TfL has confirmed that the Elizabeth line is now coming to the end of the first phase of its Trial Operations ahead of starting the next phase including large-scale exercises across the new railway – a crucial step ahead of the Elizabeth line opening.
Trial Operations – where safety procedures are tested with hundreds of staff started last November, but were split into two phases due to some delays in completing ventilation upgrades.
Significant progress was made towards completing the new railway over Christmas with planned upgrades taking place and work continuing at the two remaining stations — Canary Wharf and Bond Street — still to be handed over to TfL. The latest Siemens signalling software for the railway was commissioned along with the updated Alstom train software installed on trains. There were also upgrades to both the control communications system and the tunnel ventilation system.
They’re now completing the first phase of the Trial Operations, which represents around 40 per cent of the task, which will have mainly tested station procedures, and are ready to start testing mass evacuations of the trains.
That will involve thousands of TfL staff in tests to rehearse how trains would be evacuated if the worst were to happen in tunnels. This is a routine requirement for rail tunnels, and will be repeated at intervals throughout the operational life of the railway to keep staff topped up with experience in dealing with emergencies.
Emergency services including the British Transport Police, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service will also be involved, demonstrating how they would respond to incidents on the network and in stations. As a result, there will be times where police, fire and ambulance service vehicles may be seen near stations, testing and simulating what would happen in the event their staff were required to attend.
In the run up to opening the Elizabeth line, activity will be taking place on most days including weekends. Other exercises will include responding to train, signalling, platform screen door and track simulations.
Mark Wild, Crossrail Chief Executive, said: “The Elizabeth line is on track to open in the first half of 2022 as we continue to make progress on completing the works necessary to start passenger services in the central section of the railway, from Paddington to Abbey Wood. I’d like to thank everyone for their continued hard work and we look forward to beginning the next phase of Trial Operations exercises.”
Looking at the financials, although the project will come in under the revised £1.1 billion that had been sought back in October 2020, it will likely exceed the £825 million funding package that was offered in December 2020.
The total amount needed is expected to be in the region of £975 million, and Crossrail is demobilising contractors and construction staff as soon as possible to cut those costs. The longer it takes to open the line, the more it will cost in construction costs, although a risk was highlighted recently that pushing to open the line too early could delay future upgrades due later this year.
At the moment, there’s likely to be a lot of spreadsheets working out whether it’s better to delay the line opening in order to bring forward the revenue increase later in the year, or open the line sooner to save on construction costs and having to seek more money from the government to complete the line.
Thanks to the pandemic, TfL’s revenue from the new Elizabeth line, while still considerable, will be less than previously predicted.
At the moment, they are predicting the following:
- 2022/23 – £262 million (£484 million forecast)
- 2023/24 = £516 million (£844 million forecast)
- 2024/25 = £610 million (£1.037 billion forecast)
While less than predicted, the increased revenue will reduce the pressure on TfL to fill an estimated £500 million hole in its income that the government is demanding as a condition of the bailout caused by the collapse in fares revenue during the pandemic.
Once the line is certified as ready to open, TfL’s Commissioner, Andy Byford has said that he wants a couple of weeks of shadow running, which is where the whole line, trains and staff run the service as a full passenger line, minus the passengers. This final shakedown builds up the last phase of experience in the staff working on the line.
The Crossrail team are reported to be working hard for a 6th March opening, although with the addition of the shadow running period, that would push the opening back to 20th March.
These dates are heavily contingent on all the Trial Operations working as expected over the next few weeks.
When it opens, initially it will operate as three separate services.
- Paddington low-level to Abbey Wood
- Paddington high-level to Reading/Heathrow
- Liverpool Street high-level to Shenfield
The gaps will be joined up later in the year with a final change due in 2023.