Home Rail Projects The Elizabeth line opening

The Elizabeth line opening


At 06:30 on 24 May 2022 the Elizabeth line (nee Crossrail) finally opened. Authorised in 2008, construction started in 2009 and was originally due to be completed in 2018, it carried its first paying customers just five days after it was officially opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Prince Edward, Duke of Wessex. It has cost just under £16 billion.

Joining the Paddington to Abbey Wood section to the existing Paddington-Heathrow, the Paddington to Reading and Liverpool St to Shenfield services were rebranded from TfL Rail to Elizabeth Line. The through services will be introduced over the coming year.

On a recent pre-opening visit to the line, your writer was amazed at the sheer scale of the stations; they make the stations on the Jubilee line extension, London Underground’s largest, seem small. At Liverpool St, it is also extremely deep requiring three escalators (one short, two long) to move from street to platform level. And, although all but one of the underground platforms is straight (Tottenham Court Road Eastbound is the exception), the line between stations is anything but, threading its way between many existing underground structures.

On opening day, apart from the first east- and westbound trains which were packed with enthusiasts and press, many ordinary travellers have been out and about on the line. Your writer caught an eastbound train from Tottenham Court Road to Abbey Wood and visited each station on a journey back to Paddington, with an extended stay at Woolwich where the great and good from the Crossrail project, TfL, and the mayor’s office were besieged by representatives of the general and specialist media.

The overwhelming impression is a cool, smooth, and quiet ride. A travelling companion said he could hear himself think. Compared with the screeching on the Bakerloo line and the heat and corrugation on the Victoria line, the Elizabeth line was serenity itself. In a 3.5 hour visit your writer observed a few first day teething troubles: one of the many escalators was out of action at Canary Wharf (not the Otis escalators used elsewhere), there was an empty train running around, and there was an evacuation at Paddington caused by dust in sensors, kicked up by the large crowds that arrived for the first services. That said, on the second day after opening, all trains ran and all were within five minutes of right time – representing an amazing public performance measure (PPM) of 100%.

The biggest impression of the morning was the number of people getting out their phones to photograph the enormous underground spaces, with the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, reporting that some 260,000 journeys had been made on the first day. The photographs accompanying this piece give an impression but do not do justice to the sheer sense of scale. This is an important addition to London transport and, in a few years’ time, the delay and extra cost will have been forgotten.

With TfL’s Commissioner battling with the Government for a long-term funding settlement, one hopes that he can compare and contrast the Elizabeth line with the Bakerloo line. If he can take representatives to Paddington Elizabeth line, it is but a short walk under the main line concourse to the Bakerloo line, or, if something is not done soon, the Bakerloo heritage line.

Much has been written about Crossrail engineering in the general and specialist media, but one of the aspects that has had little publicity is the material the project team has made available as a learning legacy: https://learninglegacy.crossrail.co.uk offers a huge resource of documents explaining many of the challenges that the project teams have had to overcome.

Image credit: istockphoto.com