Crossrail project given green light at last

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The Government finally gave the green light today to the £16 billion cross-London Crossrail project.

Announcing that funding was now in place for the long-delayed scheme, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said it was a project of "enormous importance, not just for London but for the whole country".

He said the scheme - which will run from Maidenhead, west of London, as far east as Shenfield in Essex - would generate an additional 30,000 jobs and help retain London's position as the world's pre-eminent financial centre.

Crossrail was first given a go-ahead by the Conservative government as far back as 1990 but mounting costs caused the project to be put on ice in the mid-1990s before it was revived in recent years.

Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly said a lot of work had gone into securing a Crossrail funding deal that had "eluded all previous governments".

She added that today's announcement paved the way for a rail link that would give a lasting transport legacy to London for centuries to come.

London First chief executive Baroness Valentine told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It's just great news for London, it's great news for business in London and in particular the poor commuter. We are delighted.

"London's transport system has been creaking for the last 20 years and governments of all hues have failed to invest. I guess they had to choose between investing in London and more hospitals elsewhere.

"If we want London to compete on a world stage, we have absolutely got to keep investing in its transport system.

"It will give us about 40% of the additional capacity we need. We've got about one million more people coming into London and half a million jobs, and obviously we've got to get the people to the jobs.

"We need the Tube upgraded as well, while we wait for Crossrail and that will get us a bit more capacity. But it's not going to be comfortable even when we've got Crossrail."

The announcement was warmly welcomed by business, union and transport leaders as a massive boost for London's economy.

London's Transport Commissioner Peter Hendy said: "This is excellent news for London and the UK as a whole. Crossrail will play a vital role in ensuring that London continues to grow and prosper.

"Crossrail will provide a massive increase of 10% of London's transport capacity. It will build on our record of delivery, including significant improvements to bus and Tube services and it will relieve pressure on some of the busiest transport routes in the capital."

Gerry Doherty, general secretary of the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, said. "This is not only great news for London but the rest of the country as well.

"The capital is the economic engine driving Britain and this will be a boost to the whole UK economy.

"It is also a vote of confidence in rail as the quickest and safest way to move millions of people around one of the world's great cities every day."

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce, said: "This decision is not just a victory for London but for the UK transport system as a whole."

Keith Norman, general secretary of the train drivers' union Aslef, said: "At last London is to have a rail system that flows across and through the capital, but it is regrettable it has taken so long and that the Government needed to go cap-in-hand to the City for the funds to build a vital public transport link."