Crossrail's opening date is nudging closer. We might be two months away.
We're definitely less than six months away. TfL's latest press release confirms that "passenger services will commence in the first half of 2022", which is exactly what they've been saying since August 2020, the only difference now being they're sure they're right. Issues with software updates and station construction could have scuppered things, as could Omicron, but they're now certain the end of June is doable. Think of it as a worst case backstop date.
The press release has been written to dripfeed a minimum amount of fresh information in an upbeat style. The key nugget is that we're "coming to the end of the first phase of its Trial Operations" and about to start the second. Note that phase two hasn't yet started, nor is any start date given, so this is meagre news.
The Trial Operations stage involves more than 150 operational exercises to ensure the safety and reliability of the railway. They've almost completed the easier half, which was phase one, and next come exercises involving the emergency services and actual passengers. The big phase 2 test events are scheduled for successive weekends between mid-February and mid-March, but don't expect to be invited unless you're an employee or the friend of an employee.
2nd weekend in Feb: Train Evacuation (open track & train-to-train) 3rd weekend in Feb: Train Evacuation (tunnel to station) 4th weekend in Feb: Train Evacuation (via emergency shaft) 1st weekend in Mar: Train Evacuation (tunnel to station) 2nd weekend in Mar: Mass Volume Timetable Test
Given that the last big test event is scheduled for 13th March, this suggests the earliest possible Crossrail opening date is now the following weekend.
However when the central section does finally open, one station will not be opening with it. This nugget is from papers for a TfL committee meeting next week.
"Bond Street station has been decoupled from the opening of the railway and the team is working on a plan to get the earliest opening date for the station. It recently achieved Staged Completion 2 meaning that it can be used, when required, for large scale trials and staff familiarisation as part of Trial Operations."
Bond Street's been way behind schedule, by years, for years. Here we see the first admission that it won't be ready for Day One of passenger service, which'll be an embarrassing blot on what should have been a flawless launch. It means trains will have to run non-stop for two miles between Paddington and Tottenham Court Road, it means one of the key central London interchanges can't be used, it means a loss of advertising revenue and it means a glaring imperfection on the tube map. Someone's probably had to write a special timetable to cover the fact trains won't be stopping.
For now the key achievement is that Bond Street has achieved "Staged Completion 2", i.e. is sufficiently complete to be used for evacuation. The entire line would have been scuppered for safety reasons had SC2 status not been secured, so it's worth pointing out that Bond Street's woes mean Crossrail couldn't possibly have opened to passengers before now, i.e. it was always doomed to be at least three years late.
And it's not the only station causing problems.
"The success of the commissioning of the software over Christmas 2021 and the transfer of Canary Wharf station are critical to commencing the second phase of Trial Operations. Final modifications to the safety systems are being carried out at Canary Wharf station and it is now forecast to be transferred in the coming weeks."
It seems astonishing that what was once the most advanced station on the line should still not be ready. Canary Wharf was where Crossrail's first soil was dug in 2009, and by 2017 was sufficiently complete to allow open access to the platforms during Open House weekend. But accelerated construction led to major issues with fire safety which haven't proved easy to fix, and station handover recently slipped from "the end of 2021" to "hopefully tomorrow". If Canary Wharf is ready for full operation in time for passenger service, it'll be by the skin of its teeth.
Meanwhile further evidence is appearing in the real world that Crossrail might be imminent.
This is a new bus stop alongside Custom House station for a bus route that doesn't yet exist, but is intended to be introduced so that people in East Ham can catch purple trains more easily. So far it only has a 304 tile, not timetables or buses, but things are inching forward.
It's still too early to be sure of a Crossrail launch date, even if you're the manager in charge of the project, given uncertainties with software, signalling and infrastructure.
"During December 2021, the decision was made to delay introduction of the second phase of Trial Operations for at least two weeks to allow for further testing and critical evidence of improved reliability."
But two months from now is the earliest it could be, and maybe will be unless the usual thing happens and everything gets delayed again.
tl;dr - Bond Street will not be part of Crossrail on launch day, which might be in late March.