Prime Minister Boris Johnson has reignited speculation that plans for a Crossrail 2 could be back in the pipeline. New Civil Engineer reports that Johnson hinted about the need for an additional underground rail line that crossed London from the south west to the north east end.

Johnson recently attended the opening ceremony for the east-west Crossrail scheme, which is now known as the Elizabeth Line, in honour of Her Majesty, who was also present for the opening. The much-delayed project was delivered three and a half years late, and billions of pounds over budget.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Johnson said: “The real thing for us now is to think about Crossrail 2, the old Chelsea-Hackney line. That is going to be transformative again. All the problems of commuters coming into Waterloo getting up to north London, you can fix that with another Crossrail. I think we should be getting on with that.”

He added: “We need all the partners to come together and say this is the right thing for our city and here’s how we’re going to do it. Then we in central Government will study it, obviously we’ll give it our support. But we need to see the business case originated by Transport for London, by London business, and we want it brought to us.”

Crossrail 2 proposals were originally made over six years ago, but mothballed during November 2020, as a result of the pandemic. However, over £115m has already been invested in developing the proposals, according to the New Civil Engineer. The majority of the money was spent on consultancy fees.

Johnson referred to the government’s levelling up agenda, which includes upgrading transport to widen access to the job market. He said: “public transport is the thing that gives people opportunity. It allows people to get cheaply and conveniently from where they live to the place where they can have a good high-skill high-wage job. It’s vital for levelling up.”

However, critics have questioned how realistic the plans are for Crossrail 2, given the controversial scaling back of the HS2 project, and the significantly curtailed Northern Powerhouse Rail plans. The main issue for Crossrail 2 will be whether a funding settlement can be agreed between Transport for London (TfL) and the Department for Transport (DfT).

The eastern leg of HS2 was intended to run from the Midlands to Leeds, and a Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) scheme was set to link Leeds and Manchester. However, the plans were scrapped last November. The Crewe to Manchester and Warrington to Manchester HS2 lines are still set to go ahead.

The NPR is now to be replaced with the so-called Integrated Rail Plan, which promises to substantially upgrade the existing networks across the North and the Midlands.

There has been a further source of conflict around the need for an underground rail hub in Manchester city centre. The Manchester Evening News (MEN) reports that proposals for an underground station have been rejected on the grounds of the £5bn cost, and the upheaval that the construction process would cause.

HS2 director Clive Maxwell told the MEN: “The Department has looked very extensively, with HS2’s help, at what the alternatives were and at doing that underground. It would have meant digging a very large underground box and cavern to accommodate all those platforms, and that would have cost very large sums of money.”

He added: “I think the estimates we had were up to £5 billion extra for that station, so the Department, Ministers and the Government took the view that that was not the right thing to do, and that instead a surface station with a turn-back facility should be used, allowing trains to go in one way and come back out the other way.”

However, the Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham disagreed, arguing that that an overground station would be intrusive, and disunite the city centre. It would also take up prime development land that could be used for the economic growth of the region. An overground station would already be running at full capacity, with no room for expansion.

A series of overground viaducts would be needed to connect the rail line to Leeds and other eastern destinations. The government have argued that investing over £5bn to install an underground station at Manchester would take away from future investments in other northern cities. How well this will sit with Crossrail 2 plans remains to be seen.

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