Will a new government keep Crossrail, I asked Boris Johnson last week. “David Cameron looked me in the eye,” replied Boris, “and said ‘We’re going to do it.’”
Admittedly, that commitment was given at the Tory conference in October, before the new team had a chance to examine the (horrible) government ledgers. The fact that we still cannot be wholly certain about the £16 billion tunnel was shown by this week’s letter from business leaders, pleading with the government to make its future secure.
Something else Boris said to me suggests one possible route our new masters may take. “You cannot extend the [construction] timescale to save money,” he said. “It’s a false economy.”
He also interestingly refused to deny speculation that the project could be descoped, with the Abbey Wood branch lopped off. Is that really possible? It would mean that Crossrail would not serve Canary Wharf, surely a bit of a no-no. Canary Wharf is also where most work has been done so far, with construction of the new station under way.
Likelier, perhaps, is the trimming of costs. £16 billion is a gigantic amount to spend on a few miles of rail tunnel – not much less, in real terms, than the 26-mile Channel Tunnel cost. TfL is notorious for its profligacy. People at Canary Wharf, who are part-funding their station, and building the whole thing under a fixed-cost contact, tell me that they were able to make substantial savings on the budget TfL proposed for it.
It is, of course, almost unknown for British transport projects to come in below budget. But if that can be achieved, Crossrail’s future would seem to be more secure.