London’s Crossrail: A Public Transport Gem?

As projects go, Crossrail ranks as one of the most ambitious public transportation ventures to be witnessed across Europe. The £14.8 billion project will act as a bridge between the wider regions of East and West London, running through the city’s main business centres and international gateways. Crossrail has promised to cut journey times, improve transport connections among the region’s commuter towns and reduce overcrowding.

Chart 1: Trips Per Capita on Public Transport across Major Western European Cities in 2014


Source: Euromonitor International

Somebackground on Crossrail

Public transport use in London is comparably high. Chart 1 suggests that, with 304 annual trips made on public transport per capita, it is the most public transport-orientated city in the UK and one of the most in the whole of Western Europe. Pressure to boost public transportation use in London was initiated by the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingston, who, in 2003, introduced the congestion charge (£5.00 at the time, now £11.50) for any private vehicle entering the core urban area of London between 07.00hrs and 18.00hrs, Monday to Friday. Unsurprisingly, it had an immediate effect, resulting in 70,000 fewer passenger cars on the streets of the capital.

However, with many people opting to avoid the congestion charge, this added pressure on the city’s public transportation infrastructure. Currently, London suffers from chronic overcrowding, with estimates from the Department of Public Transport suggesting that some trains (most often London bound) are carrying double the accepted capacity. Take for instance the 18.33hrs train from Paddington to Heathrow Airport; it is 69% over capacity and one of the most overcrowded commuter services running in the UK.

In effort to improve London’s commuter service, Crossrail got the go ahead in July 2008. The project approached a successful milestone in June 2015 with the completion of 42km of tunnelling beneath London. Crossrail will feature a total of 40 new stations and will run over 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the West to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the East, through the main hubs of Central London. With Transport for London (TfL) serving 1.3 billion passengers per year, it is estimated that 200 million passengers per year will make use of Crossrail in a project that is due to start operating in late 2018.

Crossrail economic benefits

Crossrail will look to transform the scope of public transport, by increasing rail capacity by 10% in London, the most seen since World War II. The project will bring around 1.5 million commuters within 45 minutes of Central London and will provide links to strategic business locations such as the London Docklands, Heathrow Airport, the West End and the City. Crossrail will also ensure faster connectivity between the country’s main international gateways; for example, journey times from Heathrow to the City of London will be cut from 55 minutes to just 34 minutes.

To the joy of existing homeowners, the often dubbed ‘Crossrail effect’ has led to house price rises in towns situated on its route. A study carried out by location intelligence consultancy Groundsure, for the well renowned real estate magazine Property Week, suggests that property prices located on the Crossrail route rose by as much as 73% over 2013-2015, well above the London average of 17%. Among those towns experiencing the fastest rate rises are Taplow (73%), Gidea Park (49%) and Custom House (46%). With London boasting one of the highest shares of housing expenditure among the world’s major cities, this will come as an added shock to first-time buyers.

Crossrail is undoubtedly a much needed and overdue public transportation project in London. It will stand to contribute £42 billion to the UK economy, with estimates suggesting that for every £1.00 invested, Crossrail will bring £1.97 in transport benefits. As well as creating over 4,100 jobs, 400 apprenticeships and delivering 95% of contracts to UK companies (58% of which went to small and medium-sized enterprises) so far, the project will put the UK back on the map for large-scale infrastructure projects.