In May, the late Queen Elizabeth officially opened the line which takes her name. It took 13 years to build, was four years late and £4bn over budget. On 6 November, the first through-London service went from Shenfield in the east, to Paddington in the west. The new Elizabeth Line (previously known as Crossrail) joins together parts of existing track with new stretches of tunnel. Along its 73 miles, there are 41 stations old and new, which will eventually carry 200 million passengers a year.
Travellers to London from Shenfield, Southend, Ipswich, Norwich and Cambridge can now change at Liverpool Street and go direct to Paddington and Heathrow. Convenient if you’re manoeuvring lots of suitcases to the airport; no need to change at Paddington. From next May, trains will go from Liverpool Street direct to Reading, enabling easier travel to the west.
The central section is fast: Liverpool Street to Paddington takes 11 minutes. Several city centre stops have brand new interchanges. The transformation of dingy and cramped older stations to spacious and aesthetic ones is almost futuristic.
Passengers from Brentwood in Essex can now ride smoothly all the way to Paddington, without needing to change at Liverpool Street for the underground.
When Old Oak Common station finally opens, it will be the largest, best-connected UK station ever built. This ‘superhub’ will connect the Elizabeth line, the Great Western line for trains West, and HS2 for trains North.
As previously reported in EAB, more than 3 million tonnes of soil excavated from Crossrail tunnels was transported to the Essex Coast to construct RSPB Wallasea Island. During digging, archaeologists discovered items spanning 55 million years of history, including Roman medallions, Tudor bowling balls, Brunel’s workshops, Art-Deco teacups and even an ice age woolly mammoth jawbone.
Eco-positive features include less heavy, energy efficient new rolling stock: ‘Lizzie’ trains are comparatively light at 319 tonnes. Some stations, like Whitechapel, have roof gardens, and Old Oak Common depot has solar panels and harvests rainwater for washing trains.
It may encourage people to travel from east of London to the west by train, rather than using the often-congested M25. This would help in the drive towards net zero.
Emma, a commuter from Brentwood to Bond Street, says the Lizzie line had teething problems at first, but she likes sitting on the same train all the way to work without the hassle of changing at the crowded Stratford interchange. ‘It’s great for getting into a book! You usually get a seat in rush-hour, and in the heatwave, the air conditioning was great.’
Harry, who travels from Brentwood to Canary Wharf, says it doesn’t save him much time, but the new trains are more spacious and comfortable. ‘You can walk through from one end to the other; it feels safer.’
The new stations’ platforms are safer too, with safety doors to stop people falling on the track. Harry likes the greater frequency of 10 trains an hour instead of six.
Accessibility is improved, with step-free access from street to platform at all stations. Central stations are also step-free onto trains, whereas outer stations are staffed all the time to support wheelchair users with boarding.
Is it worth the £19 billion?
It cost more than the 2012 Olympics, but I think most users will generally approve. The benefits are perhaps subtle, but Andy Byford, London’s Transport Commissioner says ‘it improves transport links, cuts journey times, provides additional capacity and transforms customer experience.’
The Elizabeth line created 55,000 jobs and will generate £42bn for the UK economy. Let’s hope this ‘trickles down’ to regions outside London.