Government’s flagship rail link is castigated by leading engineer, who says it will turn central London into a ghetto
You'd think that construction industry figures would be eager to line up behind London mayor Ken Livingstone and support Crossrail. But not so Mark Whitby. The founder of engineer Whitbybird says that the project is “a solution to a problem that has not been properly understood”, which will turn the centre of London into a ghetto for the poor.

Whitby has calculated that the £7-10bn east–west rail link will result in a cost per seat of around £30,000. He says that this money should be spent on housing projects in the centre of London instead, and could make sites that are currently unviable more attractive to developers. Investing in a high-speed suburban railway, he argues, will encourage the wealthy to commute from the outskirts of London, leaving the centre to be inhabitated by a "sub-class".

Crossrail is still a long way from being realised. The Treasury is reported to be willing to contribute only £2bn of taxpayers’ money to the project leaving around a £8bn shortfall. Livingstone recently gave funding a boost by announcing that future ticket revenue could be used to repay construction costs.

Big businesses in London are also likely to accept a levy on their business rates to help fund Crossrail, but only if it reaches Heathrow. Council tax payers may also be asked to dig deep into their pockets to get things moving, which won't be popular if double-digit council tax inflation continues.

Although the government backs the scheme in principle, it says it won't be in place for the proposed 2012 Olympics in London's East End. The Crossrail route ends in Stratford, the site of the would-be Olympic stadium. Arup Transport has been busy drawing up an Olympic transport study for the Strategic Rail Authority. Shutting down less busy tube stations to increase the cut journey times is thought to be one proposal. In another report for London's submission to the IOC, Arup said that a £225m upgrade of Stratford station would be necessary.

One new rail line that should be in place well in time for any Olympics is the Channel Tunnel Rail Link from Stratford to King's Cross. From 2006, it is set to cut journey times from central London to Stratford to seven minutes. For Mark Whitby one suspects that just one high-speed line will be enough.