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HomeBusiness‘These stations are like cathedrals’: Elizabeth line services are ready to roll

‘These stations are like cathedrals’: Elizabeth line services are ready to roll


T he faint purple lines are on the map. The safety plans are approved. The Queen has visited . And just before 6.30am next Tuesday, the gates will finally open to millions of passengers. After decades of planning, 13 years of construction and nearly £20bn spent, Crossrail’s Elizabeth line services are ready to roll. This is still not the finished deal. But its crucial, magnificent core will now be open: the 13 miles of tunnels bored under central London, nine brand new cavernous stations , and digitally controlled trains offering space and speed that underground passengers have never yet enjoyed. Over the last three years, as construction delays and overspending exposed the hubristic boasts of Crossrail bosses, talk of a British engineering triumph has been muted. Now, though, it is time to marvel again. Elizabeth line: almost 50 years in the planning for Crossrail – timeline Read more “These stations are like cathedrals. These trains are the longest we’ve seen in London ,” says Sadiq Khan, the capital’s mayor. “It is world-leading, world-class. I challenge anyone who uses the Elizabeth line next week not to have their breath taken away – it’s just mind-blowing.” The 205-metre trains, with level boarding for wheelchairs or buggies and no neck-cricking doors, will each carry up to 1,500 people and run every five minutes to begin with, halving the journey time on existing routes to cross London. Andy Byford, the Transport for London commissioner, had pledged to open the line by mid-2022 when inheriting the project in 2020. But, he admits, given the potent symbolism for the Elizabeth line – and with Crossrail having stood up the monarch once already in 2018: “We sweated blood to get it open before the jubilee.” Escalators at an Elizabeth line station. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images The Elizabeth line will for the first few months run as three separate railways, with passengers on what were formerly called TfL Rail services to the west or east still needing to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street stations. When overground, Crossrail runs on different signalling systems on each side – an engineering complexity partially blamed for the cost overruns and delays. The staged opening means that this Tuesday, while the line will speed and enhance the journey of passengers in the centre, only those living near the three new stations in south-east London – Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood – will experience Crossrail’s full transformative effect: now directly linked to Canary Wharf and the heart of the city, slashing journey times. For most, the “real prize” of Crossrail, as Byford puts it, will arrive this autumn, when direct trains from east or west can run straight across the centre. Passengers who now combine sporadic overground trains and the Tube will instead take seamless trips from well beyond the suburbs to stations on the far side of the City or West End. That, as the prime minister said this week, should be a huge incentive to lure back commuters – critical to revive the capital, and its Covid-battered finances. “What really turns on the revenue stream is getting those through east-west services running,” says Byford. Map House prices have more than doubled in a decade around Crossrail stations east and west, outstripping the London rise of 55%, according to Rightmove data. Khan stresses that it has also “already led to tens of thousand of jobs, tens of thousands of homes. Two-thirds of this line is in London, two-thirds of it has been paid for by London – and it’s a good example of investment in London benefiting the country.” Much of the spending has been around the UK, such as the £1bn train contract for Derby – but the rest of the country doubtless would prefer direct transport investment, as the government is acutely aware. Nonetheless, the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, this week reiterated forecasts that the line would boost the UK economy by £42bn, saying: “We can deliver big infrastructure projects in this country, and the world is going to be very impressed.” For a while, though, Crossrail had looked like a debacle. Just months before it was due to be opened by the Queen in December 2018, bosses who had continued to parrot an “on time and on budget” mantra admitted work was wildly off target . Few outside the scheme had an inkling. Caroline Pidgeon, who as co-chair of the London assembly transport committee since 2008 scrutinised the project more than most, says: “It’s fantastic – but we can’t forget that it is years late and £4bn over budget. The chief executive was saying it was on time and on budget – while the key rep [the independent project representative], was warning of issues. But people just ignored the expert. “We’ve got to learn from this for HS2. How are you building in the proper checks to ensure that public money is being spent well and that work is progressing on time?” Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk The finished Elizabeth line is, though, “another level”, she says – not least in being fully accessible, with step-free access at every station. “It sets the bar even higher for future work.” Christian Wolmar, the author of Crossrail: The Whole Story, agrees: “It is gamechanging 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 this”, Wolmar adds. “It will stand the test of time, and be providing an amazing service long after we’ve all popped our clogs.”

From: theguardian

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