One of the last few Elizabeth Line Committee meetings is due to take place this Thursday and it outlines the performance since the core tunnels opened, and what’s needed to complete the railway.
The report reveals that since the core tunnels through central London opened, passenger numbers on the Elizabeth line have been consistently higher than budgeted for, and excepting the impact of strike action elsewhere, now regularly exceed two million per week.
In terms of reliability, the Public Performance Measure (PPM) has remained steadily above 95 per cent since its entry into Revenue Service, which the Elizabeth Line Committee minutes says is “demonstrating that inherent background reliability is high”. Ensuring that the line was reliable when it opened was a core demand from TfL’s outgoing Commissioner, Andy Byford as he didn’t want the line to open only to have a cascade of problems when carrying passengers.
One of the issues they’ve uncovered that’s affecting reliability is the thing that’s harder to test — and that’s human behaviour. They’ve found that people getting luggage stuck in doors are pulling so hard to free their suitcases that they’re dislodging the rubber safety edges on the doors — which then need to be put back into place. A modification to the rubber seals is being developed to prevent that from happening.
There’s not a lot that can be done about the humans though.
Despite that, the number of miles travelled by a train before it needs to be taken out of service due to a fault lasting more than three minutes remains above their target of 10,000 miles. However, there’s been problems with the maintenance of trains that are taken out of service, and the report says that there are concerns with regard to Alstom and Siemens management of the triage process. That’s being addressed, but is still a concern.
There’s also a target for keeping lifts in order to ensure Elizabeth line stations are step-free, and despite problems caused by the heatwave, they’re above their 98 per cent target, although there are some bad weeks masked in those averages.
The train and signalling software, which was the cause of so many delays in opening the core tunnels is still being tweaked and improved. The latest upgrade to the train software, codenamed ELR210 was installed at the end of July 2022, eliminating 18 out of 19 operational restrictions on signalling, although a second update was deployed at the end of August to fix a bug in that latest software package.
A major software upgrade will be deployed over Christmas, and that’s needed to enable the auto-reverse function at Paddington, where empty trains can drive themselves out of Paddington into the sidings and then reverse back to Paddington while the driver is walking the length of the train. The auto-reverse is critical to the May 2023 service enhancement, lifting the peak hours trains in the central tunnels from 22 trains per hour to 24 trains per hour.
They probably could then carry out the upgrade in January, but have decided to hold off until May to give things time to settle down between system upgrades. May is also when the National Rail timetable changes, so it’s a bit more convenient to change the Elizabeth timetables at the same time.
As previously announced, through-running services on the railway starts on Sunday 6th November 2022, with Sunday services also being introduced from this date. Ahead of that though, there will be a full timetable test on Sunday 23rd October, when the line is closed to passengers.
That timetable change will see off-peak service frequencies at some western stations increase, but at a loss of direct services from Iver to Taplow, Twyford and Reading. Passengers travelling from stations between Canary Wharf and Abbey Wood will see wait times slightly increase from five minutes between services currently, to six minutes at peak and seven and a half off-peak, but will improve again once the railway is in its final configuration – in May 2023.
Bond Street station is still due to open before the November change comes into effect. Fire safety testing was completed at the end of August, and staff familiarisation with the station has started. The exact opening date has not been confirmed though.
Financially, the Crossrail project is currently expected to cost £15,887.5 million, but has funding for £15,789 million, leaving a gap of just under £100 million to find. At the moment, it’s expected that the TfL funding agreement with the government includes an additional £50 million to complete the Elizabeth line, and the Crossrail project is in talks with the GLA to find the final £48.5 million.
Now that the Elizabeth line is close to final completion, with the May 2023 timetable change being the final major upgrade to the line, the focus switches from building it to running it.
In that, TfL now expects that the Elizabeth line is on target to break even in operating costs to revenues in 2023/24, which is impressive considering that passenger numbers are still recovering from the pandemic. Eventually, the Elizabeth line will turn into a source of operating profit for TfL, which can then use to pay down the debt to build it and to support other TfL services.