Opinion

May 2022: The Most Exciting Month In London Transport History?

May 2022: The Most Exciting Month In London Transport History?
Elizabeth line trial operations volunteers crowd onto the platform at Farringdon earlier in 2022

In May 2020, under seven million trips were made on the tube, compared to the usual monthly average of 117 million. TfL was in crisis. Even more crisis than usual.

Thanks to the pandemic, London's transport network fell to its knees — the government had to pump £1.6 billion of 'extraordinary funding' into the system, just so it could continue crawling along.

Two years on, and this May might just be the most thrilling month London's transport system has ever witnessed. More thrilling than when the Brunels opened their Thames Tunnel and Londoners first had the queer sensation of walking beneath the river. More thrilling than when 40,000 odd passengers crammed onto the first day of London's Underground service, like it was opening night for Mother Goose. Definitely more thrilling than when Boris Johnson opened the Emirates Air Line, declaring it "worth every penny".

Posh people in frock coats stroll through a largely empty tunnel with their dog
The Thames Tunnel: May 2022 is set to be even more exciting than THIS.

Why?

The London Underground itself is on the mend. Not only do passenger numbers continue to rise, but the Bank branch of the Northern line reopens on 16 May, bringing with it a brand new southbound platform, oodles more space, improved accessibility and less chance of getting lost down there for three months at a time.

The night tube — also shelved during the pandemic, and trying to claw its way back ever since — gets the Jubilee line back on 21 May, with the Northern and Piccadilly lines to follow shortly after. We've been strafed left, right and centre with 'London is Open' rhetoric for months now, but it really is beginning to feel that way again.

It's not all happening on the tracks, either. Uber Boat by Thames Clippers just extended its riverboat service out east to Barking Riverside. The news might not seem all that — especially, because as someone in the office pointed out "no one lives at Barking Riverside right now". But it's another step towards London's riverine renaissance, and the goal of 20 million river passengers on the Thames in less than 15 years.

A nearly completed platform with orange barriers and construction materials on the side
The new southbound Northern line platform at Bank station opens in May. Image: TfL

Feels like we're forgetting something. Oh, yeah.

From 6.30am on Tuesday 24 May, London will never be the same again, with the opening of the Elizabeth line — that long-awaited, much-moaned about, very purple cross-London network (and no, it is not a tube line).

I'm not sure the monumental nature of the occasion has sunk in for most Londoners yet. And maybe Commissioner of Transport for London Andy Byford was getting a teensy bit carried away when he called his baby "the most spectacular railway in the world" (the Glacier Express might have something to say about that). But once the Elizabeth line is no longer this mysterious, aubergine-coloured invisible fiction, lurking on the peripheries of everyday life — once it's slashing people's journey times and introducing them to the alien concept of (and I hope I'm pronouncing this right) — air conditioning — they'll be Whatsapping lyrically about the Elizabeth line, using its free onboard wi-fi.

It might just be the most incredible rail project we get to see in Britain in our lifetimes. Especially the way things are going (or not going) with the now-truncated HS2.

A pair of purple Elizabeth line trainers
Someone's already excited. Image: Crossrail

True, even 200 million annual passengers will struggle to get TfL back where it wants to be; we've already been warned that nice-to-haves like buses with skylights and trains which aren't the same age as Dark Side of the Moon can only happen if the government dips into the petty cash tin.

But for now, let's enjoy May 2022. Perhaps the most exciting month for London transport we've ever witnessed, and ever will. Unless you're really, really into cable cars.

Last Updated 18 May 2022

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