Fast rail lines to London to boost property prices and transform towns

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

London Letter:West Drayton near Heathrow is not one of those towns blessed with, shall we say, a positive image. If pressed, locals will tell you that Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood was born there.

Today, the 14,000-strong town stands at the nexus of motorway routes, near junctions for the M4 and M25, along with having reasonable rail services to London for the dreary journey into the capital every morning.

However, ugly ducklings sometimes become swans. Five years from now, West Drayton will be just 22 minutes from Bond Street and the height of London’s shopping finery, all thanks to the benefits of Cross- rail, the new 73-mile (118km) line that will cross London, linking Berkshire and Buckinghamshire with Essex and Kent, by 2018.

It will run from Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east to Maidenhead in the west, connecting major destinations such as Canary Wharf, Liverpool Street, Bond Street, Padd- ington and Heathrow itself.

Construction began nearly four years ago on a project that is currently Europe’s single largest, set to cost a shade under £15 billion, although the tunnelling of the two lines began less than a year ago from Royal Oak to Farringdon.

The main civil engineering work should be completed by 2017, leaving a year for fitting out stations and testing lines.

Trains will start to run on the central section from late 2018.

Tunnel-boring

The sixth and seventh tunnel- boring machines, known prosaically as TBMs, made their journey over Christmas – dismantled and boxed up – from their German manufacturers to Rotterdam and on to London by Tilbury docks.

The first, TBM 6 – more romantically tagged as Mary, but equipped to deal with the slurry created by the chalk, flint and mud that dominates southeast London – is already drilling under the Thames from Plumstead to North Woolwich, alongside her sister- machine, Sophia.

Hoardings around Tottenham Court Road and more recent ones on Bond Street have begun to awaken Londoners’ interest in Crossrail, although the early birds have already gone looking for property profits.

In one study, international estate consultants, Jones Lang LaSalle claimed prices for homes along its route will jump by up to 57 per cent from 2012 to 2018, comfortably exceeding the returns anywhere else.

The biggest change of fortunes will come on Tottenham Court Road, long one of London’s seediest areas, even though it lies at its heart, and its environs, where prices are expected to rise fastest.

Houses, or apartments on the outskirts of the capital within 1,000 metres from any of the stations along its route, can expect to rise by a third due largely to Crossrail, while those in the middle ground will become 40 per cent more expensive, estate agents predict.

“Twenty-four trains an hour in each direction will pass through stations during peak periods, hugely enhancing the capacity of central London’s busiest stations,” says Andrew Wolstenholme, Crossrail’s chief executive. Even though Crossrail has not yet opened, talk of another huge railway project in London is under way, this time running north to south, rather than east to west, led by the mayor of London, Boris Johnson.

Refusing to invest is not an option, Johnson says, along with former Labour transport secretary Lord Adonis and business chiefs, since some of London’s busiest stations will be closed by overcrowding fears at peak-times unless action is taken. Crossrail 2 would transform life for commuters coming in from Wimbledon, Kingston, Twickenham, Hackney, Isling- ton, Tottenham, Cheshunt and Hertford East.

London First

By 2020, says the group, which has come together as London First, 700,000 more people will be working in central London every day, while the city’s population will rise to 10 million, its highest yet.

The cost of Crossrail 2 is put at £12 billion, but the lobby group warns that £6 billion will have to be spent anyway putting plasters on a creaking transport network “offering a fraction of the benefits, while still leaving London congested”.

The train-engines and 600 new carriages costing £1 billion that will be needed to ferry Crossrail’s passengers are expected to be ordered next year from one of four bidders, Bombardier, CAF of Spain, Hitachi or Siemens. The plan had been to sign the contract later this year, but matters were delayed after the British government announced it was going to buy the trains and carriages needed for the Thameslink line from German company, Siemens, rather than Derby-based Bombardier.

Back in West Drayton, locals still harbour doubts, while those closest to the station fear that some of their gardens will disappear. The station will be refurbished, with a platform extension to accommodate the longer trains, but nearby Hayes and Harlington will be rebuilt . Today, the average home in West Drayton comes in at just over £230,000, although prices have risen by 93 per cent in a decade.

The challenge now will be to ensure that West Drayton itself benefits from Crossrail, rather than seeing the fruits from the new service leaching away to nearby Hayes and the districts surrounding it.

Once in place, Crossrail might even bring Ronnie Wood home.

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