March Crossrail opening still a possibility

Crossrail Ltd has still not ruled out opening the central section of the new cross-London railway next month, it has emerged.

In a letter in January to Meg Hillier MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Crossrail Ltd CEO Mark Wild gave updates on the anticipated opening dates for the central section and the whole scheme.

Crossrail Ltd has recently announced that it expects the central section to be open ‘in the first half of this year’, with trains from Abbey Wood running through to Paddington.

Mr Wild told Ms Hillier that under a deterministic ‘best case’ scenario the estimated opening date of the central section would be March 2022.

A 50% confidence interval estimate (P50) was May 2022 and the 80% confidence interval estimate (P80) was June. He stated that this was based on data up to 13 November 2021.

A test train in a Crossrail tunnel

A Crossrail spokesperson told Transport Network that this represents the most recent assessment, but that it is dependent on completion of Phase 2 of Trial Operations, which involves building reliability in the system and rolling stock and completing the relevant assurance work, and that reliability performance will be key to determining the opening date for the railway.

The spokesperson said: ‘Trial Operations will continue until it is clear that the railway can operate at the highest levels of reliability before the start of passenger services. Only then will a specific opening date for the railway be announced.’

Phase 2 began on 28 January and involves a series of more complex exercises than the first phase, including evacuations of trains and stations using thousands of staff. The final step of Trial Operations will be a timetable demonstration, with operating timetabled services ahead of the opening.

Crossrail regards the move to run trains through the central section as the opening of what will be known as the Elizabeth line.

However, it has said that the line will initially open as three separate railways, with trains from the west only running as far as Paddington and trains from Shenfield running only to Liverpool Street.

Transport for London has said it will not wait for the new Bond Street station to be ready to open, which would have all but have ruled out a March opening.

Mr Wild said in his letter that the ‘best case’ scenario for the opening of full east-west services was December 2022, or March 2023 for P50 and April 2023 for P80.

Even before the opening of the central section, Crossrail is fully integrated and there is no physical limitation on trains transitioning between the central section and the surface sections. However, the opening of the Elizabeth line has been planned to take place in stages to ensure that the central London stations, signalling and infrastructure can run safely and reliably before it fully links in with services out to the east and west.

Crossrail has said that between the opening of the central section and the full opening of the project, services from the east and west into the new central tunnels will be integrated, bringing the three railways together.

Services from Reading and Heathrow will run through to Abbey Wood, while services from Shenfield will go through to Paddington.

Mr Wild said the respective estimates of the cost to TfL of completing Crossrail were £15,905m, £15,939m and £15,972m against current available funding of £15,789m, giving forecast funding gaps between £116m and £183m.

These costs are in addition to Network Rail’s costs of around £3bn, taking the overall cost of Crossrail to around £19bn.

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