Like Monty Python's parrot, the Metropolitan line extension has ceased to be.
Mayor of London: I wish to complain about this project what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique. Mayor of Watford: Oh yes, the Metropolitan Purple... What's wrong with it? Mayor of London: I'll tell you what's wrong with it, it's dead, that's what's wrong with it. Mayor of Watford: No, no, it's resting. Mayor of London: Look, I know a dead project when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now. This is an ex-extension.
The problem is money. When Hertfordshire County Council put together their business case in 2008, the expected cost of the extension was £170m. By cutting frills they got the cost down to £115m, and so in 2011 the government gave the project the go-ahead. By 2013 the total had crept up to £118m, but more detailed planning at the end of 2014 suggested the overall cost would be £234m. Herts struggled to deliver, so in March 2015 entered into an agreement with the Department of Transport (contributing £110m) and TfL (contributing £46m) for a grand total of £284m. In August 2015 TfL took over responsibility, making them liable for any additional overspend. But last summer there were questions about how accurate Hertfordshire's estimates had been, and in December the project disappeared from the TfL Business Plan.
TfL doesn't have £50m floating around, so has thrown the extension into its 'Growth fund' where such stalled projects reside (see also the Bow Interchange upgrade). TfL are blaming the price hike on more careful scrutiny of a project they didn't have control over from the beginning, and there's a strong hint that the previous Mayor may have been willing to take the risk of a financial hit but the current Mayor is not. An ongoing fares freeze makes financial manoeuvring almost impossible, and there seems to be particular resentment that TfL is being asked to fund a project "located outside of London".
Mayor of London: This project is definitely deceased. When I purchased it not 'alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk. Mayor of Watford: Well, it's probably pining for the suburbs. Mayor of London: Pining for the suburbs?!?! What kind of talk is that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back the moment I got it home? Mayor of Watford: The Metropolitan Purple prefers kipping on its back! Remarkable project, innit squire? Lovely plumage!
Remember when Boris threw out a lot of Ken's ongoing projects when he became Mayor? This is much the same kind of thing by Sadiq, only rather more silently executed, and with the complication of cross-boundary investment. A standoff has therefore developed between TfL and the government, with the Transport Minister insistent the extension must go ahead and TfL saying it won't without more cash. We have yet to see who'll win that battle.
I'm quite nervous about that mention of 'alternative schemes' because this project has already been stripped down to its bare bones. The two new stations will be little more than halts, the main expense is in a viaduct which can't be cut, and the additional train needed to run extended services has already been purchased. Potentially one or more of the new stations could be cut, but that would lose most of the local benefits, or some wag could suggest a 'special bus service' instead, which was the ploy when the Croxley Green branch line was originally mothballed.
Mayor of London: The plumage don't enter into it. The project's stone dead. Mayor of Watford: No, no, no! It's resting! There, it moved! Mayor of London: No, it didn't, that was you hitting the cage!
What's awkward for the marginal constituency of Watford is that a huge amount of money is being spent on developing the land alongside the new extension, specifically on the Health Campus site near the hospital. A large area of West Watford has been cleared, new roads and an industrial park have been built, and hundreds of new homes are pencilled in. If none of the promised trains turn up, whose fault is that, and how is any of this sustainable?
Since the Croxley Rail Link was first proposed in 1975, a completion date has always been tantalisingly out of reach. Back in 2011 it was assumed trains would be running between Croxley and Watford Junction in May 2016. By 2013, when approval was granted, December 2016 was being mentioned. At the start of 2014, the target was suddenly December 2017, and by the end of the year the date had slipped further to May 2018. When TfL took over in 2015 the start of operational service had fallen back to May 2019, and by the end of the year merely December 2019. Last July we were told December 2020 instead, which is what the project website says today, except this latest news clearly hasn't filtered through. My money is on 2021, 2022 or 2023, or more likely never.
Mayor of London: This project is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch it'd be pushing up the daisies! It's kicked the bucket, it's shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PROJECT!!
Londoners could just say stuff Watford, we don't live there, what's the point, which is probably how thing's'll end up. But what a mess, and all because there is no money to do anything with any more, and no powers to raise any either.