One year from today, on Sunday 9th December 2018, Crossrail begins.
One year from today, finally, blimey.
But perhaps not quite in the format you were expecting.
Those of us who've been paying attention have long known we won't get be getting the full Crossrail service until the end of 2019, and that the Abbey Wood branch will be opening first.
But only yesterday did I see written confirmation, tucked away at the bottom of a TfL press release, that Crossrail will be...
...operating initially as three separate services:
• Paddington to Abbey Wood
• Paddington to Heathrow
• Liverpool Street to Shenfield
Paddington to Abbey Wood includes Crossrail's 'proper' central section, and all the big inner London stations that billions have been spent on building. Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon all open on Day 1, along with Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House and Woolwich. Bet you can't wait to get down there. Trains will initially be running every 4 minutes, which may not be quite as frequent as you were hoping for, but it'll do for starters.
Paddington to Heathrow currently exists as Heathrow Connect, but will be rebranded TfL Rail from May 2018. Trains will run twice as often - that's four times an hour, stepping up to six at the end of 2019. It's not yet been confirmed how fares to Heathrow will be set, but expect to pay more than if you trundle in on the Piccadilly line. Heathrow Express services are not affected, for people who think saving 10 minutes is worth an extra £12, and tourists who don't know any better than buying the first ticket they see.
Liverpool Street to Shenfield has been running as TfL Rail since last year, with new Crossrail trains being brought sequentially into service. Nothing will change in December 2018, other than an onslaught of rebranding. Only in May 2019 will these trains start slipping down the new tunnels between Stratford and Whitechapel, increasing the number of trains on the central section from 15 an hour to 24.
To summarise, there's currently one TfL Rail service on the tube map, from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. Next May a second disjoint TfL Rail service will appear, from Paddington to Heathrow. In one year's time the TfL Rail brand disappears as Crossrail's central section opens with trains out to Abbey Wood... but each of these three sections will initially operate as a separate service.
Until December 2019, if you want to get from Bond Street to Heathrow, you'll have to change at Paddington. This will involve alighting from your Crossrail train at Paddington, ascending from the underground platforms to ground level, and boarding a separate Crossrail train at the mainline station. This diagram I've found on a hoarding at Whitechapel station sort-of shows what'll be going on. It's not exactly interchange nirvana, and will add several minutes to your journey, but it is only for a year.
Meanwhile at Liverpool Street there'll be another disconnect.
Until May 2019, if you want to get from Tottenham Court Road to Stratford, you'll have to change at Liverpool Street. This will involve alighting from your Crossrail train at Liverpool Street, ascending from the underground platforms to ground level, and boarding a separate Crossrail train at the mainline station. It's not interchange nirvana, and will add several minutes to your journey, but it is only for a few months.... and there's always the Central line, which might even turn out to be a less annoying way of doing it.
But whereas the Paddington disconnect will eventually disappear, the Liverpool Street disconnect is scheduled to continue as a special case. In the morning peak some westbound trains on the Shenfield branch will be terminating at Liverpool Street, above ground, rather than descending into the tunnel and running all the way through to Paddington. This means some trains will be going from Stratford to Liverpool Street via Whitechapel, underground, and others will be going from Stratford to Liverpool Street via no intermediate stations, overground. That's going to take a bit of explaining.
This complexity will be mirrored in the evening peak because some eastbound trains will be starting at Liverpool Street main line station, above ground, while others will be running through via the subterranean platforms. Liverpool Street will continue to have two Crossrail stations, one High Level, one Low Level, and it will sometimes be crucial to know which is which. Will they end up with two different names? Might only the occasionally-used high level platforms get called something else? Whatever happens on the Shenfield branch, expect route diagrams in carriages to be a bit complicated, and onboard announcements to be potentially complex.
Anyway, that's all for the future. What's important is that the first proper Crossrail service launches one year from today, and travelling through central London will never be the same again. To begin with it won't be quite as fantastic as you're expecting, and a journey from Heathrow to Shenfield will involve two split-level changes of train. But all of Crossrail's bits will eventually be connected up, and one day we'll forget about the year-long intermediate stage, indeed we'll wonder how London ever got by without it. 365 days, and counting.