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Crossrail: Elizabeth Line

Volume 606: debated on Tuesday 23 February 2016

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement to the House.

I am delighted to announce that from December 2018 the Crossrail route will be known as the Elizabeth line and will be marked on the nation’s transport maps in royal purple.

Today Her Majesty took part in a naming ceremony at the line’s new Bond Street station, where she met just some of those responsible for delivering Europe’s most complicated engineering project, which is now more than 70% complete and running on budget and on time.

Her Majesty has served our country for more than 60 years. She has been a symbol of wisdom, continuity and stability in an age of unprecedented change, and she has long been associated with many aspects of this nation’s transport. Our Queen opened the Victoria line service in 1969. The Fleet line was renamed the Jubilee line in honour of her first 25 years on the throne in 1979, and she is the first reigning monarch to travel on the London underground. More recently, Her Majesty opened the redeveloped Reading and Birmingham New Street stations and Heathrow airport’s new terminal 2 building. I am told that trains are Her Majesty’s favourite form of travel and that she is a frequent user of both the royal train and scheduled train services. I hope that Her Majesty will consider an invitation to travel on the first passenger train that will pass through the Elizabeth line’s tunnels in December 2018.

Even before that date, the project is breaking new ground. It is not just the largest infrastructure project in Europe, but the most technically challenging and the most ambitious. In a little over three years, the thousands of people who have worked night and day on the project have dug 26 miles of tunnels under London. Thanks to their work, the line is now more than 70% complete.

Last May, Transport for London began operating the first section of what will become the Elizabeth line route from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. Network Rail has completed most of the work to connect the line to the existing rail network. In Derby, as I have seen for myself, Bombardier is building the first carriage of the first Crossrail train—a British-built train for a Great British rail line.

When the Elizabeth line opens fully in December 2018, it will change dramatically the way in which people travel around London and the south-east. It will bring an extra 1.5 million people within a 45-minute commuting distance of London’s key business areas. It will increase the total railway capacity by 10% in the south-east, adding much needed capacity to some very crowded lines. It will support our ambition of city-wide regeneration and shorter journey times for passengers. I am pleased to confirm that all 40 Elizabeth line stations will be step free so that they are accessible to all.

We are proud of this investment, but it is not just about the current project work. The project will bring a lasting skills legacy to Britain—in particular, a skills legacy that will benefit many thousands of women. As Terry Morgan, the project’s chairman, has said, Crossrail has always been more than a transport project. It has been a blueprint for how infrastructure should be built in future.

Today’s construction sites are sophisticated places, which require communication skills, the ability to multitask and manage complex projects, work in teams and win the trust of clients and site neighbours. Those are all skills that make such projects natural places for women to work. Through the building of Crossrail, they are steadily becoming a hallmark of modern construction. As a result, the project has broken new ground in the diversity of its workforce. Women make up almost a quarter of those in its graduate programme. Those are people who will go on to become the future leaders of the industry. Of the 10,000 people working on Crossrail, nearly one third are women. Through Crossrail, women are forging careers they never thought possible—a fact that we celebrated at a cross-party reception here in January that we called “She’s Building It”.

Crossrail—soon to be the Elizabeth line—the Olympics, Heathrow terminal 5, and Reading and Birmingham New Street stations are rejuvenating the image and the economics of British engineering and opening career opportunities to our best and brightest, among them increasing numbers of women. I know that people working on the Crossrail project are already immensely proud of the legacy that they are helping to create. I believe that their pride can only be enhanced by the announcement that this amazing, groundbreaking engineering project will forever be known by the name of our sovereign, Queen Elizabeth. With permission, I commend this statement to the House.

I am grateful to the Minister for advance sight of her statement. On my behalf and that of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I am in the happy position of being able very much to welcome the announcement. Crossrail has had cross-party support over its lengthy gestation period, and we all look forward to the considerable benefits that the new line will bring in the years ahead.

The naming of the line as the Elizabeth line is very much welcomed by Opposition Members. We have become used to the title Crossrail in recent decades. The renaming is a significant improvement on Cross London Rail Links Ltd, and Elizabeth is undoubtedly a much more elegant and fitting title for such an innovative and important transport infrastructure development, which will bring the benefit of better transport to millions of passengers from Reading in the west to Shenfield in the east. Given the enormous public commitment that has gone into developing the Crossrail brand, will the Minister give us an assurance that the Crossrail brand and livery will continue to be used?

I pay tribute to the last Labour Government, who took the Crossrail project forward in their 10-year transport plan, “Transport 2010”, in which they reasserted that an east-west rail link should go ahead. Alistair Darling, the then Secretary of State for Transport, announced that the Labour Government supported the new east-west Crossrail link and committed to bringing forward legislation to enable Crossrail to proceed, which was critical in turning the aspiration and ambition of Crossrail into reality.

One of the first ideas of the previous coalition Government, after they came into power in 2010, was to consider cancelling the Crossrail project altogether. Labour Members are delighted that not only is the project back on track, so to speak, but the Government’s conversion to supporting Crossrail has been so all-embracing that they have not only given the project their full backing but decided to dedicate it to Her Majesty. In that, they have our support.

We all expect Crossrail or the Elizabeth line to change the face of transport in London and the south-east, whatever its name. I would like to draw the Minister’s focus to a few points. Crossrail is largely on time and on budget, so can the Minister confirm that it will indeed open on schedule? Will she inform the House of what lessons have been learned from the successes of Crossrail that can be applied to High Speed 2? The Crossrail service will share the Great Western main line to Reading, but sadly the electrification programme has slipped and will cost more than was first estimated. Will the Minister take the opportunity to confirm to the House that the rescheduled electrification of the Great Western main line to Reading will be completed in time for the opening of the Elizabeth line?

I was delighted by the fact that after some 35 years of planning and development, Crossrail finally broke ground on 15 May 2009, when the Mayor of London and the then Transport Secretary, the noble Lord Adonis, sank the first pile into the docklands at the new Canary Wharf station. As we approach the conclusion of this most magnificent engineering undertaking, we remember the name of Crossrail with much affection and admiration. Although Crossrail is not dead, I wish the Elizabeth line a long and successful life.

It is a delight to share, as we often do, a cross-party view—total agreement—on transport infrastructure. I would like to answer some of the hon. Gentleman’s questions.

Crossrail branding will apply for now, but the intention is that from December 2018 the Elizabeth line branding will come into force. The trains are currently under construction, as the hon. Gentleman knows, and it is not expensive to repaint and rebrand them, so I do not think that there are any costs associated with this welcome decision.

The hon. Gentleman asked about lessons that have been learned from Crossrail and that can be applied to Network Rail. I would argue that there are lessons that can be applied more broadly. One thing that has worked well is the fact that the project has stuck to its guns—stuck to its knitting. It has resisted demands for deviations from the route and proceeded with its original plan, which it has delivered very effectively. Crucially, it has blazed a trail in engagement with communities who are affected by the work. I have been surprised, when I have visited stations, by how little the people around the stations realise that the work is going on. That is a tribute to the care and consideration behind that engagement. Another enormously important factor has been the engagement of the supply chain. The majority of supply contracts are let to companies outside the south-east and, in many cases, to small and medium- sized enterprises. Those are two important lessons for the future.

The hon. Gentleman is right to talk about bringing the project in on time and on budget. I emphasise that that is part of the project’s careful planning.

On the question about the vital link between the Crossrail line and the Great Western main line to the west, I am happy to confirm that that work is on time and on budget, and it will absolutely be in place to ensure that the line runs. It is an enormous priority for all of us to ensure that the first trains can run from December 2018.

I strongly welcome the Minister’s statement. Can she guarantee that in the final 30% of the construction process we will be trumpeting the use of British steel wherever possible?

I am happy to confirm that that is absolutely the case. Indeed, 85% of the supply chain providing steel to the project is UK-based, and the 57 km of rails that run through the central tunnel are 100% provided by UK steel suppliers. I am sure that my hon. Friend will also welcome the fact that 61% of the firms that have won work associated with the project are based outside London.

I, too, thank the Minister for providing an advance copy of her statement. I will come to the name of the line in a moment, but may I first welcome the increased opportunities that the project has provided for women? More needs to be done to get the message out to women and young girls about the opportunities that are available for them. I also welcome the accessibility aspect, which is an important factor.

A change of name can be invigorating. In Scotland, we found that the change of name from the Scottish Executive to the Scottish Government provided a new sense of purpose, from which people were able to take confidence. In general, the change of name is a good move. The royal theme is continued in Scotland by the Queensferry crossing, the name of which was chosen by public vote. Will the Minister tell us about the mechanism for renaming Crossrail? The public have certainly embraced it with some vigour. The Minister described Crossrail as a great British rail line. On that basis, can she guarantee that all the ticket machines on the new Elizabeth line will be able to accept Scottish notes so that we can actually travel on it?

According to figures announced just last weekend, the Scottish Government are investing twice as much per person in transport as England is, and have spent more per head on improving infrastructure than all the other nations in the UK since the Scottish National party came to power in 2007. I am glad to see some ambition today. May we have more of it to make sure that the people of the nations of the UK are better connected?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for a very important list of questions. He is absolutely right to focus, as we are, on the diversity opportunities that have opened up as a result of this project. People too often think of engineering skills, particularly on the railways, as involving joining the wheel-tappers and shunters club, but it is not like that. It is a high-tech world in which people are more likely to go to work with a laptop than with a spanner. As I say, it is a growing industry partly thanks to this Government’s record in transport infrastructure, so it is one to which we would like to attract more women. There have been some little but subtle changes. The so-called man cage that takes people down into the giant hole where the tunnels start has, at the suggestion of the very feisty woman in charge of the work at Farringdon station, been renamed a people basket. That is a brilliant example of how small changes can make a difference.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the mechanism. Many people would like to claim credit for what is a very good idea, but I am sure if we put it to the British people in a referendum, they would—if they do not have referendum fatigue—overwhelmingly support this decision. Of course, the Queen did approve the decision. I think its genesis lies in the fact that she is now our longest-serving monarch—she has been on the throne for 64 years—and the name change is a very fitting tribute to the length of her reign.

The hon. Gentleman asked about Scottish pound notes. Based on my experience with London cabbies, I am very sorry to say that many people still do not believe they are legal tender south of the border. I will look into that matter and respond to him. Of course, I would like a revolution in ticket vending machines so that we can use mobile and smart ticketing much more often than cash when we purchase railway tickets.

The hon. Gentleman raised the importance of infrastructure north of the border. I am sure he is delighted, as I am, that the west coast main line—the vital passenger and freight route that crosses our borders—has been reopened two weeks early, after the devastation at Lamington viaduct. I went to see it in the snow, with his party’s Transport Minister from north of the border. It was a difficult site, and I am sure we all want to pay tribute to the orange army that delivered that result and got the line open.

I welcome this announcement, and the Minister is right to praise Crossrail—the Elizabeth line. Does she think it is a suitable model to follow for Rail North, and indeed for the new northern transport body that has just been set up, Transport for the North, so there can be investment in new lines right across the north of England to make the northern powerhouse a reality?

I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the announcement. She is right to focus on such parallels. Clearly, transport money is best spent when it is pulled through to satisfy local demands and to drive local economic growth. I am sure she welcomes what the Government have done. We have set up Transport for the North on a stand-alone basis and we have funded it, and we have asked the devolved authority to work on plans and proposals to drive forward infrastructure investment in the region. In his comments, the hon. Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) referred to the role of Lord Adonis. I pay tribute to him for generating this idea and pushing it through, often, as with many rail investments, in the face, frankly, of opposition—

Well, the hon. Gentleman corrects me, but I am delighted to say that this is now happening. Lord Adonis now heads the Government’s National Infrastructure Commission, which has been tasked with looking at—this idea again has cross-party support and consensus—how we can best spend the ongoing investment in infrastructure for the benefit of the British economy.

Crossrail is a complex project, as the Minister says, especially where there are interchanges with other lines. At Old Oak, it interchanges with overground, underground, Great Western and, of course, HS2 services. Will she look at the very poor co-ordination of that interchange, where every company is doing its own thing, with the Crossrail depot being built in the middle of prime development land? She might like Lord Adonis to look at that, as he knows what he is talking about.

The hon. Gentleman is right to point out the complexity of the project—some of the tunnels have been tunnelled to within 30 cm of existing infrastructure beneath the streets of London, which is an astonishing achievement—and of the interchanges, on which such decisions are often considered to be too complicated. The Government, TfL and Network Rail are working closely with the Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation—that is another example of a devolved authority—to make sure that it understands its aspirations for the publicly held land at Old Oak Common. It is a balancing act and it is difficult to get it right for the future, but we will continue to invest in this vital infrastructure and we will make it work for the benefit of the British economy and of rail passengers across the UK.

I agree wholeheartedly with what the rail Minister and the shadow rail Minister have said about Her Majesty and about our brilliant railway staff. I am a former Network Rail staffer, and I worked with some fantastic women engineers. May I, however, offer the Minister some constructive criticism? Her statement made more references to services to Liverpool Street than to those to Liverpool. Now that Crossrail is moving towards completion, will she turn her attentions northwards, and will she say when she will meet a delegation from Merseyside to discuss rail services there?

I talked more about Liverpool Street only because Crossrail does not of course go very far north at the moment. I have great respect for the hon. Lady, but she will know from her constituency that we have electric trains running between Manchester and Liverpool for the first time ever. That is tangible evidence that the Government are delivering both on infrastructure promises in the north and on rolling stock. I am sure that she, like me, has long thought the Pacer should have been phased out a long time ago, because it is not fit for purpose in moving people around such a vibrant and growing part of the country—the north—which I know she is proud to represent. This Government are taking such investment decisions. My door is always open to delegations from any part of the country that wants to talk about how railways can further transform their local economy.

May I add my congratulations to the whole Crossrail team on this remarkable feat of engineering, which will bring enormous benefits to my constituents in Ilford? In particular, I want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who, as chair of the all-party group on Crossrail, has batted particularly strongly, if I may say so, for the longer-term benefits for the residents of Ilford.

This weekend, I will join residents of St Peter’s church at Aldborough Hatch in my constituency to “Clean for the Queen”. May I therefore, on behalf of so many of my constituents, commend those who have come up with this fantastic and fitting tribute to our longest-reigning monarch for her more than 60 years of dedicated public service?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his support, and indeed for highlighting “Clean for the Queen”, which will have us all putting on our rubber gloves and getting out our litter pickers in the next few months. He raises the important point that this House is at its best when we come together to invest in major pieces of infrastructure that will transform the lives of those who will benefit directly, but also benefit those working for such a construction project or, indeed, supplying products for it.

An outbreak of cross-party consensus is just what we need, and we of course have such a project with HS2, which I believe completed its Select Committee stage only yesterday. Frankly, I pay tribute to the Committee, because it has been a labour of love—[Interruption.] I am not going to comment on that. Spades will be in the ground from 2017, and the skills that many hundreds of men and women have built up—we now lead the world in soft-ground tunnelling—will be very useful for the Thames tideway, the HS2 work that is coming and, indeed, with the A303 proposals that will benefit my constituency.

Could some of the efficiency that the Minister has spoken about with regard to Crossrail be applied to Southeastern, which has been providing an appalling service? Will she agree to meet a delegation of MPs from south-east London to discuss how that might be done?

The hon. Gentleman has long been a doughty campaigner for improved rail services for his constituents. I hope that he received a letter from me just a few weeks ago, which said that I hope to make a decision shortly about the long-awaited capacity increases, because I know that he is very concerned about the crowding on those trains. I hope to have good news on that very shortly, but, as he knows, my door is always open.

I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman received the Minister’s letter, his happiness would be as unalloyed as hers obviously is today. We are extremely grateful to her.