In late March it was announced that £5 million would be spent looking into extending Crossrail (when it opens) beyond Abbey Wood into Kent and eventually Ebbsfleet.
Much of the press dutifully lapped it up, as did some politicians who portrayed it as though an extension was some kind of certainty. Yet as anyone who follows this kind of announcement knows, £5 million is chicken feed and a classic sop for some good PR and to keep people quiet. In fact, backers had asked for £20 million to conduct studies.
The announcement came from Chris Grayling who has a record of axing rail schemes all over the country, so lets just say I wouldn’t get too excited. His department drag their feet on badly needed schemes across the country.
Whether SE London and Kent Conservative politicians really believe it’s is coming soon or are happy for a bit of publicity to make it appear their party is doing something; well who knows?
The reality is any extension will cost many billions. The Treasury and Department for Transport do not want to spend billions, even on other schemes far further along the drawing board and ready to go. And Crossrail to Ebbsfleet isn’t by a long way.
So will it ever go beyond Abbey Wood? Probably one day, though not for at least 10 years and 20 will be optimistic.
When it does a decision needs to be made as to how far can four tracks will head past Abbey Wood towards Dartford and beyond if Southeastern services remain, or whether some Elizabeth Line services take over existing Southeastern services which will offer fewer capacity increases.
The comprehensive option would be two new tracks running alongside the two existing Southeastern lines at least as far as Dartford. The trackbed is wide enough though it would necessitate a rebuild of Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green stations plus Slade Green depot (which is probably needed anyway if SE are to receive new stock) and new bridges and tunnels.
That will all cost big sums.
Beyond Dartford costs ramp up. The lines enters a steep cutting so a new tunnel would be likely which isn’t cheap.
Housing development lags far behind numbers needed to help fund. Bexley Council have a growth strategy but much is woolly with no guaranteed start date for homes. They are pushing for homes in:
- Thamesmead: 4,000+
- Belvedere: 8,000+
- Erith: 6,000+
- Slade Green: 8,000+
Short term wins
Are the authority trying to run before they can walk by focusing so much effort on Crossrail to the detriment of existing services? There’s many “easy” wins to push for in the short term alongside Crossrail in the mid-long, but little is being lobbied and the response to Southeastern’s recent consultation wasn’t particularly inspiring from Bexley Council.
Short term gains would be to enable Thameslink trains to stop at Belvedere and Erith instead of sailing by from Abbey Wood to Slade Green and extend the length of every peak train to 12 carriages through new stock and infrastructure upgrades.
That’s much cheaper and more attainable than a multi-billion pound scheme. Granted, it still requires investment and isn’t cheap but eventually the DfT will need to bite the bullet.
And with feet dragging over modest improvements, unless a radical change in approach from central government happens don’t expect anything soon with Crossrail despite what politicians and estate agents may tell you and a token £5 million study.