Central section of Crossrail’s Elizabeth Line expected to open in 2022
Previously scheduled to open in 2021, the introduction of the central section of the Crossrail Elizabeth line into passenger service has been delayed.
Credit: Crossrail Ltd/Monica Wells
In August 2020, the Crossrail Ltd Board met and considered the latest update from the leadership team concerning progress to complete the Elizabeth line. This follows an update from the July 2020 Board meeting where it was announced that the central section could not open in summer 2021.
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-19 outbreaks.
The Board’s latest assessment, based on the best currently available programme information, 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 and bring forward the opening of the central section, subject to progress during the intensive operational testing phase.
The latest cost estimate presented to the Board shows that the cost to complete the Crossrail project could be up to £1.1 billion above the financing package that was originally agreed in December 2018 – £450 million more than the upper end of the range announced in November 2019. Work is still ongoing to finalise the cost estimates.
Crossrail is planning to start intensive operational testing, known as trial running, at the earliest available 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, known as trial operations, involving people being invited onto trains and stations to test real-time service scenarios in order to ensure the readiness of the railway.
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.
Crossrail and its sponsors are currently reviewing Crossrail’s governance arrangements to make sure that the right decisions are taken as the project moves towards completion, and that it successfully transitions to Transport for London (TfL) as soon as possible.
A programme of this scale and complexity was already challenging, with pressures on the schedule before COVID-19 became a factor; the impact of COVID-19 has made the existing pressures more acute. The schedule delay is due 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. The handover of eight of the 10 shafts and portals to TfL has been completed and handover of the final two will be complete by autumn 2020
- Stations – as more detailed plans for the completion and handover of the 10 central section stations have developed, 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 is a monumental task – in the updated plan, Crossrail has phased the transfer of stations to take into account the scale of such an undertaking
- COVID-19 – COVID-19 has further exacerbated the schedule pressures due to a pause of physical activity on sites during lockdown in order to keep the workforce safe, and significant constraints have been put on ongoing work and productivity due to the reduced numbers that can work on site to meet strict social distancing requirements. There is now a maximum of around 2,000 people on the sites, less than 50 per cent of the pre-COVID-19 complement.
Despite the challenges presented by COVID-19, good progress continues to be 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 10 shafts and portals completed and handed over to the operator; handover of the first central section station, Custom House, to TfL; the introduction of the first full-length Class 345 train in passenger service between Paddington and Heathrow; and a viable signalling software product is now 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 2020 to complete the remaining construction works in the routeway for trial running. The construction blockade is progressing well and achieving targeted levels of productivity.
Following completion of the blockade in September 2020, Crossrail will commence testing of the next evolution of the signalling software, helping to further build operational reliability. Once software testing completes later in 2020, 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 (ORR) to commence trial running is finalised.
Chief Executive Officer of Crossrail Ltd, Mark Wild, 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.”
He continued: “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 risk and potential impacts of further COVID-19 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.”