The formal handing over of Woolwich station from Crossrail as a construction site to TfL as a completed station took place this morning.
It follows Custom House, Farringdon and Tottenham Court Road as the latest stations to be handed over, leaving Liverpool Street, Paddington, and Whitechapel to be handed over. Bond Street is running late, and while catching up fast, Crossrail has decoupled the station from the line in case they are able to open the line before it’s finished. If that happens, the delay to opening the station is unlikely to be more than a few weeks anyway.
The handover of the Woolwich station takes place as Crossrail starts what may be their final engineering blockade, where train testing is paused so that more work can be completed in the stations.
The 18-day blockade allows a lot of small but fiddly tasks to be completed particularly in the station to train interface areas. Things such as fencing, lights, software updates all needed to complete the assurance paperwork so that the stations can be handed over.
There is also an option in the plans for another blockade in August if needed.
Away from the stations, the main focus is on running trains through the core tunnels, building up the mileage and hours needed to get regulatory approval to say the line is both reliable and safe to be opened to the public.
At the moment they are running 8 trains per hour (tph) through the tunnels from around 6:30am to 9pm, although they are actually running bunched up as if there were 12tph with a pause each hour to space out the hourly tests. Switching to fully 12tph is due to take place next month.
In addition to increasing train drivers experience on the railway, there’s work across the entire line with the maintenance staff to the signal control room gaining experience ahead of the line’s opening to the public.
Although running 12 trains per hour is enough to open the line, Crossrail will also start to run burst trials of the full timetabled 24 trains per hour to show that the line can run with the full capacity that the line is designed for when it’s fully completed. That’s a train every two and a half minutes through the central core tunnels in trains that are also a third longer than the average tube train.
Once trial running is completed, they will be in trial operations mode, which is needed to test the emergency facilities and other human interfaces so that the regulator can sign off on those.
Only then can the line open – at some point in the first half of next year.
Back to Woolwich, the station now fully complete, and with a formal ceremony this morning, the keys were handed over to TfL. It has come a long way from when it was a hole in the ground in 2012, and is now a pleasingly appealing station.
The brickwork in the ticket hall and escalator box seems to bring the station down to a more human scale from the grand overwhelming effect in some other station entrances. So while it looks modest from the surface, going down the escalator for the first time delivers a big wow moment when you get to see the full length of the station box.
Most of the other Elizabeth line stations have escalators in the middle of the platforms, so it’s harder to appreciate how long and wide the station boxes are. At Woolwich, the escalators are at the end of the platform, so the full 250-metre length of the station is visible from the escalators as people arrive to catch a train.
The retention of the raw concrete will probably trigger comments that it’s “unfinished”, but also help to lighten the station that would otherwise have needed to be painted or tiled above the bronze cladding to avoid being too dark. Acoustic baffles around the lighting help to improve how the station will sound when people are using it, and they’ve been designed to mirror the concrete pillars.
Mark Wild, Crossrail’s Chief Executive, said: “I am delighted that Woolwich station has been handed over to Transport for London. Woolwich is a beautiful station, surrounded by rich history which has been brilliantly captured by all those working on the station build. I am proud of everyone who has worked so hard to get this magnificent new railway station over the line.”
Considering that Woolwich station was only added to the line at the last moment, and only if the housing developer paid to build the station box, it’s a very impressive effect when you arrive.