With a hybrid bill reaching parliamentary select committee stage, has Crossrail's time finally come? Emma Crates talks to Crossrail chief Keith Berryman
BUILDING a new east-west rail link across London is not the freshest idea under debate in engineering circles.
Strategists have been chewing it over for more than two decades.
A number of proposals have already foundered as politicians lost their nerve on backing such a mammoth undertaking.
So with the latest Crossrail Bill now at Parliamentary select committee stage, cynics might wonder why Keith Berryman, acting chief executive of Crossrail, is looking so cheerful.
'We've got much stronger crossparty backing than ever before. There's a political consensus, ' he says.
There's more to boost Mr Berryman's confidence. Last December the Government pledged a further £100 million to the project, which, before it even gets under way, is eat ing up an estimated £1 million a week in ground investigations, surveys, design and timetabling work.
And the bill currently going through Parliament is crucially different to the one that went before it.
'The previous Bill was promoted by London Underground. This one is promoted by the state. And it's also a hybrid, ' says Mr Berryman.
The Government does not undertake hybrid bills lightly. The last one was for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and Mr Berryman believes that there is 'an implied assumption' that the bill will be successful.
He adds that 15 years ago there was a downturn in commuter traffic so the need for the scheme was less obvious.
Since then London's population has grown rapidly. Mr Berryman is also bullish about the Commons select committee stage. Crossrail had expected to receive about 700 petitions about the scheme from interested parties, but only 348 have been posted. 'This is encouraging, ' he remarks.
He anticipates that the select committee examining the project will complete its work by this year's summer recess. The Bill then goes to grand committee and could reach the House of Lords in time for completion by the 2007 summer recess. 'Then we've just got to find £10 billion in funding, ' he adds wryly.
That £10 billion figure, Mr Berryman emphasises, is at 2002 prices and includes contingencies. All the same, it is going to require deep pockets and strong nerve for a Government already committed to funding the Olympics.
Passenger fares, he admits, will not even come close to supplementing the scheme. Revenues from fares are forecast to rake in a mere £3 billion over the amortisation period. The introduction of some form of taxat ion is most likely.
The scheme is close to his heart.
A former civil engineer and banker, he has extensive experience of railrelated schemes in the UK and Hong Kong. Mr Berryman re-established the project in 2001 by setting up a client-in-waiting to drive it forward in the form of Cross-London Rail Links.
He stepped in as acting chief executive last July after former chief executive Norman Haste stepped down.
If Crossrail has a rival it is Superlink ? a proposal to link towns as far apart as Basingstoke and Cambridge by rail.
Mr Berryman is dismissive of Superlink's chances. He says: 'Crossrail is all about releasing congestion in central London. Superlink is aimed at longdistance commuting ? something that the Government is trying to discourage.' Crossrail, he argues, stretching from Shenfield and Abbeywood in the east to Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, will have an 'enormous impact' on most parts of the underground, and the Central and Bakerloo lines in particular.
'Apart from the Northern Line, all other lines get some relief from Crossrail, ' he adds. 'We're talking supertube.' If the scheme gets the go-ahead Mr Berryman reckons work could start in 2008, with the earliest finish date of 2014. Under this scenario tunnelling would continue until roughly 2011, with fit-out of stat ions starting in 2012.
'There would be a big requirement for elect r icians in 2012, ' says Mr Ber ryman and it's possible that we could clash with the Olympic projects. But it's my fervent hope that they will be f in ished by then.' At station fit-out phase the workforce capacity could peak at 12,000 workers.
He envisages a traditional supply chain where all the contractors are responsible for the subcontractors.
'My personal preference is for Crossrail engineers to do the outline design and build, but the detailed design and build be carried out by the contractors, ' he says.
This implies that the risk could be bounced squarely back into the contractors' court, but Mr Berryman has strong ideas about how the risks will be controlled. Tunnelling is likely to be an evolved form of the New Austrian Tunnelling Method.
'It will be partly NATM, in the sense that it will use sprayed concrete.
'But we won't be using observational technique. The tunnels will be designed, ' he stresses, adding that he is also open to considering alternative methods where appropriate.
The scheme is likely to be divided into 13 to 15 contracts, with stat ions contracts separated out from tunnelling. No contract is likely to come in under £300million.
Although the giant international players are the obvious runners in the bidding race, Mr Berryman believes there should be openings for medium-sized contractors, particularly through subcontracting.
A further sign that the scheme is edging towards reality was the appointment of Bechtel as development manager last December on a 21month contract to lead and manage a team of design and cost consultants in fleshing out the scheme.
'I'm confident, ' says Mr Berryman.
'It's an enormous amount of money, but I think it's the best use you can make of £10 billion. It benefits not only the local economy but the national one as well.'
Presenting the bill
THE PREVIOUS bill to build Crossrail was private, and brought by London Underground.
Keith Berryman (pictured) reckons the new Hybrid Bill ? a public bill with some procedural characteristics of a private bill because it affects private interests ? is in a stronger position to succeed. Hybrid bills are introduced only rarely, the last one was for the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.