13 places the Elizabeth line won’t go to

At least you can get to Reading. Image: Crossrail.

London’s Crossrail, which will finally open this December under the cringe-worthy name “the Elizabeth line”, has been on the table a long time. The £15bn project wasn’t officially approved until 2008 – but a similar scheme received parliamentary consideration in the 1990s, was first seriously discussed in 1974, and has its origins in schemes proposed as far back as the 1940s.

That’s not to say all these schemes were early drafts of the Lizzie line in any meaningful way. In January, the excellent Ian Visits blog ran an article summarising more than a century of plans for new east-west rail tunnels under London, under the headline “The Crossrails that weren’t built”. But while the various projects it cites were clearly part of the process that led, ultimately, to the line due to open next December, it would be a bit much for me to claim that a line on a map in a 1968 rail study really counts as an unbuilt branch of Crossrail.

Even over the last 30 years, though – since a tunnel from Paddington to Liverpool Street was first seriously considered by ministers, and publicised under the name Crossrail – passengers at stations all across the south east have been breathlessly told that they’re going to get Crossrail, only to then be told five minutes later that oh no, actually they’re not. Here, for a giggle, are five.

Harrow, Amersham & Aylesbury

Leaflets promoting Crossrail first appeared at my local station in the early 1990s, and I’m not saying I had an empty childhood or anything but it was probably the most exciting thing to happen to me that year.

The 1991 Crossrail proposals. Click to expand. Image via Ian Visits.

The route discussed then, however, was not quite the route we’re getting now. There’s no Docklands branch, no Whitechapel, and no Heathrow.

This all looks fairly baffling now – but 27 years ago, remember, Canary Wharf was a single half empty tower, the London Overground didn’t exist, and there was no main line railway to Heathrow Airport. That said, all three of those things were planned, in at least some form, so it’s a bit bizarre that the people hoping to persuade the government to give them billions of pounds in public money didn’t take account of them.

But anyway. The biggest difference between the 1991 proposal and what we’re actually getting is to the north west. This first Crossrail plan included a second western branch, to Harrow-on-the-Hill, Amersham and Aylesbury. This would have swallowed the suburban services out of Marylebone and probably done unspeakable things to the Metropolitan line, too.

This version of Crossrail was refused parliamentary approval in 1994, however. And anyway, the idea of fast, direct trains to the West End and City proved less popular with some Buckinghamshire residents than one might imagine. In 2002 Chiltern District Council, which includes Amersham, said it would rather have the promised upgrades on the suspiciously named Chiltern Railways routes into Marylebone.

At any rate: when the new plans for Crossrail officially emerged, the north western branch was conspicuous by its absence.

Richmond, Kingston & Norbiton

In the autumn of 2003, things got serious again, when then-transport secretary Alistair Darling asked Cross London Rail Links (CLRL) Ltd., a Transport for London/Strategic Rail Authority joint venture set up to work on the new line, to consult on a new version of Crossrail

...based on a scheme serving Heathrow and Kingston in the west and Shenfield and Ebbsfleet in the east.

Hang on a second. Kingston?

The Kingston branch would have diverged from the mainline somewhere west of Paddington, and used either a new 8.5 mile tunnel via Chiswick Park, or a 2.5 mile viaduct, to take over the Richmond branch of the District line. Beyond that, it’d run through Twickenham and Kingston, before terminating at Norbiton in the deep south west of London.

No maps seem to survive of this version of Crossrail, unless they’re on the Dark Web somewhere. So to show where it would go, I did what any self-respecting nerd would do, and defaced a London rail map with highlighter pen

Click to expand. Image: Transport for London/CityMetric.

Once again, this proposal proved surprisingly unpopular with those who’d be affected by it, as Richmond residents grumbled about the possibility of losing the District line. So when a second consultation was held in autumn 2004, the Heathrow branch had been extended west to Maidenhead – but the Kingston branch had been mysteriously dropped.

Southend, Stanstead & Surrey

Around the same time this was going on, a bunch of senior railway managers were pushing their own version of Crossrail. To highlight the fact it was, to their minds, better, they called “Superlink”.

Superlink differed from most versions of Crossrail in that it was a regional railway, rather than metro scheme – that is, it aimed to serve stations right across London’s commuter belt, rather than just in the conurbation and its immediate neighbours. It would have branches extending as far as Northampton, Basingstoke, Cambridge, Ipswich and Southend. It would provide direct trains from Stansted airport into the West End.

And the central tunnel would serve Canary Wharf as well as the City and West End, effectively linking all London’s major business hubs.

Superlink. Click to expand. Image: Sagredo/Wikimedia Commons.

It was, in effect, a lot more like Thameslink, providing infrequent services to far-flung destinations, rather than the giant tube line that the Elizabeth line will be.

Superlink was never a serious proposal, but CLRL did at least consider it in 2005, before rejecting it on grounds of cost, complexity and reliability. Today its Wikipedia page contains a magnificent but rare piece of railway nerd shade:

The proponents of Superlink claimed Crossrail gives poor value for money and was unlikely to be built. They suggested that benefits of the Crossrail scheme, including relief of congestion on the public transportation network within London, had been overstated.

Superlink was rejected. Crossrail received Royal Assent in 2007 and a funding agreement in 2008.


Watford & Milton Keynes

One of the problems with Crossrail as designed is that there’s far more demand for its eastern branches than its western. The Shenfield metro service, currently operated as TfL Rail, already receives unusually high frequencies for a National Rail service, which hasn’t stopped them from becoming overcrowded. The south eastern branch to Abbey Wood, meanwhile, will be busy because of demand to travel to Canary Wharf.

The western branches are a whole lot quieter. I suspect one can credit to the tube’s north west London bias but whatever the reason, of the 24 trains per hour running through the central tunnel when Crossrail is complete, fully half of them will turn round at Paddington and head east again. It’s this imbalance that explains the short-lived enthusiasm for extra western branches like those to Amersham or Kingston.

A third such option was in contention until relatively recently. Network Rail’s July 2011 London & South East Route Utilisation Strategy recommended diverting Milton Keynes commuter services onto Crossrail via a new link at Old Oak Common. This would free up capacity at Euston, in preparation for the arrival of High Speed 2.

Versions of this extension were still on the table until about five minutes ago, and transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin suggested in August 2014 that Crossrail could take over stopping services to Tring in Hertfordshire (three stops short of Milton Keynes Central).

A route map showing the proposed Tring branch. Click to expand. Image: CityMetric.

In August 2016, though, this project was abandoned too, on grounds of poor value for money. And so, half of all Elizabeth Line trains will never make it west of Paddington. Boo.

Dartford & Ebbsfleet

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll notice I skipped past an unbuilt extension earlier. Back in 2003, the south eastern branch of Crossrail was due to continue beyond Abbey Wood, along the existing railway line to Erith, Dartford and finally Ebbsfleet International – a weird place in the middle of nowhere which serves as the west Kent stop on High Speed 1 or Eurostar. (They’re meant to be building a load of houses out there, too, but, y’know how it is.)

This bit of the route was never an official part of the Crossrail plan approved in 2008 – but it was “safeguarded”, meaning that you can’t build anything that would get in its way should the government change its mind. And London mayor Sadiq Khan did express his support for the extension as recently as January 2018.

Yes we did it again. Click to expand. Image: TfL, vandalism: CityMetric’s own.

I have no idea what this would do to the service pattern of the North Kent lines: there are already three different routes from Dartford and Ebbsfleet to central London, and thinking about adding a fourth, while popular with passengers, is likely to give transport planners a nosebleed.

But this, unlike the other abandoned routes described above, might actually happen. And it’s nice to end on a hopeful note, isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

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How the rise of anti-crime politics caused lasting harm to Black Americans

"I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become," James Forman Jr. says. (David McNew/Getty Images)

The police killing of George Floyd, and the protest movement that emerged from it, has reinvigorated a national conversation around reinventing criminal justice policy in the United States.

At the same time, reports that violent crime is rising in many US cities have resurrected talk of the much-disputed “Ferguson effect,” a theory put forward by law enforcement professionals, and some researchers, who argued that police slowdowns in the wake of the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests resulted in elevated rates of violent crime. President Donald Trump is trying to weaponise this narrative, paired with images of federal officers clashing with protesters in the streets of Portland, to wage a 1968-style backlash election campaign.

“People who want to mobilise a lock-them-up style of either policing or prosecution have tried to weaponise those short-term increases,” says James Forman Jr., professor of law at Yale Law School. “Criminologists will say you have to be very, very cautious about short-term movement [in crime statistics]. We don't know whether or not what we're seeing right now [with violent crime increasing] is going to sustain itself. But the fact is, it's here and people are talking about it.”

In 2018, Forman won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his book Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America. Drawing on his experience as a public defender in Washington, DC, he traced the emergence of anti-crime politics in late 20th century Black communities. Forman showed how newly empowered Black politicians fought for policies they believed would protect and uplift Black Americans, but inadvertently contributed to mass incarceration. 

CityMetric recently caught up with Forman to discuss crime trends, where he sees reason for hope in this moment and how the Black political class’s attitude toward crime and punishment has shifted since the latter part of the 20th century. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. 

There is talk right now about a resurgence of crime and violence in American cities. We saw similar, more localised concerns after the initial 2015 Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson and Baltimore. Do you fear this could reinvigorate the kind of politics you describe in your book among segments of the Black community and political class?

I fear that it could be reinvigorated nationally and also in the Black political class. Look at the political conversations that are happening in Atlanta right now, for example, a city that also has seen a short-term uptick in crime as it is a site of a lot of protests about George Floyd and Breonna Taylor on the national level, as well as Rayshard Brooks and Ahmaud Arbery more locally in Georgia.

I think that you can already see in some of the language of the local elected officials this idea that we have to be very careful about pulling back. [They are saying] “while the protesters may make some valid points, we can't risk returning to the ‘80s and ‘90s.” Those decades really traumatised the United States, and particularly traumatised Black communities. There's a deep fear about returning to the levels of the violence that we saw in the crack years.

You write a lot about class divides among Black Americans, where middle income and elite Black people don't suffer as much from extremely punitive policies. They also have closer ties to the politicians who are creating these policies. There are very specific groups of people, even in marginalised communities, whose voices are heard.  As a result of these dynamics, you write about Black politicians fighting for things like mandatory minimum prison sentences or against decriminalising marijuana. Is there still that disconnect between those who suffer the most from criminal justice policies and those who are actually heard in political discourse?  

Let me just say a caveat, that when we talk about class divisions in the Black community it's important to hold two truths in our head at the same time. Bruce Western and others have shown the way in which class, educational status, income can dramatically reduce the likelihood of being hardest hit by the criminal system – namely incarcerated. Middle class and upper middle class Black people get some measure of protection. It's also true at the same time that Black people of all classes are worse off relative to their class counterparts in the white community. 

One area where class is least protective is policing and police stops. The police do not know how many degrees you have. They don't know how much money you have in your bank account. I want to be very clear that in making this point about class, I'm not making the argument that race or racism don't matter in this context. 

In terms of how it plays out now, I see an awareness that has developed in the Black community in the last 10 years or so about how deeply racist the criminal justice system has become. Twenty or 30 years ago they had a consciousness, but there's levels of understanding. Many of the people I write about in the book wanted to promote the interests of the Black community. They weren't motivated by indifference or callousness. When presented with mounting evidence of how awful this system has been in Black lives, they're reconsidering and recalibrating. 

Lots of former elected officials have said to me some version of “I didn't know at the time and I appreciate that you showed us in our full complexity. I appreciate that you showed the pressures we were under. If I had known then what I know now, maybe I would have been less quick to go along with some of these harsh measures.” 

The second thing that has affected the Black political class has been the emerging movements, led by Black people in particular and led by young people. They not only educated leaders, but pressured them and made them understand that there is a political cost. If you're not moved by the moral argument, then you'll be moved by the political argument. You'll be moved by the people protesting outside the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey in Los Angeles, for example, where Black Lives Matter LA has held, I believe, a year of consecutive protests against a Black district attorney who has had really some of the worst practices.

From what I can tell, she's been pressured by the movement to change some of her positions on important issues like prosecution of low-level drug offenders, for example, and the aggressiveness with which she prosecutes police officers for acts of violence.

What do you make of the calls to defend or even abolish the police?

What I find so compelling about abolition, initially in the prison context and extended to the police as well, is that it shifts the conversation and forces us to go through experiments in which we imagine what it would take to build that world. I think that exercise is very important, because it pushes us further than we are naturally inclined to go. Cultivating a broader imagination is an incredibly important part of this work, because as you know from my book, often it was lack of imagination that caused people to fall back on [punitive policies]. 

That's what caused D.C. Councilmember David Clarke to call the police rather than public health experts when he was overwhelmed with letters about heroin addicts in public space. He was anti-drug war, but he couldn't imagine responding to a call for help with heroin addicts with anything other than police. That's a very common move from even really good and progressive people. 

People who are for defunding, for abolition, are absolutely right about reinvesting that money into alternative structures that support communities. But the reinvestment part doesn't follow naturally from the terms. We might want to come up with a term that captures the new stuff we want to do. I think that's particularly important because one of the reasons Black communities have ended up supporting more police is that Black communities have always wanted their fair share of the resources.

Then, the evidence suggests the United States has too many police officers doing prophylactic, preventative, or stop-and-frisk style policing. The style of policing that leads to district level harassment, pulling people over for no reason. But we have too little investment in the parts of police departments that investigate unsolved crimes. I'm talking about the investigator or the detective who comes to your house after there's been a robbery, an assault, a rape, or homicide. 

As compared to European countries, in the United States we actually underinvest in those parts of our police departments. Jill Leovy’s book Ghettoside shows this in dramatic detail. She describes an LAPD that's stopping and frisking Black drivers wantonly and yet the homicide detectives are still relying on a fax machine and the fax machine is broken. They have to go with their own money to Staples to buy a printer. Meanwhile, other aspects of the department are kitted out in this ridiculous riot gear that makes them look like they're in Fallujah. 

That under investment is particularly damaging to Black communities because we're disproportionately victimised by crime. Because of racism and this allocation of resources, the police are less likely to respond in Black communities. The kids I used to work with in the charter schools in DC, we talk about no snitching, but one of the reasons they would never call the police after they'd been victimised by crime is they would say, “They're not even going to come. You're wasting time.” 

I did a Q&A with Jill Leovy too and her argument is one I've struggled to articulate in our present moment. She argues the state doesn't have a monopoly on violence in low-income Black neighbourhoods, because investigations of violence are deemphasised and crime victims or their loved ones often take retribution into their own hands.  But right now, establishing or preserving the state's monopoly on violence isn't an appealing talking point. 

Yes, this is another thing nobody's talking about. Whatever we're going to do instead of the police has to be accountable to the public. The best, most direct way to have accountability is to have the individuals be public employees. As long as we have 300 million guns in this country at least some of those state employees are going to themselves be armed. It's unreasonable to ask them to do the job without it. Not as many need to be armed as are armed now, but some of them need to be. But they can't be hiding behind union contracts or civil service protections which make it impossible to remove even the worst performing, most abusive officers. 

We can not call them police if we want to. That's semantic, but maybe symbolism matters. But those people have to be state employees. They can work with community-based nonprofits, but there are also communities that don't have as robust of a nonprofit network, and they deserve protection too. These [community] groups have to be accountable to the state and, when they don't exist, the state has to be there. 

Progressives get all the points I just made when it's applied to education. The notion that things be public and accountable to the state is understood when it comes to schools. It's exactly why so many people on the left are opposed to charter schools, because they say they don't have public accountability. They want these things to be a state function. But this point about the difficulty in removing this entirely from the hands of the state is, I think, one that liberals and progressives understand from other contexts.

Jake Blumgart is a staff writer at CityMetric.