London’s new tube line is finally operational

After a delay of 3.5 years and $5 billion over budget.
Can Emir
Class 345 Arrives at Liverpool Street StationCrossrail

London has launched the newest addition to its transport network: the $23.9 billion (£19 billion) Crossrail train line, previously declared Europe's largest construction project.

The first Elizabeth line trains carried passengers through the new tunnels under the U.K.'s capital on Tuesday. Mayor Sadiq Khan and the TfL commissioner, Andy Byford greeted the first commuters. Khan said he was so excited, and added, “We now know that it’s fit for a Queen – and for Londoners”.

London’s new tube line is finally operational
Andy Byford, TfL Commissioner, and Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London

Crossrail, or the Elizabeth line as it is now known, is a 73-mile (118 km) railway line in southeast England. It covers from Essex in the east to Berkshire in the west, cutting underground through central London.

The Crossrail project delivers new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, and Woolwich. Abbey Wood has been substantially re-developed by Network Rail.

London’s new tube line is finally operational
Some of the first passengers of the Elizabeth Line

Designed to halve journey times and bring the capital’s four airports together with just one interchange, the new Elizabeth Line will get an additional 1.5 million people to central London within 45 minutes.

London’s new tube line is finally operational
Elizabeth Line

It's three-and-a-half years late and at least more than $5 billion (£4 billion) over budget, but Crossrail will serve up to 200 million passengers each year and add an estimated $52.8 billion (£42 billion) to the UK economy.

Since the construction of the new railway began in 2009, over 15,000 men and women have worked on the project for over 120 million working hours. The Crossrail program has also delivered over 1,000 apprenticeships.

London’s new tube line is finally operational
TBM Elizabeth breaks through into Stepney Green cavern November 2013

The line travels along with the above-ground rail network, while the central section runs through tunnels and provides interchange with tube and other rail services.

But full service will not be immediately available. Trains will initially run six days a week, every five minutes from 06:30 to 23:00 from Monday to Saturday. The line will operate in three parts — from Abbey Wood to Paddington, from Heathrow and Reading to Paddington, and from Shenfield to Liverpool Street.

Europe’s biggest railway infrastructure project

The London Underground’s many quirks result from nearly 200 years of politics, commerce, geography, and geology. The tube comprises 11 lines, 272 stations, and 250 miles (402 km) of track.

The Elizabeth line was first conceived in the 1970s, canceled in the 1980s, and approved in the 1990s. The London Transport Museum explains that plans for something like the Elizabeth line — an underground tunnel connecting east and west railway termini — date back to 1919. It wasn't until 2008, nearly 100 years later, that the U.K. parliament finally granted approval.

The Elizabeth line is the first complete new underground line in more than 30 years. Crossrail tunneling began in May 2012 and ended at Farringdon in May 2015 with the breakthrough of the tunneling machine Victoria. Eight 1,000-ton tunneling machines have bored 26 miles (42 km) of new 20.3 feet (6.2 meters) diameter rail tunnels under London. 

The testing phase of Crossrail started in 2018. During this phase, trains run over thousands of miles to ensure the highest levels of safety and reliability when passenger service begins.

All Elizabeth line stations have their distinct character, conceived by different architects, which reflect the environment and heritage of the local area. However, standard design components such as seating, signage, and full-height platform screen doors at the platform level create a consistent and familiar feel to the rest of the Transport for London (TfL) network.

The archaeologic findings

During its construction period, the Crossrail project undertook one of the most extensive archaeological programs in the UK. It presented an opportunity to preserve finds for the archaeological study of the rich history of London.

Since the construction of the Elizabeth line began in 2009, over 100 archaeologists have found tens of thousands of items from 40 sites, spanning 55 million years of London’s history and pre-history. The new railway runs through some of London’s most significant historical areas.

London’s new tube line is finally operational
Black Death burial ground

The project has given archaeologists an exceptional opportunity to reveal the layer cake of history hidden below the city’s streets.

The public program culminated in a final exhibition in 2017 that showcased 500 of the most exciting discoveries of the project. The ‘Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail’ exhibition, delivered in partnership with the Museum of London Docklands, received 96,750 visitors and a further 7,324 event participants.

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