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Railwatch 068 - July 1996

Jubilation

The design for the new Canary Wharf station in London Docklands has already won its first award - even before completion.

The station will be on the new 10-mile long Jubilee line extension which will link Stratford in East London with Docklands, Waterloo and Westminster.

The £2 billion scheme is one of the greatest engineering feats ever undertaken by London Transport. Eight tunnels have had to be constructed under the River Thames with the aid of boring machines named Tracey and Sharon.

The final river tunnel was completed in January but work continues on the rest of the line, part of it running close to Big Ben. Over the station at Westminster, new office accommodation will be built for Parliament.

At the moment though engineers will now be laying tracks in the tunnels. Despite the Heathrow tunnel collapse which cast into doubt the Austrian tunnelling method - which is also being used on the Jubilee line - the extension is on target to be completed on time in March 1998

The Jubilee line extension is just one of many rail schemes which need to be implemented to make London an effective and user-friendly city. If the Government had paid more attention to people rather than the demands of property developers and bankers in Docklands, other schemes would probably have been given the go-ahead first.

CrossRail - which has been effectively shelved because of Railtrack's fear of its effect on its own marketability and profitability - would have made a much greater contribution to the travel needs of the whole of the South-East area and been better value for money.

Rather than getting on with this and other much-needed rail projects, the Department of Transport is slipping back into its bad old ways, trying to promote a new road bridge over the River Thames and widening the M25 motorway. Its priority should be to build a new rail crossing at North Woolwich to link the rail networks north and south of the river.

Politicians and bureaucrats should remember that the vast majority of people travel to and around London by public transport. Improving conditions for them should be their priority. Providing more road infrastructure for the minority who insist on driving their cars - and causing health-damaging levels of pollution - should be the last thing on their minds. The other new rail line in the London area is the £300 million Heathrow airport link to Paddington which should also open in 1998.

It's good to see our major airport at last getting a fast link but the involvement of the private sector means that at least to begin with, the line will have only dedicated airport trains. The Germans have already learned that an airport-only train service does not work very well. They are planning to make sure that airport trains are integrated into the existing rail network so as to make to make them really effective.

If Britain's half-baked rail schemes fail to live up to expectations, there will be plenty of people in the Department of Transport ready to roll out their next phase of road building plans as an alternative.

Ministers and the Labour party have been targeted lately by the British Road Federation which is keen to see the public's real desire for more sensible transport policies, and a halt to traffic growth, thwarted.

For everyone's sakes - including the BRF's - it is the BRF which must be thwarted.

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