The latest update from Crossrail’s leadership team to the company’s board is predicting that the Elizabeth line across and under London will open “in the first half of 2022” and will cost up to £1.1 billion more than the Financing Package agreed in December 2018 (£450 million more than the upper end of the range announced in November 2019).
This follows an update after the July board meeting when it was announced that the central section could not open in summer 2021.
Crossrail is planning to start intensive operational testing, known as Trial Running, at the earliest opportunity in 2021. From the start of Trial Running, it will then take a period of time to fully test the Elizabeth line before it can open for passenger service. This includes a final phase – Trial Operations – involving people being invited onto trains and stations, testing real-time service scenarios to ensure the readiness of the railway.
Based on this information, the board’s latest assessment is that the central section, between Paddington and Abbey Wood, will be ready to open in the first half of 2022. As work to complete the railway progresses, there may be the opportunity to review this and bring the opening of the central section forward, subject to progress during the intensive operational testing phase.
Following the opening of the central section, full services across the Elizabeth line from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east will be introduced. The introduction of full services will be aligned with the National Rail timetable change, which occurs twice a year, in May and December.
The latest delays have been attributed to three main factors:
- Routeway: there has been lower than planned productivity in the final completion and handover of the shafts and portals. The shafts and portals form a critical part of the routeway and contain many of the complex operating systems for the Elizabeth line. Eight of the ten shafts and portals have now been handed over to TfL and the final two will be completed this autumn.
- Stations: as more detailed plans for the completion and handover of the ten central section stations have developed, the previous schedule assumptions about the pace at which these large and complex stations can be handed over to TfL have been revised. The completion and handover of all the stations in the central section have now been phased to take account the scale of these revisions.
- COVID-19: Covid has further exacerbated the schedule pressures due to a pause of physical activity on sites during lockdown to keep the workforce safe and significant constraints on ongoing work and productivity due to the reduced numbers that can work on site to meet strict social distancing requirements. There are now a maximum of around 2,000 people on Crossrail sites, less than 50 per cent of the pre-Covid complement.
On a positive note, the Crossrail board reported that, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, good progress is being made with completing the remaining construction works, with much of this work coming to an end, along with software testing for the signalling and train systems.
Progress during the last six months includes all central section stations, except Bond Street, now certified as ready to support Trial Running; eight of ten shafts and portals completed and handed over to the operator; handover of the first central section station, Custom House, to Transport for London (TfL); the introduction of the first full-length Class 345 train in passenger service between Paddington and Heathrow and a viable signalling software product available for Trial Running.
To help recover some of the lost time, Crossrail is undertaking a period of intensive construction activity during August and September, to complete the remaining construction works in the routeway for Trial Running. The construction blockade, during which time no test trains will be running so construction can continue uninterrupted, is progressing well and achieving targeted levels of productivity.
Following completion of the blockade in September, Crossrail will commence testing the next evolution of the signalling software, helping to further build operational reliability. Once software testing completes later this year, Crossrail will then begin an enabling phase for Trial Running with testing in the tunnels undertaken with an increased number of trains. This will provide an opportunity to test how well the railway systems work in operational-like situations and will be undertaken as the extensive safety case to the Office of Rail and Road to commence Trial Running is finalised.
Mark Wild, Crossrail chief executive, said: “Our focus remains on opening the Elizabeth line as soon as possible. Now, more than ever, Londoners are relying on the capacity and connectivity that the Elizabeth line will bring, and we are doing everything possible to deliver the railway as safely and quickly as we can.
“We have a comprehensive plan to complete the railway and we are striving to commence intensive operational testing for the Elizabeth line, known as Trial Running, at the earliest opportunity.
“Delivery of the Elizabeth line is now in its complex final stages and is being completed at a time of great uncertainty due to the risks and potential impacts of further Covid outbreaks. We are working tirelessly to complete the remaining infrastructure works so that we can fully test the railway and successfully transition the project as an operational railway to Transport for London.”
Much of the remaining work involves hooking up, integrating, testing and certifying the completed infrastructure and railway systems, along with the finalisation of the extensive safety case to the Office of Rail and Road, which will give the go-ahead to commence Trial Running.
Trial Running marks a key point in the project’s transition to an operational railway and is a critical step forward in making possible the opening of passenger services between Paddington and Abbey Wood. Trial Running will see multiple trains operating in the tunnels to test the timetable fully and to build reliability while the final works to the stations are completed. This includes a final phase known as Trial Operations, to test real-time service scenarios to ensure the readiness of the railway.
When the central section of the Elizabeth line opens, the railway will operate as follows:
- Paddington (Elizabeth line station) to Abbey Wood via central London
- Liverpool Street (mainline station) to Shenfield
- Paddington (mainline station) to Heathrow and Reading
Following the central section opening, full services across the Elizabeth line from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east, will be introduced.