London's new rail director warns of third world overcrowding in decade

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The Independent Online

Over-crowding on London's trains will be at "third world levels" within a decade unless the Government agrees to urgent investment, according to the capital's new rail chief.

After years of dithering, ministers have failed to give the go ahead to any of the projects vital to keep London on the move, a major conference on the future of rail will be told today.

Peter Field, rail director at Transport for London, will tell an audience that includes the Transport Secretary, Alistair Darling, and the Strategic Rail Authority chairman, Richard Bowker: "The options for the nation are stark and simple - either suppress London's economic growth and face the consequences, or invest in its rail infrastructure and the future prosperity of London and the UK."

Mr Field believes that only a £15bn spending programme over the next decade will avert the crisis.

The projects concerned - Crossrail, Thameslink 2000 and the East London Line - are no longer "optional", they are "urgent necessities", Mr Field will say.

Private interests will only help finance such ventures if the Government shows commitment to expanding the capital's transport network.

In the next 13 years, an additional 700,000 people are expected to live in London and the transport system would have to cope with an extra 25 per cent in traffic. "Our estimates show that without major investment in London's rail networks by 2011, overcrowding will be at third world city levels. Between now and 2011 it is likely that London's rail passengers will experience a continuing decline in punctuality and a continuing widespread increase in overcrowding."

Peak-time public transport use is growing at eight times the rate of car travel in London, raising fears that as more traffic switches to rail and the underground, there will be increased disruption.

Although Transport for London is already investing heavily in short-term measures to deal with growing passenger demand, there is an urgent need for government commitment to long-term solutions.

Mr Field calculates that for every £1 spent on London's rail network, about £4 in social benefits - such as lower congestion, productivity and better health - were created.

He will also make clear in a speech to rail chiefs in London that there must be an end to a decline in subsidy for the capital's rail network. The Government invested £70m in London's train services last year, compared with £890m in the rest of the country.

However, he will point out that seven out of 10 rail journeys begin or end in London and that the capital contributes a net £20bn a year in tax and 18.5 per cent of national gross domestic product.