“These stations are like cathedrals”: Elizabeth line services are ready to roll | crosses
JFaint purple lines are on the map. Security plans are approved. The Queen visited. And just before 6:30 a.m. next Tuesday, the doors will finally open to millions of passengers. After decades of planning, 13 years of construction and almost £20 billion spent, Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line services are ready to go.
It’s still not a done deal. But its crucial and magnificent core will now be open: the 21km of tunnels dug beneath central London, nine brand new cavernous stations and digitally controlled trains offering a space and speed that underground passengers have never before enjoyed.
Over the past three years, as construction delays and overspending exposed the haughty boasting of Crossrail bosses, talk of a triumph of British engineering has been stifled. Now, however, it’s time to marvel again.
“These stations are like cathedrals. These trains are the longest we have seen in London,” said Sadiq Khan, the capital’s mayor. “It’s world leading, world class. I challenge anyone using the Elizabeth line next week not to take their breath away – it’s just breathtaking.
The 205-metre trains, with level boarding for wheelchairs or pushchairs and no neck-hugging doors, will each carry up to 1,500 people and run every five minutes to start, halving the time of route on existing routes through London.
Andy Byford, London’s Transport Commissioner, had pledged to open the line by mid-2022 when he inherits the project in 2020. But, he admits, given the powerful symbolism of the Elizabeth line – and Crossrail having already lifted the monarch once in 2018: “We sweated blood to open it before the jubilee.”
The Elizabeth line will operate for the first few months as three separate railways, with passengers on what used to be known as TfL rail services to the west or east still having to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street stations. When above ground, Crossrail operates on different signaling systems on each side – a technical complexity partially responsible for cost overruns and delays.
The staged opening means that this Tuesday, while the line will speed up and improve passenger travel in the centre, only those who live close to the three new stations in south-east London – Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood – will experience the full transformation of Crossrail. effect: now directly connected to Canary Wharf and the heart of the city, drastically reducing travel times.
For the most part, Crossrail’s ‘true price’, as Byford puts it, will come this fall, when direct trains from the east or west can pass through the city centre. Passengers who now combine sporadic overground trains and the Tube will instead make seamless journeys far beyond the suburbs to stations at the edge of town or the West End.
That, as the Prime Minister said this week, should be a huge incentive to attract commuters – essential to reviving the capital and its Covid-battered finances. “What really activates the revenue stream is getting those to work through east-west services,” says Byford.
House prices have more than doubled in a decade around Crossrail East and West stations, outpacing the 55% rise in London, according to data from Rightmove. Khan points out that it has also “already led to tens of thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of homes. Two-thirds of this line is in London, two-thirds has been paid for by London – and it’s a good example of investment in London benefiting the country.
Much of the spending has gone to the UK, such as the £1billion train contract for Derby – but the rest of the country would no doubt prefer direct investment in transport, as the government is well aware . Nonetheless, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps this week reiterated predictions that the line would boost Britain’s economy by £42billion, saying: “We can deliver great infrastructure projects in this country, and the everyone is going to be very impressed.”
For a while, however, Crossrail had looked like a debacle. Just months before it was opened by the Queen in December 2018, bosses who had continued to parrot a “on time and on budget” mantra admitted the job was totally off target. Few people outside the regime had an idea.
Caroline Pidgeon, who as co-chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee since 2008 has scrutinized the scheme more than anyone, says: “It’s fantastic, but we can’t forget it’s years behind schedule and £4 billion over budget. The general manager said it was on time and on budget – while the key representative [the independent project representative], warned of problems. But people just ignored the expert.
“We have to learn from this for HS2. How do you incorporate the appropriate controls to ensure public money is well spent and work is progressing on time? »
The finished Elizabeth line is, however, “on another level”, she says – including being fully accessible, with step-free access to every station. “This sets the bar even higher for future work.”
Christian Wolmar, author of Crossrail: The Whole Story, agrees: “It’s a game-changer in the same way the Metropolitan Railway was in 1863, the first underground line. This is the difference between the M1 and a dual carriageway.
The Parisian RER that inspired it is “nothing compared to that”, adds Wolmar. “He will stand the test of time and provide incredible service long after we’ve all kicked our hooves.”