Transport for the South East (TfSE) has outlined a method by which it can raise £3.2billion in funding to build an extension to the Elizabeth Line which would see it extend to Ebbsfleet and beyond to Gravesend .
The transport organization has opened a public consultation on its Southeast Strategic Investment Plan, which outlines how it wants to invest £45billion in transporting the region over the next 27 years. He estimates that by 2050 these investments would generate an annual gross value added of £4 billion.
Among the most ambitious projects in the proposed portfolio is the extension of Crossrail, which has been mooted since 2016 when the informal Crossrail to Ebbsfleet (C2E) group was formed. Soon after, he received backing from the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, Sir John Armitt.
In 2019, Bexley Council – one of 16 local councils that make up TfSE – received a £4.85m grant from the government’s Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission fund to develop a business case for improving connectivity in the Bexley Riverside – North Kent corridor. Most of the proposals returned were for extending Crossrail from its current terminus at Abbey Wood.
It first opened a consultation on five potential ways to improve connectivity in the corridor in early 2021, then narrowed them down to the final three options last summer, two of which still involve extending the Elizabeth line.
However, where the proposal was originally priced at £1.5 billion, the current price is between £2.6 billion and £3.2 billion. This price is for Option 1 of the three remaining proposals (see below), while Option 2 could see the price increase even further due to the need for more new lanes, mandatory land purchase and more intensive works in several of the stations.
In his Strategic investment planTfSE outlines how this could be funded.
It starts with Great British Railways (GBR) agreeing to be the main delivery partner for the programme, acknowledging that much of the extension would run on the existing North Kent route railways. This would mean that the Department for Transport (DfT) would accept the program into the Rail Network Improvements Pipeline (RNEP) to be carried out during the next five-year funding cycle. It would have to go through the five stages of RNEP before the DfT can provide funding.
The TfSE is then considering inflows of funding from sources outside central government, as the body sees it as “a major, complex (and capital intensive) cross-border program with far-reaching potential benefits”. These sources would include government funding from broader programs that recognize the program’s potential to contribute to national housing, economic and environmental goals. For example, it could appeal to the Housing Infrastructure Fund for a contribution.
A sum would be requested from London, that is to say from the mayor, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London (TfL). The Crossrail extension is presented in the Mayor’s Transportation Strategy from 2018, where it is promoted as driving growth in the Thames Gateway corridor within and beyond London. While this is promising, TfSE accepts that it would be difficult to ask the mayor and the GLA to divert funds to this scheme, particularly given TfL’s current financial situation.
In addition, TfSE would seek local input from authorities within the C2E partnership, i.e. councils such as Bexley Borough Council, Dartford Borough Council and Kent County Council. This would include the use of existing budgets and tools, as well as approaches to capture the value of the development and the expected increase in nearby land values.
It could also seek investment from private sources, with companies such as Heathrow Airport and the Shepherd Neame Brewery having already sounded their support for the scheme. Unfortunately, one of the main sources of potential private funding came from the developers of the London Resort Theme Park, which was mothballed in March this year due to transport issues.
The Department of Upgrading, Housing and Communities and the DfT are currently reviewing Bexley’s business case for the project.
Proposals to improve connectivity in North Kent
Eight of the 12 hourly Elizabeth line services that will terminate at Abbey Wood are being extended eastward, sharing existing North Kent line tracks with Southeastern and Thameslink services.
Of the eight trains per hour, four would terminate at Northfleet, with the other four continuing to Gravesend. Elizabeth line trains would stop at all North Kent line stations between Abbey Wood and Gravesend.
This option would require some modifications to the existing South East service to reduce operational conflicts with additional Elizabeth line services running on North Kent line tracks.
This option would require the construction of some additional track sections and junctions within the existing rail corridor, major works at Abbey Wood, Slade Green and Dartford stations and would require additional land to accommodate additional train parking facilities .
The 12 per hour Elizabeth line trains that will terminate at Abbey Wood will continue to Dartford on a new separate railway, which would run alongside existing North Kent line tracks. These trains would stop at all stations on the North Kent line between Abbey Wood and Dartford.
This option would require major construction work to build a new dual carriageway rail route along the existing North Kent line, requiring the potential compulsory purchase of land and property beyond the existing rail corridor in some areas and major works at Abbey Wood, Slade Green and Dartford stations. , as well as the provision of new train parking facilities.
A package of lower cost transport connectivity improvements which combines improvements to existing national rail services between Abbey Wood and Northfleet and the introduction of new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) services between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet.
The National Rail element of the option proposes four South East trains per hour running between London and Dartford via Abbey Wood to be extended from Dartford to Northfleet. This would increase the number of South East trains to/from stations serving London between Northfleet and Dartford for connection to the Elizabeth line at Abbey Wood from four to eight trains per hour.
To provide these service improvements, new infrastructure works would be required at Northfleet station to accommodate and turn around the additional services on the route east of Dartford.
The bus element for Option 3 is to introduce two new service routes, each operating at six buses per hour in each direction, supported by a combination of bus priority measures on the existing motorway and sections on a new bus lane. A service route would run between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet International Station via Slade Green, Dartford and Bluewater. The other service would operate on a more northerly route between Slade Green and Ebbsfleet via Greenhithe and Northfleet.
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