The Crossrail project, which is currently set to open in the first half of 2022 is now aiming for a February opening date, assuming nothing unexpected happens to delay the project.
The project is currently in the “Trial Running” phase, where they run 12 trains per hour through the core tunnels to build up the mileage and hours needed to iron out any last bugs and show to the regulators that the railway is safe to operate with passengers.
The final stage before opening the line comes next, and that’s to run the service in “Trial Operations”, that is with volunteer staff carrying out exercises along the railway as if they are normal passengers.
Speaking at a Public Accounts Committee meeting last week, Crossrail’s CEO, Mark Wild confirmed that the earliest that Trial Operations could commence would be November. He said that this would depend on the final software release for the trains and that it works as expected, which they won’t be sure of for six to eight weeks. The software upgrade is currently in Crossrail’s lab, and he said that it’s currently performing well.
Although switching from laboratory to real-world can throw up unexpected issues, most of those should have been ironed out in the previous software versions.
The ELR100 software is the last major configuration before revenue service and it is pivotal to the programme advancing through to Trial Operations. Once they start Trial Operations, where people test the service as if it was a live railway, that phase is likely to run for between 10 to 12 weeks.
Which would suggest completion in mid to late January 2022.
When asked what the earliest that full operations could start, Mark Wild suggested that would be some point in early February.
That was caveated later with an observation that assuming absolutely everything works as planned, then that would indicate a mid-February opening at the very earliest to allow for setting the train crew schedules and gearing up for a fixed opening date.
Someone needs to know when to buy the balloons.
If there are unexpected problems, then that date will shift, but they are confident of meeting the current official deadline of “the first half of 2022”.
TfL’s Commissioner, Andy Byford, also at the meeting commenting on the opening of the railway that “there could be no greater symbol of London’s resurgence and emergence from covid than the opening of the Elizabeth line”
As delayed as it is, the moment that the line opens to the public is still going to be a very exciting one for many Londoners, especially those who don’t follow railway news that closely and catch the tube one day only to see this huge new railway that “suddenly appeared overnight”, and if they switch onto the Elizabeth line, the massive platforms and full-size trains in central London tunnels will be eye-opening.
The other issue that was cleared up was the recently announced changes to how the later phases of the Elizabeth line opening will take place. The previous scheme would have seen some of the later phases arrive about a year after the core tunnel opened, so probably early 2023.
The revised scheme could bring most of that forward to autumn 2022, delivering about 95 per cent of the finished railway, with one final stage to complete everything in May 2023, which will be timed to align with a Network Rail timetable change.
Then it’s all done.