It's been a long time coming, and Crossrail still isn't here. After sailing straight past its original December 2018 opening date, the construction of London's new railway has been beset by delays and setbacks, including Covid-19 lockdowns. But now, in late 2021, where do things stand? When are we now expecting Crossrail, or the Elizabeth line, to open, and how likely is it to stick to that schedule?
Is Crossrail open yet?
No, not yet. Not officially anyway, though you can ride sections of it, albeit under a different name.
TfL Rail is currently operating services on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield stretch in the east, and Paddington to Reading and Heathrow out west. Eventually, these TfL Rail services will become the Elizabeth line, and TfL Rail — which was set up for the purpose of the Elizabeth line transfer — will cease to exist.
The central section of the Elizabeth line, running underneath central London between Liverpool Street and Paddington, is not yet open.
When will Crossrail open?
At the time of writing this article originally (November 2021), official Crossrail messaging stated that the project was "on track to open... in the first half of 2022". In January 2022, we've had confirmation from TfL that Crossrail is still on track to open "in the first half of this year" — no nothing new, but it's still on schedule at the moment. Whether that's January 2022, June 2022, or somewhere in between, remains to be seen. Given Crossrail's track record with deadlines so far, we don't blame them for giving themselves some wiggle room.
The glaring caveat in this statement is that it refers only to "the central section of the railway, from Paddington to Abbey Wood" — the rest of the Elizabeth line isn't mentioned.
As far back as January 2020 (that's before Covid caused further delays), there were warnings that the line may not be fully open until Christmas 2022. So we don't really expect to be riding the rest of the line before 2023, though we live in hope of being pleasantly surprised.
Is Crossrail built yet?
The majority of the infrastructure required for Crossrail to run, including the tunnels, tracks, and stations, is now in place. Eight out of the 10 new stations built for Crossrail (Paddington, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Custom House, Woolwich, Abbey Wood) have been handed over to TfL, which will be putting the final cosmetic touches to them before they open to the public.
Two stations, Canary Wharf and Bond Street, haven't been handed over to TfL yet, as they are still being finished off. A "small number of incidents" at Bond Street station has meant that that particular building has had to undergo extra health and safety reviews.
Trial operations are currently under way, which means that Elizabeth line services are running beneath the streets of London, just without passengers. These test runs allow all facets of the railway to be strenuously tested, from signals and doors to ventilation systems, to ensure things run smoothly once passengers are on board and the full quota of up to 24 trains per hour is reached.
What's the difference between Crossrail and the Elizabeth line?
Widely speaking, Crossrail and the Elizabeth line are the same thing. Crossrail was the name given to the project years before it was announced that the purple addition to TfL's map would be named after Queen Elizabeth II. These days, Crossrail generally refers to the infrastructure works taking place to get the line up and running — once it's built and handed over to TfL, it becomes known as the Elizabeth line.
When can I ride a Crossrail train?
You already can! The brand new, shiny, purple trains which were commissioned for the Elizabeth line, have been in public use since 2017, on routes between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. They entered into service on routes out to Reading in 2019.
When was Crossrail supposed to open?
Originally, December 2018 was the launch date for the Paddington to Abbey Wood section of Crossrail, but this was delayed with about four months' notice. A new launch date of autumn 2019 was given, but once again, it was delayed. Various other dates were mooted then shot down. Then, before 2019 was even over, we were told that Crossrail wouldn't open in 2020, and 2021 was given as a likely opening date. Since then, we've had Covid lockdowns and restrictions which understandably impeded progress and dealt a serious blow to TfL's finances. Let's be honest, most of us had other things on our minds during the pandemic, anyway.
Crossrail is expected to open in the first half of 2022, though that's unlikely to be the full route. Watch this space.