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Crossrail has completed its 26 mile tunnel through London, a fantastic technical achievement for all involved. Now, the Government needs to be bold and focus on the next big infrastructure project.
Crossrail has reached a significant milestone, with the recent completion of the tunnelling phase on Thursday [4th June]. Not only is it a major step for the £14.8 bn project, but it also sees the end to one of the most technically challenging parts of the scheme. Tunnelling through the already clogged earth has required exceptional technical skill, and engineers have had to navigate around all sorts of existing infrastructure, including London Underground, Thameslink and gas, electricity and water pipelines.
As well as the tunnelling, which involved eight 1,000-ton boring machines, the Crossrail team have had to move more than 4.5 million tons of soil out of London and out to Essex where it will be used to build a new nature reserve.
It has been a mammoth project, and the team have thoroughly earned a moment to reflect on their achievement, and to consider the task that lies before them. All 26 miles of tunnel will now need to be lined with concrete and flame-retardant material, tracks need to be laid and the stations fitted out, and all in time for the opening in 2018.
But Crossrail aren't the only ones with challenges ahead. David Cameron is right to be proud of the project, which he called on Thursday "an incredible feat of engineering", but he needs to also recognise that London and the South East will require even more large infrastructure projects and not only in transport, but in the energy, water and waste sectors too.
London's population is forecast to increase by 37% to more than 11 million people over the next 35 years, an unprecedented growth that will see increased strains on all forms of infrastructure. Demand for water in London will exceed supply by 10 per cent by 2025, rising to 21 per cent by 2040. For several years, experts have been warning of a creeping energy crisis that could see blackouts across the country. Even with Crossrail and Transport for London's capacity improvements, public transport in the capital will still be under increasing pressure from higher numbers of commuters.
To solve these issues will require strong leadership from both the new Government and the next Mayor of London, whoever it may be. Politicians on all sides will need to understand the scale of the problems facing the region and the consequences of inaction. They may not be in office when these projects are completed, or reap the rewards from finding a solution to these problems, but they help to ensure that London and the South East continue to prosper and develop.