I was asked the other day whether the West Anglia Taskforce was still in existence. It is, I remain its Chairman and it meets again on 28 March.
The Taskforce was set up in 2015 to consider what might be done to improve the West Anglia mainline that runs from London Liverpool Street and Cambridge. Six of its stations are in Uttlesford and account for a healthy proportion of its passengers. The principal recommendations of our report in 2016 was the addition of two extra tracks between Tottenham Hale and Broxbourne. This would ease the scope for fast trains to overtake stopping trains. The Stansted Express might then justify its name while services to stations from Harlow northwards could achieve more satisfactory journey times.
From the beginning there was a close link between four-tracking this railway line and Crossrail 2. Not to be confused with Crossrail 1, this project comprises an underground/overground route between south-west London and Broxbourne. The combination strengthened the case for both components.
The recently announced and substantial delay to the opening of Crossrail 1 has dealt our interests a serious blow. Under the original timetable this fast east-west line would have been contributing to Transport for London’s revenues by now. The delay casts doubt over Crossrail 2 both in terms of finance and engineering capability.
This is seriously bad news for all who travel on the West Anglia line. The business case for four-tracking on its own is harder to make. The Taskforce is investigating other (less expensive) ways by which journey times might be reduced. This is of interest to everyone, but really vital for Stansted Airport, whose management understandingly therefore is increasing the pressure on ministers.
The most regular passengers have most cause for frustration. The promised new trains will be welcome, but without extra track capacity they will be unable to achieve their fullest potential. There remains continued work for the Taskforce to undertake. The needs of the West Anglia line are not forgotten.