In Depth

Crossrail: when will the Elizabeth line open and has it been delayed by coronavirus?

Cost of the project previously predicted to run more than £2bn over the original £15.9bn budget

London’s Crossrail will be open “as soon as practically possible” in 2021, according to the company heading up the project.

The promise came as the chair of the new rail line, Tony Meggs, vowed to “meet or beat” the original deadline of summer 2021 despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.

In line with the government’s guidelines, “essential and business critical work” have continued through the outbreak.

But since lockdown restrictions have started to ease “testing of the track’s control systems has resumed”, the project’s website says.

When will it open?

The Berkshire to Essex link – to be known as the Elizabeth Line – was originally scheduled for completion in December 2018, but a series of setbacks have seen it repeatedly delayed.

The BBC reports that this delay allowed for “more time to complete software development and allow safety systems to be tested”.

Crossrail Ltd previously revised the completion date to March 2021, but was forced to push that back even further to autumn 2021.

“The assumption we’ve made is, I suppose, at the pessimistic end, but it’s at the pragmatic end and you would expect us to take that approach,” TfL commissioner Mike Brown told the London Assembly in January, according to the BBC.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan then said in March that further delays due to the coronavirus outbreak would be “inevitable”, admitting that “clearly, there will be an impact” a week before lockdown commenced and construction was halted.

But last week Meggs struck a more optimistic tone.

“We are committed to doing everything we can notwithstanding the real impact of COVID-19 to meet or beat the schedule that we outlined,” he said in an update to the Transport for London Board.

Meggs also revealed that over 2,000 people have been working on Crossrail from home, and that a quarter of the workforce is now back on site.

“We have asked the executive to look at all possible measures and options to maintain or even improve upon summer 2021 opening of the central section of the line,” he said.

Where does the Elizabeth Line go?

The service covers 73 miles of track, 13 miles of which run underground, with the rest of the line running as an overground service.

The route covers some key bases in central London and stretches to commuter areas. Travellers from as far as Reading, in Berkshire, and Shenfield, in Essex, will be able to reach Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel and Canary Wharf without changing lines.

The Elizabeth Line shares five stops with the Central Line and is designed to take the burden off the Underground’s busiest service.

What will it look like on the map? 

The new line will be a royal purple and white in honour of the Queen, and will follow the style of the DLR visuals rather than the traditional solid colouring of the likes of the Central and Victoria Lines.

How regular will it be?

There are expected to be 24 trains an hour in each direction through the central London section, with the full line carrying half a million passengers a day.

The service should be a lot faster, too: when the Heathrow to central London part of the service comes into full swing, it should shave around 20 minutes off journeys, reducing them to a 40-minute trip.

Once fully operational, the route will increase capacity on the capital’s transport network by 10% and offer a quicker alternative to the overcrowded Central Line.

What will it be like inside?

The multibillion train route will boast all of the mod cons, offering users free Wi-Fi as well as a solid 4G connection. The designers say the carriages offer generous window space and space for wheelchair users.

Carriages will also be equipped with air-conditioned climate control in order to help commuters keep cool in summer. The trains are designed to be more efficient and should use up to 30% less energy.

Each train will be 200 metres long, almost twice the length of a London Underground train.

However, the new carriages will not be fitted with toilets, after engineers found they would take up the space of 600 customers an hour. Instead, they have compensated with 33 toilets at stations between Shenfield and Reading.

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What about the stations?

Architecture critics and some members of the public have been invited to give their views on Europe’s biggest infrastructure project.

“Wandering the cavernous passages of the central London stations for the first time, it is hard not to feel awed by the sheer size of it all,” The Guardian’s Oliver Wainwright wrote in August 2018.

Britain’s Crossrail project “was made possible by coordinated, detailed planning”, but “that also makes it architecturally dull”, The Economist says. 

How much will it cost to travel?

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL have said that fares on the Elizabeth Line will match Tube prices across most of London, but that Heathrow passengers will be charged a premium.

Crossrail journeys within zones 1-6 will cost the same as pay-as-you-go fares on the Tube, but travelling between the airport and zone 1 in central London at peak times will cost £12.10 – £7 more than the same journey on the Piccadilly Line, according to the Evening Standard.

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