diamond geezer

 Friday, April 01, 2022

When Crossrail finally opens next month, signalling issues notwithstanding, one of the most anticipated innovations will be the introduction of an overnight service. No point in those £19bn tunnels going to waste.

It won't be every night, it'll just be weekends as with the existing Night Tube. But the prospect of opening up fresh connections to London's night economy will be an exciting prospect for many thousands of Londoners.

The current Night Tube network has many gaps, not least because the Bakerloo, District and Metropolitan lines have never been deemed worthy of an overnight service. But the introduction of Night Crossrail brings the opportunity to stretch much further into the suburbs, most notably south of the river to Woolwich and Abbey Wood. Even the key terminus of Paddington, despite being served by four different tube lines, has never had a night service before.

It won't officially be called Night Crossrail, of course, because that would go against all branding guidelines. Equally it won't be Night Elizabeth either, because that sounds weird, nor Night Elizabeth Line because that's a proper mouthful. Instead they're proposing to include Crossrail under the Night Tube umbrella, which'll keep things simple for the general travelling public but will outrage pedants who know that this is not a tube line and I fear we'll never hear the last of it.

The Night Tube was first introduced in 2016 after a lengthy delay while various trade union loose ends were tied up. The new Night Crossrail service should have no such issues because TfL have learned their lesson and overnight duties were written into contracts from the very start. Drivers will only be expected to undertake an overnight shift about twice a month, and some might even welcome the opportunity after several months of driving endlessly back and forth transporting absolutely nobody.

Peer through the railings at certain stations and you'll see the Night Tube's signature owl has started to appear. The only concession to branding seems to be that it's in the appropriate shade of purple rather than the more normal shade of navy blue. When the owl was first introduced there was some controversy over whether it was called Becky (after the designer of the tube map) or Tooting, with the London Transport Museum shop preferring the latter. As yet there's no sign of a cuddly purple version called Becky, Tooting, Lizzy or whatever.

Trains will operate every twenty minutes between Paddington and Abbey Wood. This is less frequent than services on other Night Tube lines but the reasoning is that Crossrail trains are so long that overcrowding shouldn't be a problem. There is an option to increase the frequency to every fifteen minutes in December if passenger numbers allow, but a proper ten minute service would rely on additional government funding which as yet is not forthcoming.

Alas there are no plans to extend Night Crossrail beyond the central section once the whole line's connected up, due to operational overlap with other National Rail services. In west London residents of Ealing already have the Central line and Heathrow has the Piccadilly, so it's really only Southall and Hayes that are being sidelined. The real losers will be those on the future connection to Shenfield via Ilford, meaning that Romford's clubbers will have to continue piling into taxis as before.

Night Crossrail will interchange with all other overnight services except the Piccadilly and Victoria lines. This won't be especially obvious from the Night Tube map because the purple of Crossrail is yet another colour that contrasts badly with the dark blue background.

The new line will introduce some unavoidable duplication of Night Tube services in central London. In particular Night Crossrail closely parallels the Central line between Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Liverpool Street - indeed this is one of the reasons it was built in the first place. Delays to the opening of Bond Street station will reduce some of this inefficient overlap for the next few months. Whitechapel and Canary Wharf also already have night services but the opening up of Farringdon will be great news for those catching overnight services to Gatwick.

An unfortunate consequence of Night Crossrail is that TfL intend to reduce the frequency of night buses to Woolwich and Abbey Wood on Friday and Saturday nights. The N1 is to be cut back from every 20 minutes to every half hour in expectation that most passengers will shift to the new line instead, and taxi firms expect to be similarly affected. Intriguingly the date pencilled in for the N1's frequency cut is Saturday 14th May, increasing speculation that the 'secret' date for opening Crossrail will be that weekend.

Mid-May is also the proposed date for the introduction of Night Tram services between Wimbledon, New Addington and Beckenham Junction. Residents of Croydon can expect a half-hourly shuttle service and may already have seen owl logos appearing at their tram stops. According to recent TfL Board papers there are also plans to introduce a Night Cablecar service between 11pm and 3am which will help feed concertgoers from the O2 towards Night Crossrail at Custom House... but only if a new sponsor can be found.

So not only are we due a new tube map when Crossrail opens but a new night tube map too. Look out for the owl amid the flurry of purple branding coming your way over the next couple of months and prepare for your weekend journey to become considerably smoother. It would have been criminal to spend all that money and then close the tunnels overnight, so imagine what a gamechanger Night Crossrail could be.

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