The Crossrail project is pushing hard to open the new Elizabeth line by the end of March, although there is a warning that this could delay some of the later phases of completing the line.

There have been suggestions that the project team is now confident that the latest tests and the works over Christmas to update ventilation and train software systems could see the line open potentially as soon as Sunday 6th March.

That would be right in the middle of the predicted opening window of “as soon as possible in the first half of 2022”.

The opening of the core tunnels through central London is however not the final stage — as it’s technically Stage 3 of a staged opening. We’re currently in Stage 2, which covers the running of TfL Rail branded services on the east and west of London.

Stage 3 — the opening of the core tunnels and stations — will see the Elizabeth line add a line between Paddington and Abbey Wood through central London. The existing surface lines to/from Paddington and Reading and to/from Liverpool Steet and Shenfield will remain as they are.

The risk, highlighted by the independent Project Representative, Jacobs, is that the future joining up of these three separate services could be pushed back by a rush to open the core tunnels in March.

The main risk raised by the P-Rep report is that with the Stage 3 opening now forecast for March 2022 there may be “insufficient time to gather reliability evidence from operational service, and 24 TPH service trials, to support the Stage 5C timetable bidding process”

At the moment, the plans are for the core tunnels to open with a 12 trains per hour service between Paddington to Abbey Wood, and then when the other two branches are joined up later this year, that will see core tunnel services rise to 24 trains per hour.

Current service on TfL Rail

Current plan for Stage 3 in first half 2022 (assumption Heathrow T4 has reopened, Bond Street opens)

Proposed Stage 5b in autumn 2022 (assumption inc Heathrow Terminals 4&5)

A final stage (5c) due in 2023 will complete the project.

During the line testing that’s been carried out, they’ve mainly run with 12 trains per hour, but have carried out 24 trains per hour timetable tests to ensure that when the line opens, it’s ready for the more intense service later in 2022.

Pushing the opening date further down the calendar from March to May would give the Crossrail team more time to run trials of the service with 24 trains per hour to prove reliability. This is the issue being flagged by the P-Rep report, because once the Stage 3 service is live with passengers, it will be much harder to run tests in the tunnels.

Crossrail’s response was that it will have six months of live passenger services under its belt by the time of the autumn upgrade, which it feels is sufficient.

The report also raised concerns about delays to some of the Trial Operations exercises that could not be carried out before Christmas, although in response, Crossrail said that although the testing timetable was tight, the splitting of the Trial Operations exercises into two stages and delaying some of the bigger trials offered some benefits as they are also able to include the delayed Bond Street station in the trials.

Both Crossrail’s CEO, Mark Wild and TfL’s Commissioner Andy Byford have regularly said in the past that reliability of the line is the primary determinant of when the line opens — they don’t want a Heathrow Terminal 5 problem — where the system broke down on its opening day.

Although everyone wants the line to open as soon as possible, having a reliable line also means not having to make an announcement later this year that the autumn 2022 upgrade won’t be possible until 2023.

This is more significant than it looks other than a bad dose of publicity, as the final two stages are where the Elizabeth line is expected to start generating ” meaningful revenue benefits” for TfL.

From a revenue perspective, a delay of a few weeks in opening the core tunnels is much better than a delay to the later autumn upgrade to the service.

So while everyone wants the core tunnels to open as soon as possible, a short delay may be the better option for a cash-strapped TfL.

And it might give the delayed Bond Street station a few more weeks of catch up time to open on the same day as the core tunnels — which is important for that big-impact effect of opening the Elizabeth line as a lot of people heading to Canary Wharf on the Jubilee line will swap services, so that Jubilee line trains have more space when they arrive at Waterloo and London Bridge stations — two stations where people often have to wait for a couple of trains to go through before they can get on.

And your correspondent is looking forward to it opening, he lives next to an Elizabeth line station.

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19 comments
  1. Mohammed says:

    The current TfL rail service from Shenfield doesn’t stop at Whitechapel.

  2. Dave Evans says:

    With so many fresh cases of covid being reported everyday, can they really get the line open in March.
    Even with 2 shifts at the Romford line management control centre. Since the start of the Pandemic, staffing across the whole network in recent weeks is down by 10% and in the weeks to come could creep up to 20% in a bad scenario prediction.
    Could they really be able to run trains in early March at the earliest.
    Unless they reduce it to the bare bones of a service.

  3. Alistair Twin says:

    I wonder if you were coming in on the jubilee line from the west, would it be quicker to change to elizabeth line to get to canary wharf / stratford? I’m guessing not at 12tph but probably at 24tph..

  4. Ian says:

    Why can’t they run 24 trains per hour on the center session to show it will work while the line is open to the public?

    • Kevin Roche says:

      It is not possible to turn 24 trains per hour around at Abbey Wood or Westbourne Park. I believe it will be possible to do that at Westbourne park after the signalling software has been updated.

  5. Woolwich Resident says:

    I find it difficult to believe it will open in two months.

    I hope they don’t repeat what they did with the Jubilee Line Extension where they opened it and then it felt it was closed every other weekend for years to finish the job.

  6. Dan Tonks says:

    Perfect, my Thameslink (Peterborough branch) to Canary Wharf journey should get a little bit quicker with the Farringdon interchange.

  7. Ben says:

    I wonder if part of the push to get it open is so that they can alleviate some of the impact of the tube strikes. Obviously it doesn’t completely replace the Central Line, but it sure helps to have another option that connects East and West.

    • Jake says:

      And on a similar theme, to alleviate at least a small part of the impact of the Northern line bank-branch closure (insofar as giving people heading from South London to Canary Wharf the option of going via Tottenham Court Road, rather than all trying to squeeze on to the Jubilee at Waterloo, which is going to be chaos once more people return to the office).

  8. Edward Knight says:

    Bet the RMT are already balloting for a strike

  9. Nicholas Lewis says:

    Get it open its absolute joke how long its taken to test it already no other railway built before this has taken anything like this long. This isn’t a complicated railway it was made complicated by an over zealous application of computers and software. The best test is with people.

    • ianVisits says:

      Almost every railway that has ever been built has had problems with the fitout and signalling systems – and Crossrail is exceptionally complicated as it needs to work with three totally different signalling systems at an intensity of service that they were never designed for.

    • Paul says:

      Most railways take a long time to build.
      But you are correct in one aspect – the design decision to integrate 3 complex signalling systems for one line, rather than simply install one throughout (the obvious candidate being ERTMS) may have seemed expedient and appealing to managers and accountants, even to tube signalling veterans, but it turned out to be a massive liability that ended up costing much more than it saved.

      The moral of the story: Software is always much more complex and difficult to get right than anyone expects, therefore try to avoid introducing any requirements that make it more complex than it really needs to be.

      See also “Hofstadter’s Law”

  10. M says:

    Crossrail have quietly removed their journey time calculator from their website. Perhaps when the line finally opens we will find it doesn’t quite match the promise on journey times.

    • ianVisits says:

      When you say “quietly removed” as if to imply conspiracy, how does an organisation noisily remove a section from a website?

  11. M says:

    No I don’t think any conspiracy was implied…I’m sure Crossrail can add / remove items from their website without the need for clandestine meetings. 😉

    I think the real question is…why would they remove this tool as the opening approaches??

    I simply thought you might be able to shed light on it…

  12. Sean says:

    when is it going to be open

  13. Jennifer says:

    Me too, Ian! I live in Ealing and I’m so excited to be able to get eastward on one train so much easier very soon. 😀

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