Last night, the Institution of Civil Engineers held the final in a series of talks about London Underground. The four speakers were asked to address the future of the tube, and other transport modes. The talks were so good, we thought we'd write up our notes for anyone who couldn't be there.
The session was chaired by Nick Raynsford, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, who was one of the voices instrumental in Woolwich securing a Crossrail station. Here's a little summary of who said what.
DW is director for capital programmes at London Underground, which kind of makes him its top engineer. He spoke about the current tube upgrade plans, those decade-long engineering works that close large sections of the network every weekend. Improving the existing tracks, signals, carriages and general infrastructure is vital to meeting the 5% per annum increase in demand across the network. Victoria, we were told, already handles more passengers per year than Heathrow. He described the project as the biggest upgrade that any railway has ever experienced.
He then spelled out the key successes of recent years, including the growth of the Overground network, the new rolling stock on the Victoria and Metropolitan lines, and the improvements to Green Park. His assertion that the cable car had been a "great success", however, met with a few cynical laughs.
Finally looking to the future, Waboso mentioned an ongoing project to develop a cabless 'new tube train for London' to be debuted on the Piccadilly Line as part of the upgrade works. He also mentioned that the Mayor's takeover of the West Anglia rail route would "extend the Overground brand a bit more". Might we see some more orange on the tube map?
Stephen Pauling and Mike Savill
These chaps are bigwigs in the planning, design and engineering for Crossrail 2, the much discussed north-south sequel to the currently constructing Crossrail 1. They began by running through the rationale for the Crossrail line — which would bring relief to the Northern, Piccadilly and Victoria Lines, and potentially link up Stansted Airport. The recent public consultation over which of two routes to build received an impressive 14,000 responses. The team are currently working through your feedback.
Mike went on to discuss some of the engineering challenges surrounding the proposed line. He described it as "not just Crossrail 1 turned through 90 degrees, but perhaps half as much again". The scheme would involve complex new interchanges at already busy stations like Tottenham Court Road and King's Cross St Pancras. But even in the suburbs, vast challenges await. Taking Tooting Broadway as an example, Mike showed a slide showing just how vast the Crossrail platforms and connecting tunnels would be, compared with the adjacent Northern Line station. The construction sites have to avoid residential property, deep piles from buildings such as Tooting Sainsbury's, and heritage buildings like Charles Holden's existing station. The Crossrail platforms here would also probably cut through two geological layers, which could pose challenges.
On the wider project, Mike was keen to point out that the challenge isn't just with boring tunnels and clawing out station boxes. The project also requires a dozen ventilation and evacuation shafts sited along the route, plus large amounts of land for stabling trains. It's all got to come from somewhere.
Current plans are to put the formal case to the Government in 2015, secure powers for building in 2019, construct in the 2020s and open in the early 2030s. In response to a later question from London Assembly member Richard Tracey, Mike commented that this lengthy timeline is actually rather ambitious, given the scale and challenges of the project.
Mike de Silva
The final talk came from Crossrail's sustainability manager, who began with a civil engineering gag that went over our heads. He then spoke of the improvements we'll see on Crossrail that are not currently enjoyed by tube passengers. All trains will have air conditioning, for example, and trials are planned to capture heat and recycle it to good use. Crossrail is also looking at clever uses for the vast amount of clay it excises, such as including it into the concrete mix.
He then dipped a little further into the box marked 'blue sky', quite literally with the suggestion that daylight could one day be filtered down to platforms via fibre optics (an idea half-inched from New York's proposed LowLine). He's also a fan of the futuristic skyTran pod system, currently being prepared for trial in Tel Aviv. Finally, he mentioned this so-crazy-it-might-just-work elevated bus concept (not as a serious proposal for London, but to highlight that radical ideas are out there).
The Q&A session was disappointingly short, as most of the speakers had over-ran. But one interesting idea from the audience was to build future lines with 'in' doors and 'out' doors on opposite sides of the carriage, to ease crowd-flow. Mike Savill agreed that this would be useful, but conceded that there were no plans in Crossrail 2 to incorporate the extra platform space that would be needed.
The ICE also screened the exceptional short film Engineering the Underground, which we've slipped in again below for your delectation.