In Focus

Crossrail: when will the Elizabeth line open and what is the route?

The Queen makes a surprise visit to Paddington Station to open new line

London’s long-awaited Elizabeth line is finally due to open this month, four years late and billions over budget.

In the year that the Queen marks her Platinum Jubilee, passengers are also set to celebrate the opening of the new railway line that takes her name. But the £18.9bn Crossrail project, now known as the Elizabeth line, has suffered major delays and was originally scheduled for completion in December 2018.

Now the new line – or at least part of it – is set to begin operating in a matter of days, with the monarch herself making a surprise visit to Paddington Station to officially open it. 

The Elizabeth line has been billed as the capital’s “biggest and most important transport upgrade since the expansion of the Tube network over 100 years ago”, the Evening Standard said. And it promises to “change the lives of millions of Londoners and commuters”.

Royal visit

Just two weeks shy of her Platinum Jubilee, the Queen joined her youngest son Prince Edward to mark the completion of the new line after “episodic mobility problems” prevented her from attending last week’s State Opening of Parliament. 

But in recent days the monarch has “rallied”, managing a trip to the Royal Windsor Horse Show over the weekend, before making an official visit yesterday to the new station at Paddington, which is set to open in time for her jubilee weekend. It was her first engagement “outside of the Windsor area since she attended the Duke of Edinburgh’s memorial service in Westminster Abbey” last month, reported the BBC.

Dressed in “sunshine yellow” and holding a walking stick, she was welcomed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and TfL commissioner Andy Byford, said the broadcaster. 

The monarch was also “given an Oyster card and shown how to use it on a ticket machine” before she unveiled a plaque commemorating the official opening.

When will the Elizabeth line open? 

The Elizabeth line is set to open to passengers on 24 May, but will initially operate as “three separate railways”, reported the Evening Standard. A “central section” between Paddington and Abbey Wood will run, with the first trains departing from Paddington and Abbey Wood at 6.30am next Tuesday. 

The outlying sections between Paddington, Reading and Heathrow, and Liverpool Street and Shenfield, will also be in operation.

From the autumn, trains will run between Reading, Heathrow and Abbey Wood without the need to change at Paddington, and between Shenfield and Paddington without the need to change at Liverpool Street. But it won’t be until 2023 that “end-to-end” journeys between Shenfield and Heathrow or Reading will be possible without changing trains.

However, Bond Street will not open along with the rest of the line, after construction there fell 18 months behind schedule. This time has been “clawed back” according to the commissioner of transport for London Andy Byford, speaking to The Guardian.

Nevertheless, the station will be ready in late 2022 when direct through trains from the west and east sections also start running under central London.

What is the route for the Elizabeth line? 

Stretching more than 60 miles from Heathrow and Reading in the west through central tunnels across to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east, the high-frequency, high-capacity service will link 41 stations when it is fully completed. Ten stations will be newly-built, 30 will be upgraded and the final version of the entire line’s timetable is set to be in place by May 2023.

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.

Elizabeth line route map

What will it look like on the map? 

A new Tube map has been released to mark the opening on the Elizabeth line. As Sky News reported, the new railway features a double purple line – purple being a royal colour – and follows the style of the Docklands Light Railway in having two thinner lines rather than the thicker solid colouring of Underground lines. 

How regular will the services be? 

When it opens to the public the Elizabeth line will run 12 trains per hour in each direction, New Civil Engineer reported. This will then increase to 24 trains per hour after the central section is opened. The full line is expected to carry half a million passengers a day and around 200 million passengers each year.

The service should be a lot faster, too. A journey between Heathrow and Canary Wharf will take about 38 minutes, the Standard reported. 

An Elizabeth line train on the platform at Shenfield station 

An Elizabeth line train on the platform at Shenfield station 

Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What will the trains be like?

The state-of-the-art British Rail Class 345 Aventra trains will carry up to 1,500 passengers and the 70-strong fleet will have seven or nine fully interconnected, walk-through carriages.  

Carriages will also be equipped with air-conditioned climate control in order to help commuters keep cool in summer and the trains are designed to 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.

The multi-billion 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. 

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