Although the opening of Crossrail is the public deadline that keeps shifting, it is in fact only the 3rd stage of a 5-stage process, and how the final two stages will be carried out has been changed.

The changes are generally good for passengers and will see the final phase of opening the full line delivered sooner than currently planned.

Current service

Stage 1 (May 2015)

TfL Rail branded service running between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. The Elizabeth line trains started replacing the older inherited trains in June 2017.

  • Liverpool Street high-level to Shenfield

Stage 2 – the current service.

TfL Rail branded service running between Paddington mainline station and Heathrow/Reading. This was already a change from the original plans which would not have seen the Reading section added until much later.

  • Paddington high-level to Heathrow/Reading
  • Liverpool Street high-level to Shenfield

Current service on TfL Rail

The previously planned future

Stage 3 – due in the first half of 2022

Elizabeth line branded service running between Abbey Wood and Paddington Elizabeth line platforms.

TfL Rail services rebranded at Elizabeth line — in effect creating three separate lines

  • Paddington low-level to Abbey Wood
  • Paddington high-level to Reading/Heathrow
  • Liverpool Street high-level to Shenfield

Stage 4

Elizabeth line service from Shenfield extended to Paddington via Liverpool Street low-level platforms. Retaining some Gidea Park to Liverpool Street high-level platforms in peak hours.

  • Reading/Heathrow to Abbey Wood
  • Shenfield to Paddington

Stage 5

Full completion of the Elizabeth line

What’s changing

In essence, rather than building a single railway that progressively gets longer, they are going to run two separate railways that share the core tunnels, but are separate on the east and western sides.

Two Elizabeth lines will, for a while, run side-by-side, a bit like how the Circle/District/Met/H&C lines all share tracks in the centre but run separately outside the central area.

The changes are expected to also improve TfL’s finances by possibly reducing some of the costs of completing the Crossrail project while at the same time by being a more useful service, it may increase revenues, particularly from Heathrow passengers where they can advertise a “Heathrow to Central London” service.

The change will also reduce risks to extending the network by simplifying the service. One of the biggest challenges that Crossrail has had to deal with is the complicated signalling system, with three different platforms used across the line.

Getting all three to work together reliably has been quite a challenge, although they are now about to install the final software release so the issues should be ironed out.

The new plan will however reduce potential risk as drivers and systems need to cope with two signalling systems — the one in the core (CBTC) and either TPWS on the eastern side or TPWS/ETCS on the western side, but not both.

The plan will also increase resilience in the live service by using fewer trains initially so that there are spare drivers and trains in case of problems.

The other areas of risk reduction are that they no longer have to reverse the western side trains at Paddington, as they go straight through to Abbey Wood, and they gain some flexibility in how they start the next two stages as they are no longer tied into National Rail timetable changes, which only happen in May and December each year.

The effect of the changes is also expected to bring the opening of the full line (stage 5c) forward by around six months. Under the previous scheme, completion of all the remaining links would have been about a year after the core tunnels opened.

Stage 3 – due in the first half of 2022 – no change

Elizabeth line branded service running between Abbey Wood and Paddington Elizabeth line platforms.

  • Paddington low-level to Abbey Wood
  • Paddington high-level to Reading/Heathrow
  • Liverpool Street high-level to Shenfield

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

Stage 5b

Elizabeth line A – Shenfield to Paddington

Elizabeth line B – Abbey Wood to Heathrow/Reading

Note that stage 5 would have seen the full 24 trains per hour in the core tunnels during peak hours, but the newly revised Stage 5b will see “a level of service reduced from that which would apply in the full timetable”.

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

Stage 5c

Completion of the railway and full service delivered – in theory around the end of 2022.

Looking beyond the line opening, there will be the addition of an extra station at Old Oak Common when HS2 opens, and all the core tunnel stations have been designed to allow a future upgrade from nine-carriage to ten-carriage trains.

The full service

In other news, Crossrail recently completed their penultimate engineering blockade, pausing train testing to focus on allowing works on the stations and tracks to be completed.

Before the blockade, Crossrail was testing the line with an 8 trains per hour (8tph) service, but this week they are going to be ramping that up to 12tph, which will mirror the timetabled service that the line will offer when it opens early next year.

Later on this summer, they will simulate 24 trains per hour which will be the line’s peak hour rate when all stages of opening it are completed. Then on to trial operations and finally, the line opens – currently expected “as soon as possible in the first half of 2022”.


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  1. Chris says:

    What a total farce. Does anyone actually buy Crossrails excuses anymore?
    They “could” run full, end to end services, TODAY.
    Blaming delays on software is taking the Pizz.
    I guess old Bessie’s not been milked dry yet…..

    • ianVisits says:

      Maybe you can explain how, in the absence of the necessary safety approvals, that Crossrail could run a service “today”.

      You might want a railway that is not certified as safe, but most people would prefer that the safety regime is proven properly rather than skipped over.

  2. Jake says:

    Very helpful article, thank you, however I think there may be an error, as at present the Previous Step 4 and New Step 5b are identical.

    Should Previous Step 4 not be:
    Reading/Heathrow to PADDINGTON
    Shenfield to Paddington
    Abbey Wood to Paddington

    • Kevin Roche says:

      I think you are right, In the original stage 4 there would have been no through Paddington services.

  3. Brian Butterworth says:

    So, the new plan is exactly like the old plan! They were never going to run Shenfield services past Paddington anyway, it was you just had to dig down into the timetable data to see it…

    • ianVisits says:

      The available timetables published in the past never went past potential stage 4, so you can’t actually be certain that they never plan to run Shenfield to Reading/Heathow when the line is fully open, as those timetables have not been published yet.

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      I had the good fortune of working for MTR Crossrail in 2018 and this was produced for their staff app based on the information provided to MTRXR.

    • Si says:

      That there’s now an explicit step for Shenfield-Heathrow/Maidenhead services to occur at, with reduced service beforehand, strongly suggests that these services are the current plan for the timetable and your diagram is now out of date.

      Crossrail’s website’s journey time calculator has “change at Whitechapel” messages for Stratford, etc to Heathrow Terminal 5, Twyford, Reading, Taplow and Iver. But only those stations west of Paddington – the others are assumed to have through service. That Taplow and Iver are there suggests an old service pattern where it’s only 2tph off-peak at those stations, and that the idea of GE-GW through services isn’t something new. They were never ‘never’, merely just not in the iteration of the service pattern that you have.

      Running trains between Shenfield and Heathrow and Maidenhead is the only sensible way to have 10tph eastern branches feed 4tph western branches and keeping even 6 minute and 15 minute headways on said branches. The alternative (other than not caring about even headways) is mucking about with dwell times and stopping patterns west of London so that you can turn the 12-18 pattern you’d otherwise get at Terminal 4 (where the infrastructure has little leeway for irregular gaps) or West Drayton into a 15-15 one by having half the trains 3 minutes slower than the other half.

  4. Rupes says:

    It’s clear that they never had any idea how to cost effectively bring together all the signalling systems! What a con. How a project can be managed like this is a disgrace. We have got this far without realistic appreciation of how to do this. Both mayors are to blame as chairs of cross rail.

  5. Melvyn says:

    Not running trains from Shenfield direct to Reading means the argument about the trains not having toilets holds no water !

    I do hope that Crossrail/ Elizabeth Line at. OOC opening is ahead of HS2 as it’s linked to the development of OOC and surrounding area .

    • ianVisits says:

      No one would ever use the Elizabeth line to get from Shenfield to Reading as the service is a slow stopping line. A bit like the tube, and people aren’t demanding toilets in tube trains.

    • Aled says:

      Shenfield to Reading would be a pretty average/painful journey on Crossrail. It’s not an ideal stretch of track. even when fully up to speed, probably 1hr 45min.

    • Elizabeth Line Driver says:

      Those wishing to travel from Shenfield to Reading could take the GA service to Stratford, change from the Mains to the Electric and take Crossrail to Ealing Broadway, then wait on the platform for a GWR service to Reading; or they could change from GA to Crossrail at Liverpool Street and then onto GWR at Paddington; but they wouldn’t save much time and it would be a lot of effort.

      People probably will just get on a Crossrail train and stay on it all the way from Shenfield to Reading, it’s easier.

    • JohnC says:

      I suspect the main users of the Elizabeth line from the eastern side all the way to Reading will be Freedom Pass holders who will not want to have to pay by changing to GWR. At the moment that requires a laborious journey to Paddington. When fully open the EL will open up a whole new world of free travel for them. They may be the ones most to lament there being no toilets on the EL trains however!

  6. Paul Hjul says:

    I am a little confused by the “high level” and “low level” at Paddington and Liverpool Street. I am understanding their to be platforms and track on two levels at these stations but do not understand how this aligns with the tunneling in the central section. It is also not clear to me whether National Rail will be able technically and legally run carriages and locomotives other than Elizabeth Line trains through on track at different points – my hunch is that track between Reading and Paddington can be used by various trains but and that the high level might have something to do with this.

    • ianVisits says:

      High level is the mainline platforms. Low level is the tunneled platforms.

  7. Conor says:

    While the service is split during stage 5a and for the eastern side in 5b, would it not make sense to retain the ‘TfL Rail’ branding? Only brand trains going through the core as ‘Elizabeth line’.

  8. Edmund says:

    Please note that Whitechapel station is not part of the current service (High level Liverpool St to Shenfield)

  9. Neil Roth says:

    It would never in any case be possible to have trains from Shenfield going alternately to Heathrow and Reading AND Abbey Wood trains going alternately to Heathrow and Reading AND trains from Whitechapel and west thereof going alternately to Heathrow and Reading (ignoring trains terminating at Paddington for the moment). More logical to have trains from Central London alternating to those western destinations (and to the eastern destinations).

  10. David Shepheard says:

    It’s a shame that Boris Johnson insisted on changing the name of Crossrail, really.

    If we had kept that as the overall name, we could have had a Heathrow-to-Shenfield service called the Elizabeth Line. And a Reading-to-Abbey Wood service called the Philip Line.

    Something like that would have made it very easy for passengers to understand the service pattern and work out when and where to change.

  11. Elizabeth Line Driver says:

    The major problem which is driving the cost overruns, is incompetent management. Many managers are massively out of their depth and just spash the cash to get the job done. There is no cost control, many jobs are done repeatedly, much software and equipment is not fit for purpose and has to be replaced or repeatedly upgraded. Many staff just leave because of the poor management.

    One day Crossrail will work, it’ll be very late and massively over budget, but nobody cares as the Taxpayer has no choice but to keep paying.

  12. Forest Gate Greg says:

    Sorry if I missed it, but is there a published date for Stage 5b yet?

  13. Lee Mercer says:

    I recently travelled mid week afternoon Maidenhead to Stratford changing onto the tube at Paddington and travelling via Oxford Circus total journey time including the walk when changing was 1 hour 2 minutes. What is needed is more fast trains Maidenhead to Paddington. What plans do GWR have to introduce more fast trains

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