There’s a great deal of hype locally about Crossrail. Reading will act as a western terminus for the £15bn mega-project. But what will it provide for the people of Reading? Let’s take a look…
Crossrail provides a new underground railway through London. The difference compared with the conventional tube lines is that it links to the regional railway network to the east and west of London, thus providing a direct link from Berkshire to Essex. However, that improved connectivity is a secondary aim: providing relief for the Central Line is the principle purpose behind the project.
Direct trains to Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf, at first sight look to be game-changing for our long-suffering commuters fighting their way over to the City or Docklands every day. Sadly, there’s a catch. Crossrail trains will call at all 14 stations between Reading and Paddington. Electric trains with fast acceleration will take 10 minutes off the current journey times compared with today’s Reading-to-Paddington stoppers, but it will still be a 50 minute journey, compared to just under half an hour that the fast trains achieve.
Nevertheless, the improved connections from Paddington will mean that commuters can change onto Crossrail there, and see their travel times to the City or Canary Wharf reduced by around 5 to 10 minutes. Welcome, yes, but probably not sufficient to warrant the levels of salivation we’re seeing from Reading’s estate agents.
Crossrail trains, designs for which were revealed last week, will trundle in and out of Reading mostly empty, as seen with the similarly lengthy Waterloo services. In both cases, trains that will be packed full within London, will thin out at they run through Berkshire, mop up some local demand into Reading from those intermediate stations, before using Reading as a convenient terminus.
The thought of a guaranteed seat and not having to change onto the tube might be tempting. Personally, I think that whilst some people will try it initially, prolonged views of Taplow, Iver and West Drayton twice a day will quickly see their patience tested.
Another reason not to ride Crossrail all the way to London is the frequency. The line will have tube-like frequencies in central London, but only one train every half an hour will run as far as Reading. The rest give up earlier or veer off for Heathrow. And the complete absence of toilets on the trains might make your mind up finally.
Where Crossrail might benefit us is for the way home after an evening out in the West End. Having a direct option saves having to perform the ritual guesswork on timing to reach Paddington in time for one of those elusive last fast trains. The late night stoppers will probably be replaced by Crossrail, and being able to pick those up from Tottenham Court Road should be much more convenient. However, again, the crazy no-toilets policy might strike here and kill off the night out in London altogether. Ssshh, don’t tell those estate agents.
What Crossrail will do is to change the perception of Reading among Londoners. Our town’s name will take its place along with Walthamstow Central, Cockfosters, Brixton and Morden as the familiar destinations on the matrix screens of the underground. We’ll take our place for the first time on the tube map, and I think there’s no doubt that just a little bit of our identity will be ceded to the capital. But maybe all publicity is good publicity? Without doubt, being on the map is better than not, and the extra capacity into Reading from those local stations helps support our town’s status as a significant commercial centre.
Regarding timescales, Crossrail begins serving central London in December 2018, and is scheduled to reach Reading exactly one year (and 50 minutes) later, assuming no delays – cross your fingers (…and legs).Follow @readingonthames