London Has to Shelve Cross-City Rail Line to Secure Tube Bailout

London’s plans for a second cross-city rail link will be shelved as a condition of a 1.8 billion-pound ($2.3 billion) government bailout of its subway network, which has seen traffic plunge during the coronavirus crisis.

Transport for London must also engage in a study into the introduction of driver-less trains, according to a letter laying out terms of the rescue from U.K. Transport Minister Grant Shapps to Sadiq Khan, the city’s mayor. The plan was announced Sunday.

London’s 150-year-old subway, known as the Tube, has become a focus of political tension. Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson had said TfL was inefficiently run and that reforms should be part of any package, while Khan, who represents the opposition Labour party, sought emergency funding without any erosion of his control over the city’s public transport system.

The Crossrail 2 line was meant to provide a heavy-rail link between southwest and northeast London via stops in the city center, following on from the initial east-west Crossrail project which is itself long-delayed and over budget.

According to the terms stipulated by Shapps, London must bring “an orderly end to consultancy work as soon as possible” on Crossrail 2. So-called safeguarding activity to protect the route from other development work will be funded by the state, holding out some hope that the line could be revived.

TfL said in a statement it has diverted staff to other projects, and that Crossrail 2 could be brought out of mothballs “when a long-term sustainable funding model is in place.”

The transport authority must also enter into talks with the government on the scope of a study of driver-less trains, including the membership of a review panel and the appointment of consultants. Johnson pressed for automated Tube services when he himself was mayor, but Khan has been lukewarm on the idea, citing the cost and complexity.

TfL’s revenue fell 90% at the start of the first Covid-19 lockdown in March.

While the Tube and Overground networks saw some return of traffic over the summer, the government began encouraging people to work from home again in September and will impose a second lockdown on Thursday.

The letter detailing Shapps’s conditions was published on the U.K. government website.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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