'Twas the night before Crossrail, but all down the line
Not a station was stirring, not even a sign.
It was all supposed to be so different.
By now, Crossrail mania should have been reaching fever pitch as the new line prepared to go live first thing tomorrow morning. The media would have been rammed full of positive purple press releases. Managers would have been seen grinning in gleaming stations in front of shiny roundels. The Mayor would have been banging on about his great achievement, conveniently overlooking the contributions of his two predecessors. Six exclusive sponsors would have been unveiled, and milking the opportunity for every mention they could manage. Press photographers would have been planning how best to make their way to the grand unveiling. Her Majesty The Queen might even have been choosing a hat.
Instead the silence is deafening, as TfL try ever so hard not to mention that anything was ever going to happen. An entire communications outburst has been binned. And as tomorrow rolls round, they've pretty much got away with it.
TfL have played a blinder in never quite mentioning the specific day Crossrail was due to open. They only promised 'December 2018', which turned out to be wildly optimistic, but deliberately never narrowed it down further than that. They could have picked one end of the month, or nominated a particular week, even if they hadn't alighted on a single date. But by keeping it broad, and never announcing anything specific, the day of the actual planned opening can roll by almost entirely unnoticed.
Over-promising is seen as bad these days, because over-promising risks failure. TfL like launches to sneak up unannounced, because that way they can control the publicity when it happens and avoid the chance of a lambasting in the media if it doesn't. Never mind that passengers might want to plan ahead, what's most important is that the organisation doesn't lose face. Obviously having to postpone Crossrail's launch until next year was a ghastly embarrassment of the very highest order, but by enduring that uproar in August TfL are sailing through early December virtually unscathed.
The intended launch date was however an open secret. It appeared in a tedious minor consultation back in 2016. It was mentioned by Westminster council last year. It was linked to changeover dates on bus contracts in East London. And it was always going to be pencilled in for 'the day the timetables change' (the day after the second Saturday in December), because that's how timetabling works. Realistically, because the line from Paddington to Abbey Wood was entirely separate from National Rail services, TfL could have held off for a few days (or weeks) until they were 100% ready to begin. But everybody who needed to know knew that the intended launch date was Sunday 9th December 2018 - it was simply never confirmed in public.
Absurdly, TfL's perfect silence was broken two weeks ago by a most unusual culprit - a campaign to sell trainers. As part of a commercial tie-up between TfL and Adidas, a collection of tube-inspired training shoes is being launched this weekend, including one shoe for every tube line and a separate foursome for Crossrail. Here's Graeme Craig, TfL's Commercial Development Director, looking jolly pleased in his new kickers at the press launch last month.
The tube trainers feature some very odd left/rightpairings, including Central (L)/Bakerloo (R), Northern (L)/Hammersmith & City (R) and Victoria (L)/Waterloo & City (R). The chosen combinations are evidently more about what the designer thought looked good than any particular network connection. And because there are only eleven tube lines, the District line has had to be paired with Crossrail, should you want to walk around town with a green roundel on the back of one trainer and a purple roundel on the back of the other. Before you grumble, they're not aimed at you.
The four Crossrail trainers are much more ostentatiously styled, including one pair that's purple all over, one that nearly is and two featuring a gold metallic heel. This particular footwear collection is also targeted at women, not because the Queen is ever likely to wear them but because they're "inspired by the female pioneers who are helping create London’s newest line." TfL tweeted about them yesterday, should you fancy watching the promotional video. Again, you may not want to spend £75 on having blingy feet, but you're not target audience.
"The streamlined simplicity of the Gazelle shoe has lasted for three decades and counting. This pair is a collaboration between adidas Originals and Transport for London to celebrate the opening of the Elizabeth Line, London's newest Underground line. The left shoe has a Trefoil, and the right shoe shows off a 3D Elizabeth Line logo. A gold metallic heel and gold details on the tongue and lace tips add a glam touch."
What's particularly perverse about the Adidaslaunch is its timing, taking place several months before Crossrail finally takes to the rails. It's also a staggered campaign, with the purple trainers launching today, Saturday 8th December, and the remaining tube trainers launching on Monday 10th December. Why would any company launch into a brand vacuum unless they absolutely had to?
These dates strongly suggest a product splash tied to the original launch date for Crossrail. Launch your purple trainers on the Saturday, ride high on the media buzz surrounding the official launch on Sunday, then follow up with your tube trainers on the Monday. It would undoubtedly have been a shoe-in. But I can only assume that a contract got signed before the delay got announced, and TfL and Adidas are having to go through with it rather than ending up with a warehouse full of unsold goods. It may even be the case that Adidas were lined up as one of the new line's six exclusive brand partners, and we'd have been seeing a lot more of them on board trains, across stations and on the tube map starting this weekend.
Whatever, the Adidas launch pretty much confirms that tomorrow, Sunday 9th December 2018, was the intended starting date for the inaugural Crossrail service. Chew on that, as the day goes by without a bleat regarding what's been lost.
And note how TfL have been even more cunning with their announcement that the delayed opening date is 'Autumn 2019', a season which potentially encompasses any date from 1st September 2019 to 20th December 2019 - a period broad enough to deflect all further analysis. Crossrail might overcome its issues and launch a limited service early or, given that the official winter timetable changeover day is Sunday 15 December 2019, we might not even have trains from Paddington to Abbey Wood this time next year. Keeping an eye on the sponsors' websites might just be the only way to get a clue in advance.