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  Crossrail Finally Gains Some Traction
The Crossrail project seems to have been around in one form or another for a very long time. Robert Stephenson, the creator of the Rocket, had an idea for a cross-London link back in 1836, although running north to south. The Central London Rail Study proposed an east-west Crossrail link in 1989 but this fell foul of the 1990s recession. The idea resurfaced with the publication of the London East West Study in 2000 and, after years of lobbying, funding was agreed in 2007 and the required legislation was passed. Having survived Chancellor George Osborne's spending review last week, the scheme appears to be finally gaining momentum.

Boost for London...

Crossrail aims to make travel easier in London and surrounding areas, reduce congestion and deliver substantial economic benefits to the region. The overall budget cost is £15.9 billion, with the Department of Transport providing £5.5 billion and the rest coming from other sources that include Transport for London and private sector backers such as the City of London Corporation, Canary Wharf, BAA and Berkeley Homes. The project is forecast to deliver £42 billion in benefits to the UK economy, up from a previous estimate of £36 billion, with a £17 billion tax boost for the Treasury.

The scheme is the largest civil engineering project in the UK and the biggest single addition to London's transport network for more than fifty years. It will run 118 kilometres from Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abby Wood in the east. Part of the journey will be through twin-bore 21 kilometre tunnels under central London. The city's rail transport capacity will be increased by 10%; 1.5 million more people will be within 45 minutes commuting time of London's business districts and Heathrow to Canary Wharf will take just 43 minutes.

Work to Date...

Preparatory work got underway at Canary Wharf in 2009. Much of the initial activity has been enabling work, involving the diversion of utilities such as gas mains and the demolition of buildings. Major construction has started this year and includes the construction of new ticket halls at some stations, work on existing surface railway that will be used by Crossrail, enlarging tunnels and the establishment of tunnel portals.

The tunnelling work itself will get underway in 2011 and will require the creation of five separate twin-bore tunnels running for a total of 21 kilometres and at depths of up to 36 metres. Tunnel boring machines will be used to build six-metre diameter tunnels for the trains while sprayed concrete linings will be used for the larger platform tunnels at stations and for passenger circulation tunnels. The excavations are expected to create eight million cubic metres of material, which will be removed along the tunnels to reduce lorry journeys.

Job Creation...

Associated with the tunnelling work is the creation of a Tunnelling and Underground Construction Academy (TUCA). This aims to meet the immediate needs of the Crossrail project and longer term to address the shortage of tunnelling expertise and the lack of a training centre in the UK. It will provide trained personnel for other projects in the future, including the Thames Tideway Tunnel sewerage scheme and National Grid's construction of electricity cable tunnels as well as European projects such as the Dublin Metro.

TUCA's purpose-built facility in east London will cost £6 million and will be part-funded by £5 million from the Department of Business Innovation and Skills. It will start to provide training in spring 2011 and be fully operational by the summer. Courses will initially be provided to Crossrail workers, with around 3,500 expected to need some sort of training and all required to gain the Underground Safety Passport. After that, workers on other underground projects will get training that will include an NVQ in Tunnelling Operations.

To help to provide workers for the project, Crossrail has teamed up with Jobcentre Plus, which will provide staff at the project's Visitor Information Centre to deal with possible recruits. Jobcentre Plus will also provide advice and liaise with job brokerage services to source suitable candidates for vacancies. The Crossrail project is committed to delivering at least 400 apprenticeships and will start to offer these from late 2010. Further information can be found here.

Around 2,500 people were working on the project at the end of September, 300 of them being employed directly by Crossrail Limited. The total is expected to rise to 14,000 across the whole supply chain when activity peaks between 2013 and 2015.

When construction ends in 2017, the new trains will carry 1,500 passengers each at peak times.

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