To cheers as the doors closed, the very first Elizabeth line train to run through central London departed a packed Abbey Wood station at 6:30 this morning.
Abbey Wood has probably never seen anything like it. A brand new station, and a queue that snaked around the side streets as huge crowds turned up to be able to say “yes, I was there” on the day that the first train carried paying passengers.
As the queue waited to be let in, TfL’s Chief Operating Officer, Andy Lord arrived and became Santa for the morning, handing out Elizabeth line badges to thank the people who had woken at often very early hours to be at the front of the queue. And then, with a flourish of cutting a purple ribbon, the gates opened and people surged to tap in at the gateline and get the best seats on the train.
As the doors closed, the driver announced that “we are ready to go, three, two, one, go!”, and to cheers along the train, it pulled out of Abbey Wood on its way to Paddington.
Some were here to ride the full length of the trip, others got off along the way. At many stations, lots of people got on the train, and some were actually using it to commute to work this morning.
Not often does a train feel like a party, but this morning, there was sheer joy at being able to ride the Elizabeth line. Yes, it’s late and over budget, but the end result is worth it. Fast, air-cooled trains that ride exceptionally smoothly, and you can really feel the acceleration as the trains leave the stations and race to the next.
People on board the train smiled, chatted, and tweeted, not just because it was the first train, but in many cases amazement at the scale of the stations and how comfortable the trains are to ride in.
As we passed the delayed Bond Street station, the driver pointed out that people would be able to see the station, and it’s purple station roundels with “Coming Soon” on them.
And less than half an hour after leaving, all too soon it seemed for some, the trip was over. Time to explore Paddington station, to queue up at the souvenir stall and buy purple collectables, and take another ride back on the train to explore the other stations.
This was the enthusiast’s ride, but what matters is how the new railway will change the general public’s commute.
One couple heading towards Bank were about to catch the Central line from Liverpool Street, until they noticed they can now use the Northern line instead.
A commuter, Martin who usually comes in from Slough three times a week got in a bit early to check out the new line, and said that it’ll save him about 15 minues each way to get to Canary Wharf, but he admitted he was mainly looking forward to not being squashed into a tube train.
He wasn’t the only one.
On a later train from Paddington, while there were still some enthusiasts, the bulk were already commuters heading to work, and most got off at Canary Wharf station to head to their offices. Many looked around a bit, but even on the first day, people seemed instinctively familiar with the way railway stations worked and just headed straight for the escalators to get out.
For some people, a train is just a way of getting from one place to the other. And ultimately, that’s its function, to make travel possible. But it’s good to be able to travel in comfort and arrive at impressive stations. It’s uplifting.
Heading to Woolwich, and at 8am, crowds were heading into the station to get to work. Woolwich is the only entirely new station in the central core and built right next to a residential area that often finds itself with standing room only on the morning DLR.
One lady who had already been on an early train and come back said that she thought Woolwich is the best station on the line, and I have to agree as the view that opens up as you head down the escalators is monumental.
A lot of people’s lives will change today, and that’s what investing in public transport can achieve.