When exactly is Crossrail due? I ask, because the completion date seems to have been slipping ever further into the future.
In 2004 I wrote..."2012: Crossrail (optimistic view); 2013: Crossrail (pessimistic view)" (2012, ha!)
In 2006 I wrote... "Crossrail is coming. Very slowly, admittedly, but by 2013 it's hoped that rail travellers will be able to zoom underneath central London and out into the suburbs far faster than is possible today." (2013, ha!)
In 2007 I wrote... "If everybody in the UK contributed five pounds to the Crossrail project... we might just have ourselves a transport lifeline by 2015." (2015, ha!)
In 2009 I wrote... "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. (2017, ha!)
In 2011 I wrote... "Crossrail has been on the drawing board so long that some feared it might never be completed. The completion date keeps slipping back, once 2012, more recently 2017, and now 2018 if we're lucky." (2018? well...)
And in 2014 I can write... "Crossrail's coming in stages, with the first proper bit at the end of 2018, and the whole thing by 2019. Hopefully." (2019, sigh)
TfL's Rail and Underground Panel are meeting next Thursday, and item number 7 on the agenda is a Crossrail update. And although the information in their briefing paper may be nothing new, I thought I'd blog it here, because it would be good to check in six years time whether all of this has actually happened.
The first big thing to happen, on Boris's watch, is on May 31st 2015. That's the date that the "Crossrail Train Operating Company" starts operations, taking over existing Shenfield-Liverpool Street services. Don't get excited, it's only a change of owner, nothing else happens until 2017.
Stage 1: May 2017 - Introduction of new rolling stock on Great Eastern – start of ‘Crossrail’
Here's the moment that TfL's purple Crossrail roundel appears for the first time, on the side of brand new rolling stock. The crappy old trains on the Shenfield line will be retired and replaced by 200m-long monsters, greatly increasing capacity. And even that's three years away.
Stage 2: May 2018 - Heathrow to Paddington - surface
Here's the next chunk of Crossrail, and you'll notice it doesn't join up with the first. Essentially this is the Heathrow Express route, or rather Heathrow Connect, plus an additional short spur to West Drayton. Don't get excited - no new tunnels have opened yet, and trains run only every 15 minutes. And this is four years away.
Stage 3: Dec 2018 – Trains run through Central Section
Just in time for Christmas shopping, five Christmases hence, Crossrail opens up via Paddington through the heart of London. This is where Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon become super-important stations, as does Whitechapel. But only one of the branches to the east opens. At first all trains will head via Canary Wharf and Woolwich to Abbey Wood, while the Shenfield branch remains disconnected above ground to Liverpool Street.
Stage 4: May 2019 - Central Section passenger service connected to Great Eastern Surface Section
At last, Crossrail does pretty much what you're expecting. The link from Stratford to Stepney opens, and finally Crossrail has a choice of eastern destinations, with half the trains going to Shenfield and half to Abbey Wood. Finally we have big trains in big stations linking west, east and southeast London, massively increasing capacity. And this is five years away.
Stage 5: Dec 2019 – Full service operating including Reading
And this is the final bit, extending beyond Slough to Maidenhead and Reading. The completed Crossrail will have 24 trains an hour through the central portion between Paddington and Whitechapel, that's a train every 2½ minutes. This means Shenfield and Abbey Wood will each get a train every 5 minutes - that's 12 an hour, quite some boost on today. But only 10 trains an hour will run west of Paddington, that's four to Heathrow, two to West Drayton and four to Reading/Maidenhead.
And that final completion date is still five and a half years away. It's so far in the future that London's next Mayor will be cutting the ribbon during the last six months of their term of office. How optimistic must we have been ten years ago to think that Crossrail could possibly have been built by 2012, when in reality it'll only be in full operation by 2019.