The Elizabeth Line: A User's Guide

By M@ Last edited 24 months ago

Last Updated 05 May 2022

The Elizabeth Line: A User's Guide
A big bold purple Elizabeth line rounde
Image by author

The Elizabeth line, as most people will know by now, is the new rail route from Reading and Heathrow in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the East. And it's opening very soon. Hopefully.

Here's everything you need to know, and a few things you probably don't.

So when's the big opening day?

24 May 2022. Deffo.

Transport for London (TfL) has now confirmed the momentous date, barring any last-minute glitches. And that would never happen, right?

What are the opening hours?

A purple roundel beneath the HSBC tower at Canary Wharf
Image by the author

From 24 May, services will run every five minutes (12 trains per hour) between 6.30am and 11pm. Come autumn, the frequency will be stepped up to roughly every 3 minutes (22 trains per hour) at peak times.

This is a provisional service, and the full timetable will not be in place until May 2023.

Big caveat. Initially, the central section of the line (Paddington to Abbey Wood) won't be opening on Sundays. The day's rest will allow TfL to iron out any creases in the new line's operations.

It's not clear how long this Sunday hiatus will last. One thing we do know is that an exception is being made for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee on Sunday 5 June.

Is the Elizabeth line opening all in one go?

The crossrail tube route
The full route map... but not all the links in the chain will be open from day 1.

Yes... but it's complicated. From 24 May 2022, all Elizabeth line stations will finally be open... except for Bond Street which has long been a problem child.

But don't expect to breeze out to enjoy the delights of Reading or Romford on a single train. The Elizabeth line comes in three distinct sections, and they won't all be hooked up right from the get-go.

The big deal on 24 May is the opening of the central section, between Paddington and Abbey Wood. The arms out to Shenfield, Reading and Heathrow have been open since 2015 (as TfL Rail, and under other franchises before that). These arms will now operate as the Elizabeth line, but you'll still need to change at Paddington or Liverpool Street to board them. This will persist until Autumn 2022, when all the pieces come together in one seamless railway.

If you want to start planning your future routes, Citymapper has already integrated the timetable into its algorithms.

Should I call it Crossrail or the Elizabeth line?

Four workers in orange high-vis lift a grey panel onto a wall
Workers putting the finishing touches to Farringdon station. Image by the author

The Elizabeth line is the official name for the open, passenger-carrying service. Crossrail was the name used during the construction and testing phases.

We suspect many people will carry on calling it Crossrail for years to come. It trips off the tongue better, and lacks the royalist overtones. What you choose to call it is up to you. It's already been given plenty of nicknames, from The Lizzie Line to The Purp. We suggested the Lizard line, because the route diagram looks a bit like a gecko, but we're a bit strange like that. Another suggestion is Mary Whitehouse line, as a Bakerloo-like contraction of Maryland, Whitechapel and Custom House — all stations along the route.

How much will it cost to ride?

Fares on the Elizabeth line will mirror those on the tube. So whether you catch the Central line or Elizabeth line from Tottenham Court Road to Liverpool Street, it'll cost the same (£2.50 at current prices). Any journey within Zones 1-6 will be the same as if you'd taken a route via the good old-fashioned tube. Outside those zones, fares will be the same as those on pre-existing TfL rail services.

Is the Elizabeth line on the Oyster network?

Yes, mostly. You can use Oyster to get between any stations in zones 1-6, as well as all the way out to Shenfield in the east. Stations beyond West Drayton to the west, however, do not accept Oyster.

If you currently use Oyster and fancy a jaunt out to Maidenhead, Iver, Taplow or Slough, then you'll have to buy a paper ticket or...

Use contactless. Because all stations on the Elizabeth line *do* take contactless pay-as-you go, including the Oyster-shy stations beyond West Drayton.

The Elizabeth line is also part of TfL's capping system, which limits the amount you'll be charged in any given 24-hour period for using its services. Currently, for zones 1-6, this stands at £14.10.

Is there going to be a 'Night Crossrail'?

It could eventually happen, but there's no official word yet on whether an all-night service will ever be introduced on the Elizabeth line. If you've chanced across this report about Night Crossrail coming soon, do take a careful look at the date it was published on.

If Night Crossrail ever does happen, it'll be a difficult one to name. It can't be called "Night Crossrail" because the Crossrail branding will be defunct. And it can't be the "Night Elizabeth" because that sounds bizarre. We'd go for the "Purple Dawn Train," because that sounds romantic. Or rude.

What's happening to TfL Rail?

A TfL Rail roundel eclipses the sun
Into the sunset... image by the author

The "TfL Rail" brand was introduced in May 2015 as a way to label the TfL-managed routes into London from Reading, Heathrow and Shenfield. No more. From 24 May 2022, you won't see the name TfL Rail ever again outside the history books (except for the odd hidden-away interchange tunnel where they forget to take down the sign). Few will mourn its passing, apart from our former editor James, for some reason.

How accessible are the stations?

Pretty good. All 41 stations are step free to platform level (with the exception of Ilford, which won't be ready until summer 2022). Incline lifts alongside the escalators at Farringdon and Liverpool Street will no doubt become something of a popular feature.

In addition, all stations along the route from Paddington to Abbey Wood, as well as Heathrow, have level boarding, meaning you can easily get a wheelchair, buggy or suitcases onto a train, without fear of gap or step. Some customers using the remaining stations may need assistance, which should be available as part of a turn-up-and-go service. TfL has extensive further notes on station accessibility.

When will Bond Street station open?

Construction and fitting of the station has been mired in difficulty, to the point where it's still not close to opening. TfL expects it to join its stablemates by the end of 2022, but it's impossible to be sure.

Is the Elizabeth line a tube line?

Not officially. TfL considers the Elizabeth line to be a separate mode of transport from the tube, in the same way that the Overground or the DLR are not part of the tube network. In real life, though, most people are going to assume it's a tube line, given that it's styled like one on the map, and has a name that echoes the Victoria line.

Will the Elizabeth line be driverless?

No, for a variety of complex reasons discussed here, Elizabeth line trains will always have drivers. The new section of track through central London could in theory be operated automatically, but drivers are still required for general safety, especially when taking the train onto the existing tracks beyond Paddington and Liverpool Street.

Why is the Elizabeth line purple?

The Queen in bright purple is surrounded by workers in orange high-vis. A purple Elizabeth line roundel is behind her
Image via Crossrail

Partly because all the other obvious colours had already been used, but there are other reasons too. If you want to know the exact shade, it's Pantone 266c.

How does the Elizabeth line compare with other city railways?

Is a question you probably weren't going to ask naturally, but we're putting words into your mouth as an excuse to link up this excellent article, which discusses some of the inspirations behind Crossrail.

Is it fun to ride?

Yes. Expect lovely, long, sparkling trains with spacious stations and walkways. It really is a tube for the 21st century (even if it's not officially a 'tube' line). We took a ride in March 2022 if you'd like to read more. We also somehow took a ride back in 2014, when only engineering trains were running.

Will there be a sequel?

The Elizabeth line is sure to be a hit, and hits often spawn sequels. In this case, the sequel was written decades ago as the Chelney Line (linking Chelsea and Hackney, but also heading out into the Home Counties). Known as Crossrail 2, the line would be akin to Crossrail 1, but taking a north-south route instead of east-west. The project is still a long-term aspiration, but current financial woes mean it's unlikely to gather momentum anytime soon.

Can I get a cute little model of an Elizabeth line train?

A selection of model train carriages in purple boxes

Indeed. London Transport Museum's shop is well stocked in purple trains.

Can I get free travel if I wear purple trainers?

No, as Geoff Marshall discusses in his 1 April video documenting the Secrets of the Elizabeth Line.

Can I get free travel if I'm the Queen?

Yes, your Majesty.

Has anyone devised an Elizabeth line pub crawl?

Yes, we did one of the first ever Elizabeth line pub crawls back in 2014... when it was still very much Crossrail. We're working on a bigger and better one now the line is actually upon us.

Hasn't this article gone on much longer than it should have?

Yes, but that's all in the spirit of this much-delayed railway.