diamond geezer

 Saturday, May 16, 2009

Crossrail is underway. There's a sentence it once seemed nobody would ever write. But work on the grand east-west rail link finally kicked off yesterday, at Canary Wharf, when Boris and Gordon joined together for the first dig. There'll be a brand new station here by 2012, although there won't be any trains for another five years after that. You weren't in a hurry to get to Paddington or Heathrow, were you, because you'll have to wait.

West India Quay, from West India Quay DLRCrossrail is underway. You can tell because a fleet of floating cranes has appeared in the middle of West India Quay's North Dock. You may not be especially familiar with this particular section of watery strip, because it's shielded from the current heart of Canary Wharf by a screen of tall towers. The basin's northern bank remains entirely undeveloped (and was, until a couple of years ago, the site of a large open car park), so the best unobstructed view is from the DLR between Poplar and West India Quay. Now there's a barrage in the water and a stack of portakabins on the dockside and a building site starting to emerge mid-channel. Blimey, there's a whirlwind of change a-coming.

Crossrail is underway. I think they've learned a trick from the Olympics, which is to kick off construction with your grandest most iconic structure. For 2012 bosses that's meant erecting the Olympic Stadium ahead of everything else, so that they can point TV cameras at it and say "look at that, we're really doing something here". And for Crossrail that means starting with a long thin six-storey station surrounded by water in the middle of an old dock. The design reminds me somehow of a two-headed fish, with its body stretched out in the middle like a very fat eel. Or something like that.

Crossrail is underway. They're employing a very similar strategy to the Jubilee line extension, and building the new station inside a pumped out dock basin. The tracks will be 22m below water level and 13m below the dock bed, linking up with Whitechapel and Custom House to either side. Above the station proper will be four floors of retail space, because apparently what Canary Wharf needs is a third shopping mall for workers too busy to walk to the other two. And then on top of that will be a rooftop park beneath a timber lattice with views out across the surrounding water towards such shiny delights as the HSBC Bank tower. If all goes to plan this sleek slice of infrastructure will be the catalyst for major development on the north bank, and the influence of Docklands will extend out even further.

Crossrail - Canary WharfCrossrail is underway. Not that anybody down on the quayside yesterday evening seemed to care. Outside Brodie's Bar on Fisherman's Walk, gaggles of bankers in dark suits stood impervious to the drizzle raising a beery toast to the week's deals. Their drinking space had been part-obstructed by one of Crossrail's blue walls, behind which some rather less financial types will be earning a builder's wage. Further east a pair of security guards watched over traffic on the Upper Bank Street bridge - a structure which'll be closing for a year from next week because someone's about to build a station through it. But what a station.

Crossrail is underway at Canary Wharf. And about time too. It's taken almost two decades to get to the stage where the Prime Minister can watch the Mayor digging a hole, but it's good to see the two of them united in a desire to get the entire project complete. Shame that neither of them them will still be in office to see it finished, eh, but at least one of them might survive long enough to open the shopping centre.

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