Global: Dave Hill | Tomorrow’s Tube: deeply boring

How much more underground rail transport in London is possible?

Burrowing beneath London is an epic enterprise. Here’s a recent progress report from the Crossrail team.

Some facts to focus imaginations: the man in the film, Andy Alder, was speaking 30 metres below Farringdon station; some parts of the 21 kilometres of the dual Crossrail lines will pass beneath London’s streets at depths of 36 metres; as the Crossrail website puts it, the tunnel route weaves between existing tube lines as well as sewers, utility tunnels (for gas pipes and electrical cables) and even the foundations of large buildings. There is a warren beneath our feet, and yet a Crossrail 2 is planned and there’s even a twinkle in some eyes called Crossrail 3. Will a day come when Tube engineers can bore no more?

The answer varies a little depending on who you ask but the short answer is a firm no. Going deeper, for example, can be more complex and expensive but, in the words of a senior London Underground executive: “You can tunnel forever if you want.” It’s pointed out, for instance, that some long-existing parts of the Underground network are much further below ground than Crossrail.

On the Northern Line, Bank station in central London is 41.4 metres below street level and plunges to a London-wide record of 58.5 metres at the century-old Hampstead station and the technology has moved on a bit since then. It can also cope with terrain that has presented problems in the past, notably south of the Thames.

So how much more subterranean railway will worm its way beneath our feet in decades to come? This is mostly a question about money. Transport for London chiefs are clear that funding for future projects will routinely and increasingly come from combinations of commercial finance, public investment and local levy. Crossrail itself provides one model. The planned extension of the Northern Line from Kennington to Battersea in the Nine Elms redevelopment area requires another.

Corporate cash, I’m told, is likely to become a larger part of such equations through retail and other forms of station development (a theme I explored here). Any extra stretch of Bakerloo Line beneath south-east London looks destined to depend on it. As Diamond Geezer notes, such a project has been planned and un-planned for a hundred years and the lack of progress may not be unrelated to the area’s historic economic hardship. It may not be so in every part of it but, by and large, future additions to the network look more and more inseparable from the politically-fraught economics of regeneration.

A view from the top end of TfL is that in the longer term “you’re better off doing new stuff.” A Crossrail 3 running through a north-west/south-east route is “definitely needed” I’m told, and would be needed all the more if a new Thames Estuary airport began materialising. The evolution of London’s underground rail has long been influenced by private profit motives as well as public transport needs. Is Tomorrow’s Tube set to become still more of a corridor of commerce?

This article is the latest in a mini series marking the end of the London Underground celebrating its 150th anniversary. The previous installments are here, here, here, here and here. © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

via Global: Dave Hill |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.