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Crossrail is finally here – sort of…

Greg Devine


Purple light beams across railway

It might be almost four years late, but Crossrail, now branded as the Elizabeth Line, will be finally opening its doors. It’s been a colossal project; more so, given it’s reportedly come in at £4 billion over budget. The line will open on the 24 May 2022, though not fully. This means the wait will continue for some commuters, until the remaining sections open later in the year.

People outside of the London commuter district may be unfamiliar with Crossrail, so here’s a summary.

The Elizabeth Line will run from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. These journeys were already possible, but you would have had to go around London rather than straight through it. That is, essentially, the point of Crossrail. Obviously, London is a huge, built-up city; you can’t just lay track straight through the centre, it is all about tunnels.

This mega-project aspect has so many people excited. Admittedly, it does look amazing. The new underground stations look like something out of a sci-fi film, but then again, at a cost of more than £18bn, they should be blowing our minds. The stations are gigantic and will be the new standard for commuter services around the world. They feature safety glass, which makes it nigh on impossible for someone to fall onto the tracks; this not only keeps commuters safe, it also reduces delays to the service.

It’s a good job the stations are huge, because the trains are also much bigger in scale. They’re over 200m long, which is approximately the length of two football pitches. You’ll be able to walk along the nine-carriage trains without needing to open a single door. They’ll also be air-conditioned and feature on-board wi-fi. Monitors on the train will keep commuters updated on any other services they may need to catch, such as the Underground. What’s even better, in my opinion, is that the trains have all been built in Derby, meaning the UK economy has directly benefited from this large order.

Outdated train on platform at York

Outdated train on platform at York

This is indeed something to be excited about, but I can’t help feeling a little let down. This initiative will certainly help commuters get into London for many years to come but commuting into London from its outskirts isn’t exactly a struggle when compared with commutes across other areas of the UK. The North of England has seen its railways consistently fall to substandard levels over the last twenty years and it therefore feels like a kick in the teeth to hear London is benefitting from £18m of taxpayers’ money to build some tunnels—even if they are impressive—yet Yorkshire can’t have new trains for its existing lines.

This new line is set to serve 200 million people a year. With a statistic like this, I can perhaps understand why money is being invested in the capital rather than in Yorkshire. The entirety of South Yorkshire sees less than 100 million passengers across its bus, train and tram networks, but this might be a chicken and egg scenario. If we had new trains, fuller timetables and hardly any delays—instead of the lacklustre services currently available—maybe more people would use public transport rather than driving into work.

The government has already admitted that the privatising of UK railways was unsuccessful. Our railways were once something to be proud of, and though I think TfL and the Elizabeth Line are certainly an improvement, the powers-that-be should focus on more than London.

HS2 could result in some levelling-up (eventually), but with all its cuts and broken promises, this seems doubtful.

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