The HS2 railway should be terminating at Euston, but for a number of years, it will terminate at Old Oak Common, which will have an interchange with the Elizabeth line, and that is expected to put a lot of extra demand on the Elizabeth line as HS2 passengers seek to continue their journey into central London.
Although the HS2 station at Old Oak Common isn’t expected to open until around 2030, it makes a lot of sense to buy additional Elizabeth line trains now, while the factory where they were made is still set up and has the staff experience to build them.
In general, when train manufacturing contracts are signed, there’s usually an option to buy more trains at a similar price, so long as the extra order is placed early. If more trains are ordered later, then the costs will be higher. So, if TfL wants more Elizabeth line trains, then it makes sense to buy them now rather than in, say five years time.
In the latest Commissioner Report, TfL has confirmed that the Department for Transport (DfT) has “endorsed the strategic case to procure additional class 345 Elizabeth line trains”, and at the moment, TfL is working with the DfT to confirm the necessary financial support.
In the meantime, TfL is already working on plans to add Old Oak Common into the network when it opens. The predicted timetable was for 12 trains per hour, but they now expect to increase that to 20 or 24 trains per hour, by expanding the core service westwards from Paddington to include Old Oak Common.
One concern that’s being raised by TfL is that the platforms being built at Old Oak Common might not support level boarding onto the Elizabeth line trains, and TfL is pushing for the station design to ensure level boarding without staff having to provide ramps. Apart from the moral case for level boarding, with the numbers of passengers expected to need to swap between HS2 and Elizabeth line at the station, having staff installing ramps for people who need them could cause problems in offering the planned 24 trains per hour that the Elizabeth line delivers.
Based on the initial expected service of three HS2 trains per hour arriving at Old Oak Common and Elizabeth line at 24 trains per hour, TfL’s current projection is nearly 53,000 Elizabeth line passengers between Old Oak Common and Paddington going east in the morning peak (7am-10am), and 49,000 Elizabeth line passengers going west between Paddington and Old Oak Common in the evening peak (4pm-7pm) while it’s the terminus for HS2.
That increase in passengers means TfL currently expects that it will need four additional trains to cope with the extra demand.
One of the many niggles to be ironed out will be who owns the trains.
That’s because, in January 2018 TfL signed a £1 billion sale and leaseback agreement with a financial company, 345 Rail Leasing. If TfL buys additional trains, then they may want to persuade 345 Rail Leasing to buy the extra trains or split ownership of the larger fleet between the leasing company and TfL.
There is though a secondary benefit of buying additional trains now, in that when Euston station finally opens in the 2030s and the Old Oak Common pressure on the Elizabeth line drops, then they have a larger fleet of trains on hand, either for backups or to increase the number of trains per hour they run during the day.
In related news:
Thursday 20th April 2023 saw the busiest day on the Elizabeth line so far with 662,000 passenger journeys recorded, and the following week (23-29th April) saw the busiest week with just under 4 million passenger journeys.
TfL’s provisional data estimates that around 40% of the central section of the Elizabeth line passenger kilometres came from people who transferred from the London Underground after through-running services were introduced in November 2022, thus reducing overcrowding on the tube.
There are still reliability problems with the trains, and a software upgrade over Easter introduced some bugs which are being removed, but are unlikely to be fully cleared until early July. There are also still problems with Network Rail infrastructure in the west, where there have been a significant number of points failures, which are disrupting and take time to recover the service.
The Crossrail project officially closed last Friday (26th May 2023), with the remaining staff transitioning to TfL or leaving the company.
Updated 1:20pm 2nd June: Clarified some details of the Elizabeth line demand at Old Oak Common.