Crossrail is currently expected to open in the first half of 2022, but there is a possibility that it could open by the end of next year — if the transport stars align correctly.
Crossrail is currently working on three core areas, testing the trains, completing the stations and completing the back-office infrastructure. It’s the testing of the trains that could allow the line to open maybe in time for next Christmas, or push the opening date into 2022.
Train testing takes a long time, not just to iron out the signalling problems, but mainly because of the safety regulations that govern transporting hundreds of people in a high-speed metal tube are understandably rather strenuous. An inadvertent benefit of the delays to opening the central core tunnels has been more time to run Elizabeth line trains on the mainline tracks, which has helped to iron out some of the expected problems that all new trains have sooner than expected.
In the central core tunnels, the current phase of dynamic testing, using four test trains, is coming to an end, although they are reporting that test case passes are coming in below expected levels. Those are being ironed out, and Crossrail is already testing the next evolution of its train signalling software, known as TR2.
The live mainline trains will also see a reliability improvement over the next couple of months with two software upgrades to the signalling software.
The next milestone for the tunnels though will be early December, when Crossrail aims to start running a more intensive service in Systems Integration Dynamic Testing (SIDT), using eight trains. SIDT lets Crossrail test the complex signalling systems in operation-like scenarios and to begin to understand the reliability performance of the railway.
Once that is proven to the rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road to be safe and reliable, then they will be finally allowed to start Trial Running. This is effectively running the line as a live service, just without passengers, to prove the line is safe to carry passengers.
The current deadline for TfL is to start Trial Running at “the earliest opportunity in 2021”, and certainly by the end of March. The big question is whether Trial Running, which will last six to nine months, can reach the necessary level of approvals fast enough to open in late 2021.
In recent comments, Crossrail’s Deputy Chairman, Nick Raynsford indicated that the current “first half of 2022” opening date for the Elizabeth line could be brought forward. Last week, Crossrail’s Chief Executive, Mark Wild also said that there so long as they meet the end of Q1 deadline to start Trial Running, there is a possibility of opening the line “towards the end of 2021”.
A lot of that will be dependent on not finding an unexpected problem with the signalling systems, and there not being any more covid related delays.
Although there’s no absolute need to align the opening of the Elizabeth line’s central tunnels with Network Rail’s biannual timetable changeover date – for the record, that happens to be 12th December 2021.
One of the potential snags to getting Trial Running started was that all the central stations needed to reach a minimum level of completion to allow for evacuation testing. The delayed Bond Street is currently the only station not ready, but it’s been confirmed that it will be by the end of this month
Bond Street will also likely be able to join the rest of the line in carrying out Trial Operations – that is where people are invited onto trains and into stations to test real-time service scenarios to ensure the readiness of the railway – but probably not until next Summer.
There is a risk that Bond Street won’t be ready in time to open with the rest of the line, but they are pushing hard not to miss the opening party.
In other updates, all of the access/ventilation shafts and portals have now reached either full handover to the Infrastructure Manager (six) or are under Staged Completion for Familiarisation (four). The final handover dates for the remaining shafts and portals is being held up due to a possible issue with the lighting circuitry which the vendor is resolving – but are all expected to be finished by the end of this year.
Network Rail is also working to complete the power supply upgrade on the Great Eastern Route between Liverpool Street and Gidea Park. The aim is to commission that in April 2021.
Over Christmas work is expected to start at Liverpool Street station to extend platforms 17 and 18 to allow the existing TfL Rail trains to switch from 7 carriages to the full length 9 carriage service, probably around next Easter.
One of the interesting aspects of that is that the Pudding Mill lane portal, which links the Shenfield above-ground line to the central tunnels will become active from next Easter, as some empty full-length trains will need to move over to the Old Oak Depot at times. One more piece of the line coming into action.
However, how Crossrail will fund the estimated £1.1 billion that it needs to complete the railway is still being discussed between TfL and the Department for Transport.