London’s long-delayed Crossrail project has finally opened.
The massive extension to the capital’s rail network - officially called the Elizabeth Line - has suffered numerous setbacks and soared in cost but Transport for London (TfL) confirmed it will begin operating on Tuesday 24 May.
The route, which was due to open in 2018, creates a single connected network running east-to-west through the city centre, linking it with south-east London, Berkshire and Essex.
TfL says it will increase the capital’s public transport capacity by 10% and will slash journey times for many travellers. It expects passenger numbers to reach 170 million per year by 2026.
TfL commissioner Andy Byford said: “The opening day is set to be a truly historic moment for the capital and the UK, and we look forward to showcasing a simply stunning addition to our network.”
Ahead of trains beginning to run the Queen, after whom the line is named, paid a surprise visit to Paddington Station to see the finished route.
The Monarch attended a ceremony with the Earl of Wessex to mark the completion of work on the line on 17 May, unveiling a plaque to mark its official opening.
As well as facing huge delays in its construction, the project’s budget has spiralled from £14.8 billion to £18.9bn and while the line will officially open on 24 May, some services will still be limited and a full timetable will not operate until next year.
Sunday services will not begin running on the central section of the line until later in the summer to allow for engineering works and testing. Passengers travelling into London from the eastern and westen sections will still have to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street until next year while operators finalise the integration of different signalling systems. Bond Street station, which has suffered significant construction problems and delays, will also not open until late 2022.
Where does the Elizabeth line start and finish?
The Elizabeth line will initially operate in three sections running between Reading, Shenfield and Abbey Wood and the city centre.
The eastern section between Shenfield and Liverpool Street and western section between Reading, Heathrow and Paddington are already operational but will be rebranded from TfL Rail to the Elizabeth line. They will join up with the central section between Paddington and Abbey Wood, to provide a direct route from Reading in Berkshire to Shenfield in Essex.
How long will journey times be?
Trains will run on the central section between Abbey Wood and Paddington every five minutes between 6.30am and 11pm and by May 2023 24 trains an hour will run along the route.
TfL says journey times from Abbey Wood to Paddington will be almost halved - to 29 minutes - while getting from Paddington to Canary Wharf will take 17 minutes, compared with the half an hour the Tube currently takes.
What stations does the Elizabeth line serve?
Once fully operational, the Elizabeth line will stop at 41 stations, including 10 new ones built for the project. It will link towns in Essex and Berkshire with the capital as well as connecting Heathrow Airport to the network.
Key stops include Reading, Slough, Brentwood, Romford as well as central stations at Liverpool Street, Paddington, Stratford, Whitechapel and Canary Wharf.
As part of the Crossrail works, 26 miles of new tunnels and 10 new stations, including Bond Street, have been built. The new stations are some of the biggest on the London rail network and can accommodate the £1bn fleet of new, nine-carriage trains.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the Elizabeth line will make London “safer, fairer, greener and more prosperous”.
He went on: “This is the most significant addition to our transport network in decades, and will revolutionise travel across the capital and the South East.
“Green public transport is the future, and the opening of the Elizabeth line is a landmark moment for our capital and our whole country.”