diamond geezer

 Friday, August 31, 2018

There are only 100 days to go until Sunday 9th December, the day TfL haven't announced is the opening date for Crossrail.

We'll find out soon enough what their actual plans are. But when Crossrail does finally spring into action, not only will it be brilliant, but it won't be as good as you think.

10 reasons why Crossrail won't be as good as you think

1. It'll open in stages

When Mrs Average Punter wheels her suitcase onto the first Crossrail train and expects to be carried to Heathrow Airport, she's in for a shock. Heathrow isn't due to be bolted onto the central trunk until a year later, which means she'll have to get off her train at Paddington, haul her luggage up to surface level and continue her journey from there. Mr Typical Commuter in Ilford should expect similar problems, as his purple trains aren't scheduled to be attached to the central core for several months, which until then will mean transferring down escalators and along passageways at Liverpool Street. Ultimately the whole network'll join up straight through, but on Day One the purple line will be a three-part beast, and won't be as good as you think.

2. In stage 2, the service to Canary Wharf gets less frequent

If all goes to plan, Crossrail will kick off with fifteen trains an hour off-peak between Abbey Wood and Paddington. A train every four minutes, brilliant. When the connection to the Shenfield branch is made, there'll be twenty trains an hour off-peak in the central core. A train every three minutes, fabulous. But because those twenty trains will alternate from one arm to the other, each eastern branch will only be getting ten trains an hour, and for the Abbey Wood branch that's actually a cut. Commuters at Canary Wharf will go from a train every four minutes in December to a train every six minutes from May. Even at peak times they'll only be every five. Unless some entirely unexpected announcement comes along, Crossrail's service to Canary Wharf will end up being worse than when it started, so won't be as good as you think.

3. It's eventually going to be two separate lines

Even when Crossrail is fully open, you won't necessarily be able to take a train from one end to the other, because the service will be in two distinct parts. Trains from Abbey Wood will run through the central section and out the other side to Heathrow, Maidenhead and Reading, but trains from Shenfield are only going as far as Paddington before they terminate. It won't be a strictly 100% split, for example at peak times, but for most functional purposes the two will act as separate beasts. I think we should give the two lines different names, and propose that Shenfield to Paddington should be Elizabeth I and Abbey Wood to Heathrow/Reading should be Elizabeth II. It's not going to be hard to get from Romford to Heathrow, you'll just have to change trains somewhere in the middle, but it won't be as good as you think.

4. Trains won't be stopping at all stations

The final timetable's not yet finalised, but we do know that a couple of west London stations will be getting a worse service than the others because several trains will be skipping them. At Hanwell only the Heathrow-bound trains will be stopping, whereas Acton Main Line will be served only by trains destined for Heathrow Terminal 4. For comparison, Ealing Broadway and West Ealing are destined to see ten trains an hour, but Hanwell will get only six and Acton Main Line just four. We can also expect this unfortunate pair to get no trains whatsoever on Sundays, just like they get none whatsoever now, because it won't be as good as you think.

5. The carriages don't have many seats

Regular tube users are used to new trains having fewer seats than those they replace, in order to shoehorn more passengers inside at peak times and keep London moving. Crossrail's carriages have a lot of standing room and only about 50 seats, whereas the rolling stock that used to run out to Shenfield had more like 80. Punters at the far end of the Metropolitan line can already tell you how miserable it is having to stand on a long commute because someone took the seats away, a treat now on its way for residents of Twyford and Harold Wood. Don't panic, the trains are longer so will contain more seats overall, but it still won't be as good as you think.

6. Expect rail replacement buses

You might expect a brand new line to be engineering-works-free, and the core section from Abbey Wood to Paddington should be just that. But the arm out to Shenfield and the lines west of Paddington are different beasts because they follow National Rail lines, and their first sets of engineering works are already scheduled. Sundays are looking particularly fraught between Christmas and the end of January on the line out to Shenfield, where the poor sods who've endured endless closures in the run-up to Crossrail opening are going to have to endure several more. If you only want to ride the central section, then when you see "Planned Closure" splash up on the map it probably isn't for you. But out Romford and Essex way, especially on Sundays, it won't be as good as you think.

7. It's not going to get you there any quicker

In the central section from Paddington to Whitechapel and on to Abbey Wood, yes, the arrival of Crossrail will speed up journeys no end. But on the existing Shenfield branch, and west of Paddington, not so. It'll take just as long to crawl from Shenfield to Romford to Ilford to Stratford via all intermediate stations as it does now. Fast Greater Anglia trains will still be the quickest way to whizz into Liverpool Street, for those fortunate enough to live where they actually stop. Likewise Crossrail is destined to be the 'slow' train west of Paddington, overtaken by faster GWR services to Reading, and the Heathrow Express is always going to be the fastest way to Heathrow. Sure, the time savings from not having to change onto the tube to reach the West End will be impressive, but the outer arms will be a crawl, and won't be as good as you think.

8. It's built to a scale you're unprepared for

Crossrail stations are enormous, indeed so big that sometimes they stretch from one tube station to the next. It's going to be important to be at the right end of the train for the correct exit, and you can expect a long hike if you're not. This is because the trains are going to be monsters, indeed at 250 metres, your typical Crossrail platform is twice the length of your typical tube train. Even if you've ridden one of the new TfL Rail trains, so far they're only seven carriages long, whereas from launch day expect nine. This monumental scale is brilliant because it'll allow thousands more people to travel, but at some point you are going to be dumped a long way from where you want to be, and it won't be as good as you think.

9. It's not going to interchange where you want it to

Regular Victoria line user? Bad luck, Crossrail won't be intersecting with your commute. Always nip into town on the Piccadilly line? Bad luck, there'll be no central London station for you to switch at either. Crossrail skips merrily through the heart of zone 1 missing out Oxford Circus, which scuppers the Victoria, and Holborn, which buggers the Piccadilly. And whereas the engineers could have built double-ended stations here, like they did at Farringdon/Barbican and Moorgate/Liverpool Street, they didn't for reasons of cost and under-accessibility. A direct connection at Oxford Circus would have overwhelmed the existing station, which isn't on, hence the Hanover Square entrance to Bond Street is a few minutes walk away. Crossrail's going to be excellent if you can easily get to it, but for many in north and south London an extra change will be required, so it won't be as good as you think.

10. It's going to be late

It's an open secret that the fitting-out of Bond Street is a long way behind schedule, and similar stories are being heard from Whitechapel. As for Woolwich, that's always been a case of "ah well, if it's not ready on Day One never mind, it's only Woolwich". As for the testing of trains through the central section, that was held up for several months after an electricity substation near Pudding Mill Lane blew up last year, throwing plans well behind schedule. An accumulation of snags and issues could force Crossrail to open at the end of the year with certain stations dark, numerous surfaces unfinished and bits of step-free access incomplete. Imagine the nightmare scenario in which things were so bad TfL had to delay December's launch until 2019, maybe even this time next year, and the grovelling press release that'd entail. Only one thing's for certain, it's about to be nowhere near as good as you think.

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