diamond geezer

 Sunday, August 28, 2016

When Crossrail's finally up and running, where will the trains be going? Yes, to Reading and Heathrow, and to Shenfield and Abbey Wood. But not all the trains are going all the way, some of the stations are being skipped, and some of the branches won't link up, which may not be quite what you're expecting.

Last week TfL launched a minor consultation, a legal technicality to ensure that freight services won't be diverted through Crossrail tunnels. It's not especially important, nor indeed interesting, except that on page 8 of the documentation there's a map showing "the proposed service specification", or in other words how many trains are planned to go where. [click to enlarge]

The darker lines show the off-peak pattern, while the lighter lines show how this will be topped up by extra services in the peak. Thick lines indicate four trains an hour, and thin lines mean two. Which means, assuming everything goes as planned, this is the list of trains that Crossrail will be running...

Off-peak servicesAdditional peak services
4tph Shenfield - Paddington
2tph Shenfield - Maidenhead*
2tph Shenfield - Reading*
4tph Shenfield - Paddington
4tph Gidea Park - Liverpool St
4tph Abbey Wood - Heathrow T4 
4tph Abbey Wood - Paddington
2tph Abbey Wood - Paddington
2tph Abbey Wood - West Drayton* 

I'll explain the asterisks later. But one thing you might already have noticed is that half the trains are terminating at Paddington and not going going all the way. Another thing you might have noticed is that very few trains are going to Reading. And another thing you might have noticed is that trains from Shenfield won't be going to Heathrow, and trains from Abbey Wood won't be going to Slough and Reading. I wonder which of these will surprise future passengers the most.

Here's another way of looking at the service pattern, which might help make things clearer. Suppose you're at one of the central stations, somewhere between Paddington and Whitechapel. Here are the destinations you'll be able to reach from the eastbound platform.

Shenfield (every 7½ mins)
Abbey Wood (every 7½ mins)
Shenfield (every 5 mins)
Abbey Wood (every 5 mins)

This is straightforward and relatively simple... half the trains will run along each branch. And because the trains alternate, this means one train on the central section every 4 minutes off-peak and every 2½ minutes at peak times. It might not be as frequent a service as you're expecting, certainly compared to the tube, but then most tube trains aren't two football pitches long.

Switching to the westbound platform, again anywhere between Paddington and Whitechapel, this is what you'll get.

Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 4 mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
West Drayton (every 30 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)

This is more complicated. Half the trains will terminate at Paddington, indeed more than half at peak times. If you're going no further than Paddington, that's a train every 4 minutes off-peak and every 2½ minutes at peak times. But if you're going further, Heathrow only gets a train every 15 minutes, much like the Heathrow Express today. Trains as far as Slough and Maidenhead will also run every 15 minutes, whereas for Reading it could be a half hour wait. Obviously other trains will continue to run these destinations from upstairs at Paddington, but from down below not many services are passing through.

Coming back into town from out west, the destination board will look like this.

READINGShenfield (every 30 mins)Shenfield (every 30 mins)
SLOUGHShenfield (every 15 mins)Shenfield (every 15 mins)
WEST DRAYTONShenfield (every 15 mins)Shenfield (every 10 mins)
HEATHROWAbbey Wood (every 15 mins)Abbey Wood (every 15 mins)

Notice how the peak service and off-peak service are identical, apart from a few extra trains from West Drayton. And see the very clear division in what goes where - the Reading branch runs only to Shenfield, and the Heathrow branch runs only to Abbey Wood.

Coming back into town from the east it'll look like this.

Paddington (every 15 mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Heathrow T4 (every 15 mins)
West Drayton (every 30 mins)
SHENFIELDPaddington (every 15 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 15 mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Paddington (every 7½ mins)
Maidenhead (every 30 mins)
Reading (every 30 mins)
Liverpool Street (every 15 mins)

Again travelling west looks a lot more complicated. In good news there'll be trains at least as far as Paddington every 7½ minutes off-peak and every 4 minutes at peak times. But if you're on the Abbey Wood branch and want to get to Berkshire you'll have to change, and (more annoyingly) if you're on the Shenfield branch and want to get to Heathrow you'll have to change. I can imagine the angry Evening Standard headline in 2019 even now.

Did you spot that mysterious mention of Liverpool Street at the bottom of the final column? In peak times Crossrail will be running extra trains between Gidea Park and Liverpool Street, in one direction only, to help keep northeast London moving. And that's the existing Liverpool Street station, along the existing TfL Rail tracks, rather than entering the new tunnel at Pudding Mill Lane. This means Crossrail trains will be serving two different Liverpool Streets, one new and one old, with the latter described as Liverpool Street (High Level) on the latest map. Could that get confusing? Yes it might.

Now let's return to those asterisks, because there's one more peculiarity of the service pattern which may particularly annoy west London residents - semi-fast trains. Every Crossrail train which heads past Paddington will skip at least one of the stations that follows. There's only so much space on these busy Great Western tracks, so missing out a station will help to keep other services running on time. Every Crossrail train will stop at Ealing Broadway, Southall and Hayes and Harlington. But Acton Main Line, West Ealing and Hanwell aren't going to be so lucky.

 HayesSouthallHanwellW EalingEaling BActon ML
HEATHROW branchstopstopstop stopstop
READING branchstopstop stopstop 
W DRAYTON (peak)stopstop  stop 

Crossrail trains to Heathrow won't be stopping at West Ealing. Meanwhile Crossrail trains to Maidenhead and Reading will be stopping at West Ealing, but won't be stopping at Acton Mainline and Hanwell. As for those rare peak-only West Drayton trains, they're not going to be stopping at any of the three. This means lots of announcements to ensure that passengers for these stations board the right train. And it also means it won't be possible to ride between Hanwell and West Ealing on a Crossrail train, even though these two stations are adjacent on the line.

If you're still following me, it's now time for the caveats. This is a proposed service pattern, so may not turn out to be precisely what happens in 2019. It doesn't cover trains during what's described as the “quiet” period (pre-0700 and post-2100). And the consultation map clearly states there'll also be "occasional peak only services" between Shenfield and Heathrow, and Abbey Wood and Reading/Maidenhead, so it's not true to say that these particular journeys will never happen.

I should also point out that I didn't spot the consultation in the first place, that was the eagle-eyed folk on the excellent District Dave's Forum. You should very much be following them if you're interested in how the Underground really works, and what's going on where behind the scenes. And so we're indebted to snoggle for noticing the consultation and for realising the importance of the map, and to other members of the community for discussing the implications. Thank them, not me.

But if you'd like some headline scare stories, which are only 99% true...
» Crossrail services will run less frequently than the tube
» Over half of Crossrail trains won't get as far as West London
» Every Crossrail train will miss out one or more West London stations
» Going to Heathrow? From Stratford (and points east) you'll have to change!

Despite which, obviously, Crossrail'll still be excellent.

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