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Friday 1 May 2009

Selling the Pass

Demonstrating that it’s not a paper that feeds its readers a uniform diet of stuff they want to hear, the Guardian yesterday carried a column by Simon Jenkins on the first anniversary in office of London mayor Boris Johnson. Jenkins tells us that the very fact that this anniversary is being discussed makes it news. Wrong. The fact of the matter is that hacks like Jenkins are pushing this on to the news agenda to make it news.

And it’s not hard to find suspect reasoning elsewhere in the piece. Jenkins bemoans Johnson’s missing of the opportunity to cancel Crossrail, and he does so as if it’s something trivial, and unworthy of further comment. It is here that he sells the pass.

Crossrail, like similar rail schemes in cities across the world, is about the need for more capacity to move people into and around the central area. More, it is about relieving the pressure on nearby transport links, such as the Central Line, and the Circle and Metropolitan between Paddington and Liverpool Street.

There is, in London’s recent history, a text book example of the need for new transport capacity and what happens when its introduction is delayed. What eventually opened as the first phase of the Jubilee Line (between Baker Street and Charing Cross), taking the traffic from the Bakerloo Line’s Stanmore branch, had been planned for many years previously. Its intended continuation through central London gave the new tube the intended title of the “Fleet Line”. As the delays continued, so commuting on the Bakerloo south of Baker Street became more and more grim. Nobody having to endure that line in the peaks would have denied that the demand for more capacity was there. What conditions would have been like today without the Jubilee Line does not bear serious consideration.

So the discussion, I would urge, should not be over whether to have Crossrail, but how it can be delivered as soon as humanly possible. Anyone doubting that the need is there will only need a few weeks of the Central Line at peak times to inform their decision. And it’s not just about commuting: the viability of the West End as a retail and leisure destination will suffer progressively as it becomes less convenient and pleasant to get there.

Perhaps Jenkins doesn’t lower himself to use the tube. If so, that would explain his flippant dismissal of Crossrail. And, if he can’t provide an informed opinion, it might be better for all concerned if he were to leave the arena to those who can.

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