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Bonkers Blog June 2018

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5 June (Part 3) - Crossrail to Ebbsfleet. An engineering challenge

I’ve crossed the Thames four times in the past six days, well eight if you are especially pedantic, and the three and a half miles to Newham has taken between 40 and 105 minutes. You can blame Bexley Council for that, more specifically you can blame Council Leader Teresa O’Neill who campaigned vigorously for the relatively small bridge planned by Labour Mayor Ken Livingston to be abandoned.

I am hoping that Crossrail and the District Line via Whitechapel will reduce waiting times and be more consistent overall. Crossrail has sounded the death knell for Abbey Wood as we know it but there can be little doubt that it will transform rail transport choice while local roads grind to a standstill.

We nearly didn’t get Crossrail either, it was left for Teresa Pearce MP to plead for the Abbey Wood branch in Parliament. Bexley Council was against all forms of borough expansion in the late noughties, how things change. It will be in serious financial trouble if its Growth Strategy is not a success and they acknowledge it will not be a success without a Crossrail extension across the borough preferably to Ebbsfleet.

If only they had woken up to that ten years ago.

There can be little argument that a Crossrail extension must in theory at least be a good thing and today the Thames Estuary Commission appears to be on the brink of giving its support for the project. Support it may well give but how can it possibly be engineered?

CrossrailCan two additional tracks be laid parallel to the North Kent line? The ideal solution but there are numerous obstructions along the way not least of which is the Harrow Manorway flyover.

Fewer than 48 hours ago a senior Network Rail engineer told me that it would have to be taken down along with extensive modifications to Abbey Wood’s new station itself. He showed me the bridge support pillars that stand directly in line with the Crossrail terminal track. I didn’t like to tell him that he told me the same story more than a year ago, clearly no one is changing their mind.

It would be fairly easy to run a single Crossrail track as far as Erith but from there more obstructions get in the way. Not insurmountable but expensive obstacles.

How else could a Crossrail train get to Dartford and beyond? One way would be with retro-fitted third rail equipment, the capability was specified in the contract. Interspersing Crossrail trains with Southeastern or its successor would be a recipe for delays which would impact the frequent interval service across London. Dropping the pantographs would probably waste five minutes too, so where is the time advantage?

Railway enthusiast forums have touted other ideas one of which is to terminate the North Kent line at Abbey Wood. How will that improve connectivity to the east? It would require horrendous delay inducing crossovers outside the Plumstead tunnel portal as it would still be impossible to get two Crossrail tracks under the northern half of the flyover.

The solution to that would be terminating the North Kent line at Plumstead. Suddenly it doesn’t seem like much of a transport infrastructure improvement but we have recently seen railway improvements which are nothing of the sort. Still sounds like a railway enthusiast’s flight of fancy to me. No direct route from Slade Green to London Bridge. It’s slow enough as it is without introducing a change of train.

Getting the Thames Estuary Commission to back a Crossrail extension is the easy bit. There is no simple engineering answer to the extension but political minds are not always practical minds. Perhaps knocking down the new station is the way forward after all.

After all, Abbey Wood residents will all be very tolerant of yet more years of chaos and disruption to normal life, won’t they?


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