Crossrail's been a long time coming. It was first proposed in the 1940s, gained its name in the 1970s, was formally suggested in the 1980s, failed to make it through Parliament in the 1990s and was finally confirmed in the 2000s. So because this blog's been going for 20 years, let's look back and see how I reported it at the time...
Dated links are clickable, in case you want to go back and read the whole thing.
As of midnight this morning, the tube network is now under the control of Ken Livingstone and his new management team. And at long last, after years of stalled planning below the streets of London, things are on the move Underground. Two long-long-awaited new projects have finally been given the go-ahead in the last week, after many years of nobody quite deciding to do anything about either of them. Both Crossrail and the East London Line extension should make a real difference to transport in the capital, eventually at least.
A fast-track service between Paddington and Liverpool Street is promised, extending outwards to link suburban routes to the west and east of the capital. Canary Wharf to Heathrow on one train is a definite winner, even if Romford to Richmond or Dartford to Aylesbury are rather more unlikely journeys. But it's not all good news. The nearest station to me will be at least a mile away for a start, plus Crossrail may not even be finished by 2012 in time for a potential East London Olympics. [July 2003]
When will that be?[Jan 2004] 2012: Crossrail (optimistic view); London Olympics (maybe) 2013: Crossrail (pessimistic view)
Crossrail is finally set to get Government backing today. But not Government money. Someone somewhere is going to have to raise £10 billion to fund this sub-London pipedream. Here are a few fundraising possibilities - although you may have additional ideas...
a) Get multinational companies to sponsor each of the new stations, perhaps renaming them (from west to east) British Airways, Selfridges, Virgin Megastore, Sainsbury, Lloyd's, Whitbread, HSBC and Poundstretcher. b) Increase the Congestion Charge for BMWs to £10, for 4x4s to £100 and for black ministerial limousines to £1000. c) When Crossrail trains are finally ready (sort of 2013-ish) set up an onboard trolley service serving up overpriced coffee and flapjacks - should make a fortune. [Jul 2004]
Crossrail is coming. Very slowly, admittedly, but by 2013 it's hoped that rail travellers will be able to zoom underneath central London and out into the suburbs far faster than is possible today. Sounds great. And it will be, except for the unlucky few who live just that bit too close to the proposed route of the new tunnels, because you can't build a new railway without making a mess. In East London, for example, there's a big fuss up Brick Lane about the proposed Hanbury Lane shaft which will see lorryloads of spoil being carted through the streets of Banglatown. Elsewhere Crossrail planners appear to have hunted down most of the available patches of open space directly above their tunnel route (like half of Finsbury Circus, the fountain beneath Centre Point, a Sainsbury's car park and a traveller caravan site), and plan to transform them into ventilation shafts and temporary worksites. If it can't fight back, they'll build on it. [Mar 2006]
It's not easy to find fifteen billion quid for a railway. Governments aren't generally happy at stumping up that sort of money for a transport link which most of the electorate will never use. The total cost is even higher than the entire Olympic budget, and we all know how popular that's been. But you can't dig tunnels under central London without spending money, and without pledged cash this project is doomed to fail. [Sep 2007]
So my thanks to London resident Mr G Brown for contributing the final cash to my "Please spare a fiver for Crossrail" campaign. How very kind of him, during this extremely busy week he's having, to find time to make this very special announcement. Funding for Crossrail has been stuck at £15.6bn for so many years (sorry, nowhere near enough, sorry) but arm-twisting in the City has finally upped the available cash to acceptable levels (£16bn? Perfect, go ahead). Anyone would think that there was an election (or two) in the offing, or something. But bring it on. [Oct 2007]
Tottenham Court Road: This is the central hub of the Crossrail line and will eventually (probably after you're dead) link to the proposed "Crossrail 2" Chelsea-Hackney line. Building this station means knocking down the Astoria (and several surrounding buildings) and remodelling the road junction beneath Centre Point. But by 2017 you'll be able to travel direct from here to Ealing Broadway, Bond Street, Liverpool Street and Stratford. Just like you already can on the Central line. Farringdon: One of the very first underground stations is about to become one of the very newest. Crossrail trains are very long so this station will stretch between two exits, one at Farringdon and one at Barbican. Change here for the newly-revitalised north-south Thameslink service. Eastbound travellers will have a choice of four different direct routes to Liverpool Street - via Crossrail, Circle, Hammersmith & City or Metropolitan lines. Which is a bit pointless.
Crossrail is underway. There's a sentence it once seemed nobody would ever write. But work on the grand east-west rail link finally kicked off yesterday at Canary Wharf when Boris and Gordon joined together for the first dig. There'll be a brand new station here by 2012, although there won't be any trains for another five years after that. You weren't in a hurry to get to Paddington or Heathrow, were you, because you'll have to wait.
Crossrail is underway. You can tell because a fleet of floating cranes has appeared in the middle of West India Quay's North Dock. You may not be especially familiar with this particular watery strip because it's shielded from the current heart of Canary Wharf by a screen of tall towers. The basin's northern bank remains entirely undeveloped (and was, until a couple of years ago, the site of a large open car park), so the best unobstructed view is from the DLR between Poplar and West India Quay. Now there's a barrage in the water and a stack of portakabins on the dockside and a building site starting to emerge mid-channel. Blimey, there's a whirlwind of change a-coming. [May 2009]
Next week, as Crossrail's incursion ramps up, the River Lea towpath between the Greenway and the Bow Flyover will be closed off until Christmas. This is to enable engineers to divert the 400KV cables which run immediately beneath the towpath, thereby allowing the tunnel-boring machines to emerge in safety a few yards beyond. Joggers and cyclists will have to endure diversions for 43 weeks, with no doubt an even lengthier barricade post-Games once the big drills start to surface. Pity we residents on the E15/E3 borderline, for we face not one but two enormous building projects over the next few years. Those Olympics are only the half of it (and, alas, the fast track to Heathrow isn't going to be anywhere near ready in time). [Feb 2010]
While you weren't looking, early yesterday morning, Charing Cross Road disappeared. Not all of it, just the top bit up the northern end near Tottenham Court Road station. On Monday you could drive or walk along it but on Tuesday it wasn't there. And it won't be there again for the next four years. Think you'll miss it? [Dec 2010]
In six years time, if all goes to plan, the first Crossrail trains will glide into Canary Wharf to collect passengers. The shopping centre associated with the new station should be with us by Easter 2015, so you'll be able to drop by and buy sushi relatively soon. But to get any lower, four floors down where the platforms are, that's a much longer wait. Unless you were lucky in the London Open House raffle, that is, in which case you might have slipped in yesterday....
You could tell that the project manager leading our tour party was proud of his team's achievements so far, and rightly so. Design and building have been undertaken by Canary Wharf Contractors Limited, not TfL or any of the usual national construction companies, and so far they're delivering ahead of schedule. I'm sure he'd have stayed talking for much longer given half a chance, except there was another tour party arriving behind so we had to end our subterranean odyssey forthwith. Another ride in the hoist awaited, this time from 25 metres below water level back to the surface. And that's the last I expect to see of this amazing station until I come back by train in 2018, this chamber transformed. You'll all be saying "wow, it's a step-change in the London transport experience", but we Open House visitors will also remember it as a hole. [Sep 2012]
Crossrail's coming in stages, with the first proper bit at the end of 2018, and the whole thing by 2019. Hopefully. (2019, sigh)
The first big thing to happen, on Boris's watch, is on May 31st 2015. That's the date that the "Crossrail Train Operating Company" starts operations, taking over existing Shenfield-Liverpool Street services. Don't get excited, it's only a change of owner, nothing else happens until 2017.
Stage 1: May 2017 - Introduction of new rolling stock on Great Eastern – start of ‘Crossrail’ Stage 2: May 2018 - Heathrow to Paddington - surface Stage 3: Dec 2018 – Trains run through Central Section
Just in time for Christmas shopping, five Christmases hence, Crossrail opens up via Paddington through the heart of London. This is where Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road and Farringdon become super-important stations, as does Whitechapel. But only one of the branches to the east opens. At first all trains will head via Canary Wharf and Woolwich to Abbey Wood, while the Shenfield branch remains disconnected above ground to Liverpool Street. Stage 4: May 2019 - Central Section passenger service connected to Great Eastern Surface Section Stage 5: Dec 2019 – Full service operating including Reading
And this is the final bit, extending beyond Slough to Maidenhead and Reading. The completed Crossrail will have 24 trains an hour through the central portion between Paddington and Whitechapel, that's a train every 2½ minutes. This means Shenfield and Abbey Wood will each get a train every 5 minutes - that's 12 an hour, quite some boost on today. But only 10 trains an hour will run west of Paddington, that's four to Heathrow, two to West Drayton and four to Reading/Maidenhead.
And that final completion date is still five and a half years away. It's so far in the future that London's next Mayor will be cutting the ribbon during the last six months of their term of office. How optimistic we must have been ten years ago to think that Crossrail could possibly have been built by 2012, when in reality it'll only be in full operation by 2019. [Jul 2014]
Canary Wharf Crossrail station opened yesterday, approximately three and a half years ahead of schedule. That might seem rather premature given that the first trains won't be arriving until the end of 2018. But, priorities, the opening of a new linear shopping mall perched on top of the station provides somewhere for potential passengers to eat and drink while they wait.
The shopping mall is Crossrail Place, the latest retail outlet for lunchtime financiers at Canary Wharf. It's to be found on the northern shores of the Docklands complex, previously tumbleweed, now increasingly the place to go. The crowds were out yesterday to explore the new extension to their estate, streaming across the newly opened walkway (in the shape of a squashed hexagonal prism), or exiting the existing subterranean mall to enter at ground level. This being the first weekend you got a leaflet thrust at you as you entered, although quite a posh leaflet in the style of a first class cruise ticket, a picture implying that the long straight station-top shopping mall was in fact an ocean liner. Dream on. [May 2015]
While the extended Overground gets all the attention, what long term will be a far more significant change is receiving far less publicity. The metro line from Liverpool Street to Shenfield also transferred to TfL on Sunday, but not under the Overground umbrella, it's been given an identity of its own. Services now appear separately on the tube map and have been assigned their own blue roundel, indeed precisely the same shade of blue as the Piccadilly line (which could cause confusion). In May 2019 this line is due to be connected to Crossrail, with flash new trains finally zipping into Central London from Stratford and beyond. But for now we have tired old rolling stock going nowhere fast every ten minutes on 'TfL Rail' - a bland brand name that's been specially designed to self-destruct in four years time. [Jun 2015]
WALK CROSSRAIL For my next over-ambitious feature, I thought I'd walk Crossrail. Not the tunnels themselves because they're deep underground and off limits, pending fit-out, but the path of the route on the surface. This blog loves nothing more than following an invisible line across London, and Crossrail tracks a more invisible route than most. Equally there are several clues on the surface to spot along the way, most of which are shafts and building sites rather than proper stations, there still being three years to go before project completion. So why not walk it? [120 photos][7 posts]
We're about to reach a significant moment in the development of Crossrail at Whitechapel, as the front entrance to the station is only a week away from being sealed off. Next weekend the entire station will be closed to allow enabling works to take place, and then on Monday a new temporary entrance will open round the back and everyone'll be directed that way for a few years. It'll be an annoying detour for most, but get used to it because the new Crossrail platforms are all to the north of the existing underground station anyway, indeed further north than all but the very far end of the Overground platforms. You have only seven more days to experience the up-and down-hike from Whitechapel Road, and to ogle the ancient lightbox on the footbridge to the District line. All change, all very much change. [Jan 2016]
Crossrail to become the Elizabeth line in honour of Her Majesty the Queen
Her Majesty the Queen today visited the unfinished Crossrail station at Bond Street to boost the credentials of the Lord of Brexit, Boris Johnson MP.
She wore a special matching hat and coat in Crossrail purple, and he announced that the new railway will be described as the Elizabeth line in all of its brand collateral.
The Mayor was joined by a selection of hangers-on, keen to be pictured in a confined space with an 89-year old woman from Windsor. Fawning courtiers included the Secretary of State for Transport, the London Transport Commissioner and several important men in positions of corporate responsibility. They took it in turns to lead Her Majesty through some subways, pointing out where there will one day be lots of trains she will never ride.
In order to create a Facebook-friendly video opportunity, the Queen unveiled a plaque and was presented with a commemorative purple roundel. Imprinted across its centre were the words ELIZABETH LINE, even though no other Underground line is ever named on a roundel in the same style, because this was the optimal means to drive today's brand message home. Her Majesty also met a wide range of people involved in the construction of Crossrail, including apprentices, engineers and drivers-in-training, but mostly she spent her time with the suits. [Feb 2016]
Building a new underground railway doesn't happen quickly, not these days, because there's a heck of a lot to be done. It's now seven years since the Astoria and the other buildings opposite Centre Point were demolished to make way for Crossrail, during which time giant shafts have been opened up, new entrances have been dug out and twin-bore tunnels have been driven through. To showcase all the hard work so far, construction company Laing O'Rourke led a select few Londoners below ground for Open House to see current progress, and blimey didn't the tickets go fast?
It's a measure of how far Tottenham Court Road's Crossrail fit-out has already progressed that we didn't all need to change into hard hats and hi-vis before venturing down to explore the platforms. Nevertheless there aren't yet any escalators to glide down, nor would it be ideal to take the stairs, so instead we all took the hoist. This judders a little but doesn't take long, and it's how all the workforce (and a lot of the materials) will have headed 24 metres down over the last few years. [Sep 2016]
The first meaningful milestone on the road to Crossrail took place yesterday morning as the very first Class 345 train ran in operational service. They've been running up and down the line for a few months now to give drivers experience, but yesterday was the first time they've opened their doors to allowing fare-paying passengers inside.
Train 1 had been scheduled to run four weeks ago, then three weeks ago, and was finally bumped into late June due to operational issues. Its precise timing was a secret, with invitations sent out to company employees, media types and the occasional VIP, in the hope that no People Who Like Trains would appear at Liverpool Street and get in the way. What happened instead, which was rather nice, is that a completely random selection of everyday passengers turned up expecting to board the usual service, and got treated to Crossrail's inaugural run instead. [Jun 2017]
A brand new Crossrail station opened yesterday at Abbey Wood. From December 2018 this will be the southeastern terminus for Crossrail trains. The existing station has had to be remodelled from two platforms to four, with overbridges added for passengers changing trains and fresh connections made to the surrounding community. The comparison between drab generic 1980s infrastructure and the new swooshing manta ray design could hardly be greater.
Those of us who've been paying attention have long known we won't get be getting the full Crossrail service until the end of 2019, and that the Abbey Wood branch will be opening first. But only yesterday did I see written confirmation, tucked away at the bottom of a TfL press release, that Crossrail will be...
...operating initially as three separate services:
• Paddington to Abbey Wood
• Paddington to Heathrow
• Liverpool Street to Shenfield
To begin with it won't be quite as fantastic as you're expecting, and a journey from Heathrow to Shenfield will involve two split-level changes of train. But all of Crossrail's bits will eventually be connected up, and one day we'll forget about the year-long intermediate stage, indeed we'll wonder how London ever got by without it. [Dec 2017]
Yesterday was the Farringdon station Open Day, an opportunity for a few fast-fingered members of the public to descend into the actual station where actual Crossrail trains will be actually running in less than six actual months time. We had to enter down the fire escape. By the time you get here, the escalators should be finished.
The central concourse is broad and clear with panelled concrete walls, including a layer above head height with spotty indentations. There are no sharp corners here, only softly contoured curves. Here at Farringdon the signage urges departing passengers to walk down to the second entrance, so that arrivals can pour out through the first.
On the platforms the tracks are hidden behind long glass walls, a bit like the Jubilee line on steroids. Doors will open when the trains arrive, and adverts may or may not appear on the panels inbetween. I think the Next Train Indicators are going along the top.
The platforms are very long, but we were restricted to one end. The fitting out didn't look particularly finished elsewhere, almost as if they'd got our end ready first so it would look good on Open Day. But six months should be long enough to get the remaining walls ready, and all the other stations finished, and the trains tested, and everything, probably. Just don't expect to be getting down Bond Street for an Open Day any time soon. [13 photos][Jun 2018]
There are only 100 days to go until Sunday 9th December, the day TfL haven't announced is the opening date for Crossrail.
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. [Aug 2018]
Today should have been the launch date for Crossrail, with trains running for the first time along its central core route. Nah, not happening. But just how far behind schedule is it? I've been out to visit all ten stations from Paddington to Abbey Wood to see what clues can be discerned from ground level. Obviously with the deadline shifted until late next year, there's no longer any immediate pressure to get things finished, so we shouldn't expect perfection. But from what I've seen, December 2018 was a ridiculously unmanageable deadline. [20 photos, 2 per station]
BOND STREET: far from being finished
All the rumours have suggested that Bond Street is the station farthest behind schedule, and the view from surface level backs this up. At the western end, closest to the existing Bond Street station, an entire city block remains fenced off as what looks like a giant concrete bunker arises. Where there are windows, the frames are empty. The lofty grey tower lacks any kind of cladding. What little can be seen of the gaping ticket hall mouth looks mostly blank. There is no resemblance between the six floors of office space depicted on the hoardings and what appears behind. [Dec 2018]
Crossrail is now running over a million minutes late. An update on progress yesterday confirmed that Crossrail "will open as soon as practically possible in 2021." The railway which was supposed to open last year won't be opening next year after all.
Signalling is difficult when new trains are trying to interface with existing lines and fresh infrastructure. Numerous software versions haven't quite delivered, so have needed significant tweaks, and each period of rewriting slows things down. Version 10 was installed in October, but still doesn't tick all boxes so version 11 is intended to go live next month. If version 11 works then Trial Running will begin "at the earliest possible opportunity in 2020". If it doesn't work then the next stages of testing a fully operational railway will have to be delayed again while we wait for version 12. Let's hope it doesn't take 13.
As for stations, they're all behind schedule too. It is astonishing that not one of the nine new underground Crossrail stations is yet fully complete, even though they were once supposed to be receiving passengers last year. [Nov 2019]
I see Crossrail has been delayed again, again, again, again, again, again.
Remember how aghast we were the first time? We barely shrug a shoulder now, even though that first delay was only until 2019 and the latest is until 2022. [Aug 2020]
If it's 9th December then it must be time for my annualreminder that Crossrail isn't open yet. The central section was supposed to open two years ago on 9th December 2018 but never did, and still hasn't, and won't be opening next year either. I live within walking distance of ten Crossrail stations so for this year's non-anniversary I've been to see how not yet finished they are.[9 photos]
Farringdon is the only central London station whose construction is finished, but only just. Crossrail announced as recently as Monday that the station is now "substantially complete" which means that the subcontractors can start demobilising from the site. Hurrah! But it isn't properly finished, this is only the "T-12 landmark", the point at which the station is considered to be 12 weeks away from handover to TfL. That'll be the end of February, and even then there'll still be extensive testing and commissioning of systems to complete because finished isn't the same as ready. [Dec 2020]
It is an inordinately impressive transformation, and the welcome introduction of step-free access is of course merely a byproduct of the real reason it's happened which is Crossrail. Those platforms lurk as yet unused several metres below, linked by some seriously long escalators that reach the surface not in the middle of the station but at the far end. At present they're blocked off and you'd only spot them through the railings if you walked slightly too far from the ticket hall towards the Overground. The reason the low-slung walkway is so wide is that it'll be the chief thoroughfare for everyone transferring between Crossrail and the Underground or Crossrail and the street. Alight at the wrong end of a purple train and it's going to be a bloody long walk (or three lifts and a lot of wheeling) before you can escape the station. At least you should enjoy the architecture along the way. [Aug 2021]
It was a big weekend for Crossrail, the much-delayed megaproject, as ordinary humans arrived to test its safety procedures for the first time. Five major exercises are planned over consecutive weekends as part of Trial Operationsphase 2, their aim to check the robustness of the railway in a variety of challenging scenarios. 5000 volunteers have been signed up - generally TfL employees, their friends and family - so my very special thanks to the member of staff who offered me an invite. With all sorts of exciting evacuation scenarios to choose from, including "in Tunnel to Station" and "via Emergency Shaft", only a fool would have chosen the dull above-ground one. Except the dull above-ground one came first, which offered all sorts of bragging rights and smugness points in finally gaining access to the system, sowhywait? [Feb 2022]
This is Paddington's Eastbourne Terrace entrance alongside platform 1 (where the taxis used to wait). The mainline station's newest access point is already proving popular, not least with long distance travellers keen to pop out for a smoke. Currently you can only connect to the street because the two Crossrail portals are closed, but on Sunday they opened briefly for the last of the public Trial Operations safety exercises. Almost 2000 volunteers turned up, including some really excited eight year-olds, and got to test whether staff could cope with rush-hour level crowds on the platform. But nobody else is due to go down and ride the trains until the gates open properly in two months' time, while managers focus on assurance and software engineers make yet more critical final tweaks to signalling. [Mar 2022]
Hurrah, Crossrail finally has an opening date, which is Tuesday 24th May 2022... [May 2022]