diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 31, 2022

It's been the most successful month ever on diamond geezer, by which I mean the month with the most visitors, not necessarily the month you've enjoyed most. For several years this blog has averaged about 70,000 visitors a month, then in April it finally nudged over 80,000 (thanks to my report on candy stores in Oxford Street), and ridiculously my May total is 129,000. That's over 50% better than any previous month.

It's partly Crossrail's fault because fresh railway content often proves very popular. A few excitable tweets or getting listed in a weekly roundup can bring all and sundry to the blog, more in faith than expectation, and hopefully what they find ultimately delivers. This month people have been getting particularly excited about opening dates, interchange times, purple signage and the new tube map, indeed by the time the new line opened last Tuesday I was well on track for a record total.

Then on Thursday I published a post called How To Walk Underground from Liverpool Street to Farringdon, which got linked by an American newsfeed and suddenly the floodgates opened. Their general verdict was that I hadn't walked the whole way so the title was misleading and they were very disappointed, but by then it was too late, they'd chalked up a visit. By the end of Friday I'd had my 2nd most successful day ever with just shy of 10,000 visitors, but only by vastly overpromising in the title. This alas is why certain media outlets write clickbait headlines for almost everything they publish, because exaggerating up front pays absolute dividends.

Saturday however brought 24,500 visitors, which didn't so much beat my daily record as smash it out of the park. Oddly it had nothing at all to do with Crossrail but something random I wrote two years ago under the strictures of lockdown. Someone on a subreddit called "What is this thing?", which has 2 million members, posted a photo of a tree and asked "Anyone know what this metal ring around the tree is for?" It turned out to be one of the History Trees in the Olympic Park, so my May 2020 post got linked in response and shedloads of global visitors turned up to read about something they'll likely never see.

I get no financial recompense from this blog so these high numbers are all mostly meaningless. I'm much more interested in how many people come back on a regular basis rather than parachute in to read one page and never return. But every regular reader has to start somewhere, and hopefully a few will stick around to read about obscure London suburbs, badly designed infrastructure and trips to the seaside.

Seaside postcards: Bognor Regis

Two years ago I blogged about a hypothetical visit to Bognor Regis because nobody was travelling at the time, so you'll have read all the town's important history there. Last week I made an actual visit to Bognor Regis so you don't need the history again, you can just have some photos and a bit of reportage.

The railway station is the size it needed to be when it was built, which is much bigger than it needs to be now.
The town feels quite Victorian so long as you don't walk too far from the middle of it.
Bognor Regis Museum still hasn't opened this year (I think they're having building work done) so I've added it to my list of Museums I Tried To Visit But Now Probably Never Will.
Mid-afternoon midweek nobody was playing crazy golf, absolutely nobody. Even the palmist had shut up her cabin and gone home.
Also in Waterloo Gardens I found the weather station which recorded the UK's record-breaking annual sunshine total, a statistic I mentioned last time so will not repeat.

The pier's a shadow of its former self, just an arcade and a nightclub behind which a timber stump leads out to a lone windswept picnic table, and it won't surprise you to hear that was empty too. The views were good, but the best experience was walking underneath.
Nobody was walking on the beach either, which at first I put down to needing to schlep over loads of pebbles to reach the sand, but eventually I blamed on dogs being banned from the beach between May and September.
Simone has converted her car port in Outram Road into a community library, accessible from the street, to raise funds for fighting ovarian cancer. I was almost tempted to slump in a cosy chair with a Jackie Collins, but I had places to be.
The Jubilee Beacon lookout has been painted a dazzling white ready for Thursday evening.
Kioskwatch: cornets, buckets and spades, rubber rings, mint choc chip tubs, twirly windmills, Twisters, pink plastic sandals, freshly made donuts, chips.

I stood on the platform of the miniature railway in Hotham Park, but the summer timetable was still two days away so no trains were running.
Butlin's is enormous and very near the town centre. It looked busy judging by the ring of cars parked around the perimeter, but it was hard to see much beyond that, only the top of the big top and the upper storeys of some of the sleeker accommodation. I could tell how originally it used to be easy to percolate between the camp and the seafront, but now there's a big fence so I guess the guests don't get out much.
If you want to take the bus to Selsey, five miles down the coast, it costs £8.90 (because a big inlet gets in the way and you have to take two buses). But I also needed to come back so instead I paid £9.10 for a Go Everywhere In Four Counties ticket (which cost substantially more than my return rail fare).
The view of Selsey from Bognor is less inspirational than the view of Bognor from Selsey.
Beyond Butlin's I'm not sure how you'd spend a week here (let alone a lifetime).

 Monday, May 30, 2022

Seaside postcard: Selsey

Today's post has a musical accompaniment, so feel free to click on the three backing tracks as we proceed.

🔊 [Track 1]

Selsey is the southernmost town in Sussex, isolated on a low-lying headland at the end of a single road from Chichester. The Solent washes up against one beach, the English Channel the other. The town has a very long maritime history, although it's all been downhill since the Norman invasion and today only a few commercial boats set sail from the pebbly beach. With a population of ten thousand Selsey is the largest town on the Manhood Peninsula (don't giggle), and is unlikely to fare well if global warming gets serious. It's not quite a resort, more a sleepy retro bolthole, but with several fascinating stories to tell.

The most famous thing in Selsey is the headland itself, better known as Selsey Bill. It's not so much a point as a long sharp bend, a steep accumulation of pebbles interrupted by intermittent breakwaters. It's not especially easy to walk round either, the coastal footpath taking to the shingle where concrete defences have been deemed more important than a scenic promenade. I only made it round the bill proper because the tide was low, stepping carefully over wooden groynes, concrete jetties and several unstable pebbly slopes, which isn't something I guess the local retired population regularly attempt. They're more likely to be parked up near Marine Gardens, staring out through the windscreen towards the Isle of Wight after driving here in their car. Madness.

If you've now worked out what the first backing track is, click here to jump in at the correct point in the song.

The land immediately adjacent to Selsey Bill used to be Broadreeds holiday camp. It opened in the 1930s, notionally with a Spanish theme, and boasted a boating lake, tennis courts, tiled chalets and a bracing air. Then in the 1960s Pontins took over and promoted the camp with an enthusiasm it probably didn't deserve ("Broadreeds gives flamenco sparkle to your holiday" "That siesta mood comes easily as you relax by the open-air swimming pool" "You cannot fail to miss the fiesta feeling"). Alas real Spanish holidays soon lured punters away, and the 1987 hurricane eventually did enough damage to shut the place permanently, so the site's since been transformed into a very ordinary housing estate.

The East Beach is longer and also friendlier to promenading on a mobility scooter. At the southern end is Gibbet Field where two 18th century smugglers were hung in chains as a warning to others, an event marked by a blue plaque round the back of someone's garage. Further along is Selsey Lifeboat Station, recently relocated onshore, where a large orange Shannon-class vessel waits to be dragged out across the shingle on caterpillar tracks when duty calls. A few fisherpeople still trade from huts below the promenade, including Selsey Shellfish Direct, Julie's Hand-Dressed Crab and Jim's Fish (he's currently offering large sea bass for £14). And if your eyes follow the sweep of the bay round past Pagham Harbour, that town you can see glinting in the distance is Bognor Regis... a vista which inspired our second musical track of the day.

🔊 [Track 2]

The composer Eric Coates once lived in Selsey, or rather had a second home here as an escape from his Baker Street flat. He's probably best known for writing the Dambusters March, but also composed the theme tube for the BBC's longest running radio programme. Inspiration for 'By The Sleepy Lagoon' came on a warm, still summer evening in 1930 while he was looking out across deep blue waters towards Bognor "which looked pink — almost like an enchanted city with the blue of the Downs behind it". The fully orchestrated piece was finished back in London and has been an intrinsic part of Desert Island Discs for the last 80 years. When you hear the languid opening bars your mind's eye may be transported to some tropical isle but you should instead be imagining Bognor Regis... and now I've stood beside the blue plaque on the beachfront I fear I always will.

The town centre follows the High Street south towards the sea. It kicks off with St Peter's church, whose medieval nave was rebuilt here in the 19th century leaving the chancel adrift a mile away beside Pagham harbour. Further down are a cinema pavilion, sufficient pubs and a town hall that looks more like a village hall. Along the way are several thatched cottages, plenty of cafes for spending your pension in and some effusive attempts at Platinum Jubilee window displays. Union Jacks flap here even in a normal week. The family butchers bake their own pies and sell safely unspicy sausages. The Victory Club has recently disaffiliated from the British Legion and hosts a Meat Raffle on Sundays. I got the sense that Selsey's residents might be well pleased if the government decided to bring back imperial measurements, if indeed they ever stopped using them.

🔊 [Track 3]

Selsey's most famous resident was Sir Patrick Moore, who moved here in 1967 to take advantage of the town's low levels of light pollution and favourable atmospheric conditions. Not only did he build an observatory in his garden but every 'Sky at Night' show from 2004 onwards was recorded here, so I was keen to make a pilgrimage to the UK's crucible of amateur astronomy. I walked down West Street thinking "these houses are too humble", but just beyond some flats and a terrace came a tall thatched house behind big gates and a long stone wall, and I thought "aah yes, that garden looks big enough for an outside broadcast". A blue plaque confirms his surname was actually Caldwell-Moore and lists his talents as Astronomer, Author, Broadcaster, Keen Cricketer and Musician.

This part-Tudor cottage was bought by Queen guitarist Brian May in 2008 to prevent Sir Patrick sliding into poverty, and sold after his death in 2012 once it became apparent a suburban street in Selsey was a very poor location for a museum. The house's original name was Farthings, but I love how the new owners have tweaked the sign on the gate to read FarThings, which is pitch perfect in remembrance of a man with an overriding passion for telescopes. Alas his original observatory no longer stands because it was destroyed by a tornado in 1998, but such are the perils of living three streets from the sea. The town continues to celebrate the life of its local hero, indeed there's a lecture on Sir Patrick's contribution to lunar mapping at the town hall in a couple of weeks' time. And then down on Marine Parade there's this...

It's a slightly creepy seal with the face of Sir Patrick Moore, complete with monocle, and brightly decorated with constellations and a line-up of planets. It was unveiled last year by Brian May, who's it seems is always coming back to Selsey, and is part of a town trail of decorated seals - I think the last in situ. I particularly like how it's been positioned at the foot of a telescope, which may more normally be used to view the Isle of Wight rather than distant nebulae but it's still an excellent juxtaposition. And the 'Sky and Stars' Seal has brought us back to the beachfront on the headland where I started, and which I'd long wanted to visit. I've even been to Selsey Bill. I'm satisfied I've got this far.

 Sunday, May 29, 2022

Ok, that's probably enough Crossrail for the time being. I'll return to London's newest railway repeatedly in the future, as you'd expect, but a solid fortnight is more than enough for now. Here's a summary of recent purple content for legacy's sake, and then tomorrow we can go to the seaside instead.

Mon 16th: Crossrail bus changes (SE London)
Tue 17th: (the new platform at Bank)
Wed 18th: Crossrail engineering works
Wed 18th: Crossrail nomenclature debate
Wed 18th: Crossrail timetables
Thu 19th: Visit Abbey Wood
Fri 20th: The new tube map
Sat 21st: Crossrail quiz
Sun 22nd: Crossrail bus changes (E London)
Mon 23rd: Crossrail Day 1 predictions
Tue 24th: Crossrail - a blogging history
Wed 25th: Crossrail Day 1 & [40 photos]
Thu 26th: Walking from Liverpool Street to Farringdon
Fri 27th: Crossrail - where to sit
Sat 28th: Crossrail's missing validators
Sun 29th: Crossrail interchange times

Crossrail's very well connected, but what they don't tell you is how long some of those connections are.

For example, one of these 'walking' symbols represents a 3½ minute walk and the other a 5½ minute walk.

So I've been up and down the line and walked all the connections and interchanges to see how long they take. One of them's seven minutes long, for heaven's sake. Forewarned is forearmed.

n.b. Interchange times are from platform to platform.
n.b. Other times are from platform to station entrance.

n.b. These are best times from the optimal point on the platform.
n.b. Alight elsewhere and your walk could be 2 minutes longer.

n.b. All times are approximate, generally to the nearest half-minute.
n.b. I'd describe my walking pace as 'purposeful' rather than 'fast'.
n.b. I stood on escalators rather than walking up/down.
n.b. If you walk up/down escalators you'll get there a bit quicker.

platform → station entrance  mins
platform → Bakerloo  3 mins
platform → Reading/Heathrow  mins
platform → District/Circle  mins
platform → H&C/Circle  mins

Paddington is the quickest Central London station to exit from thanks to its compact stacked layout. National Rail platforms are the closest. Switching between the two parts of Crossrail takes at least 3½ minutes. The connecting passageway to the Bakerloo may feel very long but it's actually the closest of the tube lines. Whichever way you cut across the mainline station, the Hammersmith & City takes ages.

Bond Street

Tottenham Court Road
platform → Dean Street entrance  2 mins
platform → main entrance, street level  3 mins
w/b platform → Northern  mins
e/b platform → Northern  2 mins
platform → Central  6 mins
  (but Central → platform  4 mins)

The new Dean Street entrance is the quickest way out. The other end has a bit more passageway faff before the foot of the escalators. Changing to the Northern line is impressively quick. Changing to the Central line is a horror story requiring ascent of one set of escalators, touching out, touching back in at the opposite gateline and then descending again, plus evil arrows designed to send you a much longer way at both ends of the journey. It's quicker coming back the other way but still a fair trek. If you disregard all the signs and weave via the Northern line platforms it's a bit quicker but it's not easy. I need to write an entire post on The Evil Arrows of Tottenham Court Road because my word TfL have been utter bastards here. Basically, try not to change between Crossrail and the Central line at Tottenham Court Road.

platform → station entrance  mins
platform → Thameslink  2 mins
platform → Met/H&C/Circle  mins
platform → station entrance  mins
platform → Met/H&C/Circle (via lift)  3 mins

Allow yourself at least two minutes to escape the platforms at Farringdon wherever you're heading, and 2½ minutes to reach the surface. TfL want everyone changing to the tube at Farringdon to exit the station, cross the street and re-enter, but it's perfectly possible stay inside the gateline by following the Thameslink platforms. For a massively-upgraded station at what's now a key London interchange, Farringdon's connections are depressingly indirect. Don't bother with the lift route to Barbican station, the quickest way to make an onward tube journey is via Farringdon instead.

platform → station entrance  mins
platform → Met/H&C/Circle  3 mins
platform → Northern  4 mins
platform → National Rail  5 mins
Liverpool Street
platform → station entrance  4 mins
platform → Met/H&C/Circle  3 mins
platform → Central  3 mins
platform → Overground  5 mins
platform → Shenfield  mins

This Crossrail station is really halfway between Moorgate and Liverpool Street so is a lot harder to reach than you might think. Any interchange you attempt will take at least three minutes, and the long yomp to the Northern line at Moorgate four. Changing at Moorgate involves staircases as well as escalators. The very longest interchange is purple to purple, heading to the far side of the mainline station to catch a train to Shenfield - a total of 5½ minutes. That's the hike that was represented by the first symbol in my initial photo (and if you get off at the wrong end of the train it could even be an eight minute walk).

platform → station entrance  mins
platform → Overground  mins
platform → District/H&C  4 mins

The Crossrail station was bolted on to the very far end of the existing station so the top of the escalators is the only way in or out. Even getting that far from the Crossrail platform takes two minutes (unless you walk up the escalator and speed things up). The District line is reached by walking above the Overground platforms, up to ticket hall level and back down, so isn't close.

Canary Wharf
platform → station entrance  2 mins
platform → DLR (West India Quay)  4 mins
platform → DLR (Canary Wharf)  5 mins
platform → Jubilee  7 mins

But the biggest time sink on the line is interchanging at Canary Wharf. It takes two minutes to ascend two levels out of the station, mainly because the escalators don't align, and then it's a long walk to wherever you're actually going. For the DLR better to go to West India Quay than Canary Wharf, assuming your train stops there. And for the Jubilee line steel yourself for the longest Crossrail interchange of all. It doesn't matter whether you follow the 'official' route out the backway or stride towards the main Jubilee portal, it's always a seven minute safari, and that's if you know where you're going. Percolating through the shopping mall isn't easy, especially because Canary Wharf's generic signage isn't prominent, so it could easily turn into a ten minute gap between alighting one train and boarding the next.

Custom House
platform → station entrance  1 min
platform → DLR  mins

platform → station entrance  1 min
platform → DLR  5 mins

Abbey Wood
platform → station entrance  1 min
platform → Southeastern  1 min

You don't need me to help you on the last three. But watch where you're heading at the other stations because Crossrail means calories, so expect a long walk.

 Saturday, May 28, 2022

Always touch in at the start of a journey and touch out at the end, say TfL, to ensure you pay the correct fare.

So it's unfortunate that three new Crossrail stations have been configured so that you can't always do that, causing inconvenience, overcharging and extended journey times.

The worst offender is Custom House, the station beside the ExCel exhibition centre and a key interchange with the DLR. Entering from the outside world is fine because everyone has to walk through a gateline and everything works. But arriving from the DLR is a total mess, and all because nobody remembered to install any yellow validators.

The DLR/Crossrail interface should be really smooth because they've built a special escalator at one end of the DLR platform to whisk you up to a special gateline into the new station. But if you go through that gateline you may be charged a maximum fare for an incomplete journey because you were supposed to touch out first. And you can't touch out because there isn't a validator anywhere en route, only alongside previous exits from the station, so they've had to put up a notice.

It's not even a very practical notice because it says "Validators are located at the DLR entrance/exit" but it doesn't tell you where that is. Since its rebuild Custom House has at least four places you could describe as the entrance/exit, and if this is your first visit you won't have a clue where they are because you came up the new escalator instead.

So bad is the problem that they've had to position staff behind the gateline to tell you not to walk through it. "Have you come up from the DLR?" I was asked, and on responding positively was politely asked to go away. I told them I had a Z1-3 Travelcard but this didn't appease them and they continued to warn me I faced a maximum fare if I went any further. I resisted saying "that's bollox" and humoured them by going on a great big detour round to the validator and back in at the front of the station. As I passed them on the other side of the gateline two minutes later I offered a weak smile, but really I was thinking "which utter idiot messed this up?"

The noticeboard would have been much more useful had it been downstairs on the platform, or if staff had thought to mention the problem before anyone reached the escalator. Passengers could then have been sent up the other way past the original validators and all would have been well. Instead we have two distinct staffing empires - the Elizabeth lot upstairs and the DLR lot downstairs - and no coordinated communication between the two. If only someone had foreseen this issue during the several years before Crossrail eventually opened.

And it's not just Custom House. They've also forgotten to introduce new validators at Farringdon.

The problem this time is interchanging between Crossrail and Thameslink. If you arrive up the purple escalator and want to touch out before you continue your journey on Thameslink you can't because no yellow pads have been provided. Destinations within London are fine, as are journeys as far as Luton or Gatwick Airports, but if you're going further on a paper ticket you're stuffed. Your train to Bedford or Cambridge might be sitting right there in the platform but you can't catch it, you have to head upstairs and tap out at the gateline with your Oyster/contactless card and then turn round, come back through and head back down.

Farringdon's long been an interchange between Thameslink trains and the tube, but this hasn't been an issue because the boundary between the two sets of platforms is smothered with validators. If you need them you can use them and if you don't you can sweep right past. But without new validators at the purple entrance those heading in from Brighton, Sevenoaks and Rochester now have to go up to the ticket hall and beep twice before continuing their journey, rather than simply walking a few steps towards the escalators. Many have already been charged maximum fares and been forced to waste time ringing up for a refund.

BBC London's Tom Edwards has received a response from TfL regarding the situation at Farringdon saying "we have identified a potential issue" and "we are urgently working on finding a permanent solution", but in the meantime hassle reigns.

And it's not just Custom House and Farringdon. They've also forgotten to introduce new validators at Abbey Wood.

This time the issue is passengers travelling beyond Dartford (which is the limit of pay as you go validity). As of this week they have the option of interchanging to a much faster service at Abbey Wood, indeed two additional footbridges have been built to streamline the connection. But you can't use them if you need to touch in because they're validatorless, instead you have to head up to the gateline in the ticket hall and touch in there, and all because nobody considered the wider implications.

Which is odd because the team that supervise ticketing and revenue issues are normally on the ball to an impressively anal degree. You can confirm this if you read their regular Ticketing and Revenue Update, a comprehensive internal newsletter which is usually released to the wider world via an FoI request. Published in March, TRU 137 announced that a pink card reader would be needed at Ealing Broadway to cope in the autumn when Crossrail is finally extended through Paddington rather than terminating there. At present everyone boarding a westbound train at Paddington has to pass through a ticket barrier but in future it'll be possible to enter the system via the new passageway from the Bakerloo line leaving no electronic trace.

It takes an impressive level of fare-nerdery to deduce that a pink reader at Ealing Broadway will solve this issue, but that's why TfL employ experts for this kind of thing. I've even been out and checked and Ealing Broadway does indeed now have pink readers at the entrance to the District line platforms, seemingly repurposed from previous yellow pads and as yet switched off. There's forward thinking for you.

But Custom House, Farringdon and Abbey Wood they missed, and passengers are currently paying the price. Best hope they hurry up and solve it soon.

 Friday, May 27, 2022

Crossrail platforms are over 200m long so it's really important to be in the right part of the train if you don't want a long walk when you alight.

So I've been up and down the line to check which is the right part of the train to be in, and I can confirm that generally you want to be at the front or the back of the train, not in the middle.

Let's take it station by station, starting by assuming you're heading to Paddington.

 23 5 7  
← Paddington

Paddington has two sets of escalators leading off the platform, both of which head to the same place so it doesn't matter which you take. One set is located between carriages 2 and 3 and the other alongside carriage 7. Alternatively if you're trying to change to the Bakerloo line you want carriage number 5 instead.

Paddington's easy to remember... always sit near the front or the back of the train, unless you want the Bakerloo in which case sit in the middle.

Davies StreetAbbey Wood →
9       1
1       9
← PaddingtonHanover Square

Bond Street's not open yet, at time of posting, but when it is you need to be either at the front of the train or the back of the train for a fast exit.

Dean StreetAbbey Wood →
9       1
1       9
← Paddington

Tottenham Court Road has two exits, the new one on Dean Street and the old one where the tube lines are. For the original interchange be at the very front of the train heading east and the very back heading west. For the new exit you want the other end (and also ignore the evil 'Way Out' signs on the platform, just head out direct).

Abbey Wood →
9       1
1       9
← Paddington

Also simple. The big Farringdon exit is at one end of the train and the lesser Barbican exit is at the other. Getting out in the middle just means a longer walk.

Abbey Wood →
9      2 
1      8 
← Paddington

For Moorgate and the Northern line be at the back of an eastbound train or the front of a westbound train. For Liverpool Street and the mainline station be at the front of an eastbound train or the back of a westbound train.

Abbey Wood →
← Paddington

Whitechapel only has one exit so you want to be in carriage 7 heading east or carriage 3 heading west.

Abbey Wood →
 8     2 
 2     8 
← Paddington

For the Jubilee line be near the front of an eastbound train or the back of a westbound train. For almost anything else, including the DLR and the shops, be near the back of an eastbound train or the front of a westbound train.

Abbey Wood →
← Paddington

The quickest staircase up to the exit and the DLR is located between carriages 7 and 8 heading east, and between carriages 2 and 3 heading west. If you prefer an escalator, be in carriage 6 (east) or carriage 4 (west) instead.

Abbey Wood →
← Paddington

Very similar to Whitechapel. There's only one exit so be in carriage 8 of an eastbound train or carriage 2 of a westbound train.

Abbey Wood →

To leave the station or change trains aim to be in the front carriage. You can also change trains easily from the centre or the rear thanks to two new footbridges.

And if it helps we can simplify all this further.

Imagine the train divided up into Front (first 3 carriages). Middle (next 3 carriages) and Back (last three carriages).

Here's where you want to be.

 Paddington → Abbey Wood 
 Abbey Wood → Paddington 
FRONT Bond St (Hanover Sq)
Tottenham Court Road
Liverpool Street
Canary Wharf (Jubilee)
Abbey Wood
Custom House
Canary Wharf
Tot Ct Rd (Dean Street)
Bond Street
Paddington (Bakerloo)
Paddington (Bakerloo)
BACK Bond Street
Tot Ct Rd (Dean Street)
Canary Wharf
Custom House
Canary Wharf (Jubilee)
Liverpool Street
Tottenham Court Road
Bond St (Hanover Sq)

Just don't sit in the middle.

 Thursday, May 26, 2022

How To Walk Underground from Liverpool Street to Farringdon

One of the byproducts of Crossrail is a network of fantastically long passageways underground. They're at their densest underneath the City of London where two Crossrail stations somehow manage to link four consecutive Circle line stations. And this means it's now possible to walk all the way from Liverpool Street station to Farringdon station via a subterranean route, a distance of one mile, which is simultaneously unexpected, ridiculous and amazing.

We enter the labyrinth here, which is the entrance to the Underground ticket hall from the mainline station. Note how purple signage is now present to clarify cross-station routes for those planning a disjoint Crossrail journey. Head down the 11 steps, sweep through the extended gateline and turn right away from the Circle line platforms. This passageway has become a point of conflict since Tuesday as the one-way system at the top of the Central line escalators has not been adjusted to take account of passengers surging up from Down Below, so you may need to step aside occasionally. Then step through the silver gateway and down the ramp into the newly-opened ticket hall (which is where you'd have arrived if you descended via the glass wedge in Broadgate).

It's time to enter the switchback proper as telltale Crossrail architecture begins and a deep bank of escalators appears. Don't be tempted by the 'incline lift' that runs diagonally down alongside, partly because it's not as exciting as it looks like it's going to be, but mainly because this is supposed to be a walk from Liverpool Street to Farringdon so progress should not be made by mechanical means. For similar reasons you need to walk down these escalators rather than standing idly on the right and admiring the view. If it's all been too much effort so far, a two-person bench has been provided at the foot of the slope. What follows is a zig-zag passage, a full 40 seconds in length, which is going to demoralise many a Crossrail passenger who'd wrongly assumed they must surely be there by now. And then we face another set of escalators down to the deepest point on our walk, this time with no funny lift as a visual distraction.

Liverpool Street is the only Crossrail station comprising three parallel bores, that's two for the platforms and a separate walkway down the centre. We'll be following the central passage past a fairytale forest of uplighters, 21 in total in case you'd like to keep count as a measure of forward progress. Most passengers won't be going this way, they're heading to or from the platforms rather than being stupid enough to walk down into the station and back up the other side. Their loss, because this passage is one of the new railway's finest features. It won't surprise you to hear that what's waiting at the far end is another set of escalators, this time upwards and with a ribbon of adverts. And at the top of these is another long passageway, certain to inspire a 'FFS' from some passengers when they spot the foot of yet another set of escalators at the very far end.

This set are more architecturally distinguished, for which read 'advertising-free', as is best seen if you can manage to look behind you. Also if you look up to your right you'll see a long thin mezzanine added especially for those using the lifts, whose route up is differently tortuous to ours, because everything we're walking can be done in a wheelchair too. And all of this brings us to the new Moorgate ticket hall (which technically is back at ground level rather than under it, but that's only for a few paces). It's now time for the only other staircase on this mile-long safari, 28 steps in total, which twists down to the westbound Circle line platform at Moorgate station.

And this, you might think, is where our underground walk falters. Moorgate and Barbican stations are not connected by public passageway, only by train, but I'm going to argue that technically it's OK if you walk along that train while you're riding it.

We need to get from the back of the train at this station to the front of the train at the next, and the journey time turns out to be precisely sufficient to achieve this. Best wait for a Metropolitan line train because this only started two stops earlier so is probably quite empty. I tried this on a semi-fast Chesham and managed to weave successfully between a few bags and feet in the allocated time, gaining only a few strange looks as I passed.

The lift portal at the far end of Barbican's westbound platform is deliberately badly signed. There's not a single mention of it anywhere unless you think to duck into the gloomy arch, and even then the word 'Lift' is in much bigger text than the name of the line. And the lift still isn't immediately obvious, it's round two corners behind a door marked Danger 400 Volts alongside several other locked access points. We need to press the button labelled '-3', and then not be perturbed when we step out below to see signs saying this is 'Level 4'. The lift is slightly easier to spot in the opposite direction but only just... again it's hidden through an obtusely-labelled roundel-free doorway, with all mentions of 'Barbican' meant to lure you up the escalators instead.

I hope you're ready to go down and back up again, again. The next set of escalators has another of those incline lifts, which we must ignore, and looks a lot less impressive than the first set everyone else has just ridden down. At the foot of the escalators it might initially look a bit like Liverpool Street, except this central passageway falters after the fourth totem so we're going to have to divert off onto a platform. Turning left is fractionally shorter than turning right. And here we go walking the entire length of the westbound platform, that's 244m in total, which is impressive when the trains themselves are only 205m long. As you slog your way along past 27 doors, five sets of benches and an increasing number of waiting passengers, reflect on the fact that you're tackling the longest platform anywhere on the Crossrail core.

At the very far end it's time to wiggle back to the central passageway and plan your assault on the penultimate climb. This is a set of escalators in a long concrete tube and the chief connection between Crossrail and Thameslink, so is bedecked with a ribbon of adverts on the way up and then another big screen bang in front of you at the top. Turn back and there's one final set of escalators to climb, a short set this time, and hey presto you've emerged in Farringdon's enormous new-ish ticket hall. It's taken 20 minutes to get here via seven escalators, two staircases, one ambulatory train ride and one lift. You may quibble that the train ride was a cheat and that a couple of bits weren't technically below ground, but you can't argue with the extraordinariness of such a long artificial subterranean connection.

I walked the mile back to Liverpool Street at street level, passing through historic Smithfield Market, the Brutalist slabs of the Barbican estate and the old bandstand in Finsbury Circus, and not only did I get wet but it took three minutes longer and everything I saw was old hat. The only way is purple, even when all you want to do is walk.

 Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Purple finally opened!

It's as enormous as they said it was and as excellent as you hoped it would be.

And although I've been all over it, including the secret lift, the escalator switchback and the very long passage, I can't possibly do the whole thing justice in a single post. And that's fine, it just means umpteen future posts to unpick everything, precisely as you'd expect. But I can show you 40 photos on Flickr if you didn't get down yesterday and fancy a flavour of what you missed. And I can also bring you a potted summary of every station along the central section, each with a not-entirely-representative-but-hopefully-alluring photograph of its own, starting out west...

This feels quite different to the rest of the stations, partly because it's (currently) the end of the line and partly because it's deeply-stacked beneath a former taxi rank. Mainline passengers get to descend one set of giant escalators into something bricky and capacious, then down another set into a shallower slice where the trains run. It feels darker than most of the other stations, despite the flying saucer lamps in formation overhead, but there was a glorious moment when I spotted direct sunlight on the platform courtesy of the splodgy glass roof positioned way above. I felt a rhythm to the station as each westbound train arrived and emptied out, once every five minutes, just as the eastbound train that'd been slowly filling on the opposite platform closed its doors and headed off. How they're going to cope with rapid detraining when the service doubles later in the year I don't know (but that's precisely why the line isn't yet open on Sundays). Also of note is the escape tunnel to the Bakerloo line, which is indeed a fair yomp, and one particular set of steps is sure to appear in my future post All The Secret Crossrail Staircases You Never Knew Existed.

Bond Street
No Bond Street's not open yet, as announcements at all preceding stations are careful to announce. Instead trains pass straight through allowing you to review the state of the platforms and their general uncompletedness, including the odd incomplete panel on the walls and crews toiling in hi-vis down the crosspassages. A nice touch is that all the roundels have been renamed to read, alternately, Station Closed and Opening Soon... although because trains pass through at speed it's nigh impossible to get an unblurry shot.

Tottenham Court Road
Here's the first of the big central stations with entrances at both ends, although here it's relatively straightforward because all the underground interchanges are at one end and the other end's mainly for shopping. You can get your bearings architecturally because the walls are differently spotty and the lamps are differently gorgeous as you approach the foot of the escalators. Those escalators may be long but at least they'll whisk you out of the station in one go, which isn't always the case elsewhere. Passengers needing to please Instagram should note that the eastbound platform is gently curved so is inherently prettier, indeed uniquely so (and the curved crosspassages are arguably more photogenic still). Also if you're getting off at the Dean Street end watch out for 'Way Out' signs that mischievously point away from the exit, which are sure to appear in my future post Evil Arrows That Assume It's Rush Hour All Day Long.

The Crossrail/Thameslink nexus has two centres of gravity, one at each end, and the only way from one to the other is along the platforms. They're very long platforms, indeed even longer than they need to be because the architects futureproofed them with room for two additional carriages. This means that everyone arriving at the Barbican end has to walk a bit further along the glass wall to reach the first door, a potential optical illusion which means you might not spot a train is waiting in the platform until it's too late. I think I'd have been more awestruck by the scale of things if only I hadn't had a sneak preview down here at an Open Day four years ago. It is still the case that the Underground is only signposted towards the Farringdon end, with the 'Barbican' escalators instead funnelling passengers towards a brand new ticket hall by Smithfield Market. The lift connection to Barbican station is very understated and very easily missed, so is sure to appear in my future post You Won't Believe It's Now Possible To Walk From Liverpool Street to Farringdon Underground.

Liverpool Street
This is the slightly mind-bending one because it makes no secret of being one station at one end and a different one at the other. I even heard an announcement saying "Welcome to Moorgate station" while I was standing next to a purple Liverpool Street roundel, although that may have been a first day blip. The most impressive feature, which is likely to engender a "woo!" from first-time visitors when revealed mid-descent, is the central passageway lined by uplighter totems resembling a row of geometric trees. Liverpool Street is also the only station where you can stand in the middle and see the escalators at both ends, or at least the first of a set of two escalators because these platforms are really quite deep. I spotted a lot of able-bodied youngsters excitedly waiting to ride the funicular lifts that shadow the escalators up towards (but not quite as far as) the existing Liverpool Street station. As for the extraordinary passage that extends to the Northern line at Moorgate, and even includes seating halfway, this is sure to appear in my future post The Underground's Most Ridiculously Long Interchanges.

Here's where TfL's 'no expense spared' mantra ran out. Whitechapel's a lovely station, indeed arguably the purest of the lot, but they only built one exit because it was decreed that the Blind Beggar pub and the big Sainsbury's didn't merit a second. This means there's just one set of escalators at one end and no need for passengers to walk much further, so the platforms get spookily quieter the further along you go. The member of staff patrolling the far end gave me funny looks as I walked past the last platform door and entered the overspill where the emergency exits are. One of my favourite things about Whitechapel is the art that appears in place of adverts along its length, these being a selection of lifesize aluminium collages by Chantal Joffe depicting local people she saw on Whitechapel Road one Sunday in 2017. If you're only passing through it'll give you something nice to look at as the train slows down, and is sure to appear in my future post That Thing You Just Walked Straight Past Is Actually Art.

Canary Wharf
Blimey that was quick, Crossrail really speeds through, indeed we only left Paddington 16 minutes ago. The most obvious thing about Canary Wharf is that its escalators are bright yellow, indeed canary yellow (see what they did there). There are a lot of these yellow escalators, first three sets up from the platforms to a (surprisingly sparse) mezzanine level, then three more sets up to what passes as basement level on the Canary Wharf estate. Prepare to get quite confused as you try to interchange through the adjacent shopping mall, with the Jubilee line signposted from the quieter end you'd never use otherwise. Also by now you'll probably have noticed that only five companies are advertising across Crossrail stations, not quite the global megabrands TfL intended back in 2017 but they did reel in Google, Reed, Sage, Schweppes and, er, MoneySuperMarket, all of whom are sure to appear in my future post The Further Prostitution Of Public Transport.

Custom House
Let's be honest, this is the dull one. It's a single island platform with a DLR station and exhibition centre at one end, so has been ready for ages, and my word its staff must have got really bored over the last year. You enter from the overbridge and must then filter down to purple train level via the cheapest infrastructure TfL could get away with. Don't think you need to walk down, or up, because immediately beyond the first set of steps will be a single escalator going the same way. Less than half of the platform is covered so if you arrive at the wrong end during a torrential shower, as was the reality on opening day, you're going to get very wet. Also even the plastic canopies at the 'dry' end have gaps in them, a damp error that's sure to appear in my future post Well It May Look Nice But It Doesn't Actually Work.

Woolwich is a bit like Whitechapel in that it only has an exit at one end, but also not like Whitechapel in that it has one central platform rather than two separate bores. The roof is supported by a central row of thumpingly thick concrete columns, the lights resemble giant shower heads, and for a budget station added to the line at the last minute the overall effect is really rather appealing. The glass on the platform walls was surprisingly mucky though, far grubbier than at any other station. So long as you alight at the near end you can be up in the ticket hall very quickly but you'll greatly increase that time if you make the mistake of alighting at the other. I tried walking the full length of the platform at normal walking pace and it took me 2 minutes and 55 seconds because that's how long these horizontal behemoths are, as is sure to appear in my future post Crossrail Journeys Where The Endless Walking Takes Longer Than The Actual Train Ride.

Abbey Wood
And finally, after precisely 29 minutes, it's the end of the line. I checked with a stopwatch and just over 5 of those 29 minutes had been spent waiting at stations, indeed the dwell time at some of the central London stations is really long. The train is not going to zoom off without you. An oddity at Abbey Wood is that trains on one platform stop two-carriages-worth further down the platform, and an annoyance is that it's not as blatant as it ought to be which of the two trains will be departing first. Yesterday the platform was abuzz with spoddy passengers grabbing train pics, helpful staff wielding route maps, police officers eyeing everything closely and a couple of blokes in 'Security' jackets who appeared to be overkill. And every day you can either cross the footbridge to grab a Dartford train or exit through the gateline into the actual borough of Bexley which has never had a TfL rail service before. The surrounding area is thrilled to suddenly be in close contact with central London, a truth which has already featured in my earlier post Visit Abbey Wood, so rest assured there's only a finite amount of Crossrail content still to appear.

 Tuesday, May 24, 2022

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]

Crossrail in the CityTottenham 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]

Open House: Canary Wharf Crossrail station

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 2018Trains 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 2019Full 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]

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]

Open House: Tottenham Court Road (Crossrail)

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.

It's taken several years to tweak the station into its futuristic format, but the new two-storey ticket hall has arrived relatively swiftly. The most prominent internal feature is the framework of timber beams curving overhead, brightly illuminated by rows of spotlights, while outside it's the overhanging zinc roof which dominates. [20 photos] [Oct 2017]

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.

The problem is still signalling and stations.

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.

→  Dynamic
  →  Trial
  →  Trial
  →  Passenger
 (we are here)      

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.

dateWhen's Crossrail opening?
2014-2018December 2018
August 2018autumn 2019
December 2018later than autumn 2019
April 2019during the window October 2020 - March 2021
November 2019"as soon as practically possible in 2021"
January 2020summer 2021
July 2020later than summer 2021
August 2020in the first half of 2022

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 annual reminder 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]

If all you remember at Whitechapel is the squashed ticket hall and the narrow overbridge with the ancient lightbox, yesterday's reopening sees the station almost unrecognisable. [25 photos]

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 Operations phase 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, so why wait? [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]

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