Published in Railway Strategies.
The Crossrail project will unlock the nation’s capital by making it more accessible to people living in Britain and those arriving at Heathrow from abroad. The new line will have a significant impact on London and its communities – it will also affect the way we go about all future major rail projects in the UK.
The challenges facing the Crossrail team are all positive. If the team gets it right, they will prove that the UK is capable of carrying out large-scale improvement and building work to the existing rail infrastructure, in the pursuit of delivering the right environment and conditions for modern public transport. One of the most important factors for the project team is keeping in mind the end users – commuters and daytrippers – who will use the service, and whom we want to continue using it and to feel positive enough about it to recommend it to others. Whether passengers are making a local journey or have just flown in from the other side of the world, they want travel to be easy and stress free. If they want to grab a bite to eat or a newspaper, they should be able to do so with minimum fuss and effort.
The re-development of St Pancreas is a perfect example of how to get this right. It is an airy and spacious building above and below; visitors do not feel hemmed in and claustrophobic, and the facilities are first- rate. The key is in providing comfort and making travel as relaxing and pleasurable an experience as is possible, and this also means delivering an efficient transport service that runs on time. The effects of Crossrail on London will be massive - not just when it’s finished, but during the works too.
Locals will not welcome disruption to their home or work lives, so it is important the project team understands this and works closely with the affected local communities to minimise the disruption and manage public expectation. Concessions on either side need to be made to ensure progress can happen. Restricting works hours, removing site waste responsibly and making sure these materials are properly disposed of in an environmentally friendly way, are examples of early issues to be addressed.
Local communities need to respond positively too. In the short term, they will have this redevelopment on their doorstep, but they should be aware of the long-term benefits and prosperity Crossrail can bring. The value of land and property will increase, as travel to and from the city is made easier, and this will encourage people to buy in these areas. It will also open up the opportunity for local residents to seek employment in other areas of London where travel was once restricted by its difficulty.
Outside investment will be attracted to these areas too, and local economies will be further boosted by the arrival of new and existing businesses taking advantage of the change.
The recent development of the West Coast Main Line has brought benefits to towns such as Crewe – making travel to London much easier and quicker. It has had a tremendous positive impact on the town.
Likewise the DLR effect on Lewisham. The project team will be aware of what Crossrail can bring and the message needs to be communicated clearly to local councillors and business leaders in each area affected. It needs good leadership from all parties to make it work.
However, the project team only has a certain amount of responsibility to local communities. It is up to community members to decide to take advantage of the situation, and this is why I say local communities need to respond positively. When the Crossrail work is in progress, local businesses should be thinking about how to gain from the sudden influx of workers to the area. Businesses also need to plan for when Crossrail is complete to make sure their business makes the most out the opportunity. A tip for them would be to study what has happened in Crewe and Lewisham. It may also pay to check out other areas of London, in the same way, and to research similar successful businesses with a view to using what they learn about those businesses to improve their own.
For me, the most exciting aspect of Crossrail is the thought of tourists and business people arriving at Heathrow and being delivered smoothly into the heart of London in no time at all. First impressions count, and if Crossrail achieves its aims, the first impression people have of London and the UK will be a good one. Let’s make first impressions count and see London grow positively as a consequence of Crossrail.