard that news I started thinking about what advice I would give (fantasising that I might ever be asked).
I started coming up with a long list of sensible things like: ending the wheel/rail split, liberating fares, tearing up the Transatlantic air treaties, privatising the road network etc.
But then it occurred to me that what I am doing here is suggesting ways of making the world a better place. That is not necessarily what politicians want. What politicians want is to keep their jobs, be popular and climb the greasy pole. In that case what you really want to be doing, as Ernest Benn said is to be: “...looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy”
Fortunately, for Justine, most of the non-existent troubles already have plenty of wrong remedies. Hence, we have CrossRail and HST2 and fare control. About the only good solution is the proposal to raise the motorway speed limit to 80mph. That is likely to be hugely popular even if (much to my annoyance) it comes from the EU. Get your paws all over that one, Justine.
“But what about the economic crisis?”, I hear you say. That’s the wonderful thing. The Secretary of State can almost completely ignore it. Sure, one day it will happen and it will happen to the Department of Transport good and hard. HST will be cancelled, CrossRail will be abandoned, fares will go up. It may even be so bad that the government sells the motorways to get it through the week. But when that happens it becomes oh-so easy for a Secretary of State for Transport to say: “Oh dear, unexpected economic conditions, no money, nothing I can do etc, etc.”
So, just from a political standpoint (putting prosperity, wealth generation and morality to one side for the time being) I see no reason why Justine Greening shouldn’t promise the earth.
What has she got to lose?
In recent weeks and months I have been exploring the area around the big old East London docks, beyond the Docklands Towers, the ones that feature in the opening credits of Eastenders, and the ones which have London City Airport in the middle of them.
Here is the relevant bit of google maps. Zoom in a couple of times in the middle of that, and you will see the area I’m talking about. You will see it even better if you click on “satellite”, which I have only recently learned to do. Do that and you can see actual railway lines and actual airplanes.
My most recent wanderings around there saw me trying to find a path beside the river, starting at the north end of the Woolwich Ferry, going west. I didn’t get very far. I soon came upon industrial estates and jetties sticking out, places where actual work was being done, and actual transport, on the river. (A surprising amount of freight still seems to move up and down the river these days, in among all the more eye catching and frequent pleasure boats.) In the industrial estates pedestrians are not encouraged, although I did venture into one of them, until I got to a wall and had to turn around and go back. As for the jetties, random pedestrians can’t get anywhere near the river near them. Basically the Thames footpath stops.
On an earlier expedition, I had started at the same point, north end of Woolwich Ferry, and travelled East. For a while, fine, there was a rather nice park right next to the river. But then it again stopped. There does seem to be an aspiration to have a continuous Thames Path in that part of London, on the north of the river as well as the south (which already has such a path), just as there is everywhere else. But it is taking a very long to time to join up in that particular part of London. At present the path there exists only in rather forlorn and run-down little fragments.
So, anyway, on this most recent trip going west along the river, frustrated by industry, I turned right, northwards, back towards the docks and the airplanes. And I bumped into Crossrail.
It’s pretty hard working out where all the various railways in that part of London go, just as footpaths are also hard to identify. Maps are not always helpful, often showing stations but not the lines between them, especially if they are in tunnels. (Although, as I have only just now discovered, if you click on “Public transport” in Google Maps, then things like underground railways become a lot clearer. (No, scrub that. It doesn’t become clearer, because the blue line calling itself the Docklands Light Railway does not appear where the DLR physically is. It merely connects the stations, like a crow flying between them. There are separate graphics, sometimes but not always, for where the railway actually is. Very confusing.))
Basically, there are two branches of the Docklands Light Railway, one going north of the docks, and one to the south of them and then under the river to the Woolwich Arsenal. Plus, there is also a defunct regular railway line, that starts off on the north side of the docks, but then goes under them, and then goes along the middle of a long straight boulevard called variously (depending which side of the boulevard you are on), Connaught Road, Factory Road and Albert Road, between the docks and the river, just south of the southern branch of the DLR, and then it too disappears into a defunct tunnel that goes under the river to the south.
However this defunct railway and its defunct tunnel will soon both be funct again, because Crossrail will be making use of it. At present, the line is a charming rural wilderness trail, fenced off, and dividing the Connaught Factory Albert boulevard down the middle. So make up your mind good and early which side of the Connaught Factory Albert bourlevard you need to be on.
But although this means that although Crossrail will be going within a couple of hundred yards of the City Airport, which is right in among the docks to the north of where Crossrail will be, there are not now any plans for the trains to stop at this spot. It will stop at the top left of the docks, as it were, at a station called Customs House, nearly half a mile’s walk to the airport, and it will stop on the other side of the river, but, so far as I can work out from the www, not near to City Airport.
There already is a Docklands Light Railway stop at City Airport, on the southern bit of it. However, the DLR is, for users of City Airport, very slow and frustrating. It takes an age to trundle its toy train way, stopping at every little stop on the way, from real London out to these docklands, which are beyond even the regular Docklands that people mean when they say that. I imagine most users of City Airport arrive by car, typically driven by someone else.
The relationship between City Airport and Crossrail seems to have been quite acrimonious (sorry I read this on the www recently but I forget where). The impression I get is that Crossrail is perceived by City Airport almost as a bug rather than a feature, which seems a bit strange. It’s as if Crossrail is threatening to flood City Airport with Ryanair plebs, rather than the genteel taxi-delivered suits it now caters to.
Or, maybe all this Crossrail activity is driving up local land prices and threatening to complicate various expansion plans that City Airport has. City Airport is certainly very busy. Airplanes land or take off there pretty much continuously. So I guess they figure that getting yet more people to their airport is not their problem. Their problem is making their airport shift more people to and from the air.
I have lots of photos of this part of London that I have taken on my various trips. I hope to post some of these at my personal blog in the nearish future, but promise nothing. If any such snaps do materialise, I will put a link to them here.
Virginia Postrel reports on Bent Flyvbjerg’s studies into the costs of public infrastructure projects:
On average, urban and intercity rail projects run over budget by 45 percent, roads by 20 percent, and bridges and tunnels by 34 percent.
And the averages tell only part of the story. Rail projects are especially prone to cost underestimation. Seventy-five percent run at least 24 percent over projections, while 25 percent go over budget by at least 60 percent, Flyvbjerg finds.
By comparison, 75 percent of roads exceed cost estimates by at least 5 percent, and 25 percent do so by at least 32 percent.
Promoters of rail and toll-road projects also tend to substantially overstate future use, making those projects look more appealing to whoever is footing the bill. Rail projects attract only about half the expected passengers, on average, while in new research still in progress, Flyvbjerg finds that toll roads (including road bridges and tunnels) fall 20 percent short.
This doesn’t bode well for Crossrail. I’m also wondering how the M6 toll road is working out. It seems like a fantastic road to me, but is it making enough money?
From a report on Crossrail:
When Crossrail was first envisaged, Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, Liverpool were on the way to the football league championship and Jive Bunny was top of the pop charts.
Au contraire. At a reference library a few years ago the librarian thrust into my hands a report into London transport from 1974 which outlined a scheme very similar to the current one. So, that would be at a time when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, Showaddywaddy were top of the charts and, er, Liverpool were on the way to the football league championship.
Still don’t think Crossrail’s going to happen. Sorry Brian.
The sum of 30 years of Crossrail progress