Join us to chat about all things related to London transport on our new Facebook group, Londonist Roundel Ramblings — everyone welcome.
Huge British infrastructure projects and punctuality don't go hand in hand. Anyone else remember how late the new Wembley stadium was? Could a similar fate befall another intended London gem, Crossrail?
We decided to explore the possibility that this thing that we're unbelievably excited for — just look at the mountain of articles we've written about it — might not launch as planned through central London, this December.
So we got in touch with TfL to hear what they had to say on the subject and unsurprisingly, they gave very little away. A Transport for London spokesperson said: "The Elizabeth line remains on course to open through central London in December, as planned."
However, that's clearly what TfL would say, and doesn't take into account the previous delays suffered by the project. What previous delays we hear you cry? Allow us to explain...
The first delay came around the intended launch of new trains on the eastern branch of TfL Rail, from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. The class 345s arrived a few weeks later than expected, as testing them overran. They eventually launched — and aren't they beautiful? — but delayed nonetheless.
The next delay came with the rebrand of Heathrow Connect to TfL Rail, again concerning the new Crossrail trains. The western TfL Rail service currently runs a rather unusual timetable. Two trains an hour do the full Paddington to Heathrow route, while another two only go as far as Hayes & Harlington. The latter two not making it into Heathrow are the new class 345s, while the ones making it all the way are older models.
This strange, train-specific service, launched because the class 345s still need more testing in Heathrow's tunnels. The plan is to eventually have the class 345s take all four services an hour to Heathrow, but as of yet (July 2018) that still hasn't happened.
Then there's the small case of the electrical explosion on the south eastern section of Crossrail. Didn't hear about this? We're not too surprised, TfL kept this one reasonably quiet. It came during testing in early 2018, when a voltage transformer exploded. It's unclear whether this could affect the launch date, though it was admittedly a setback for those overseeing the project, and fears about the timescale were raised.
So let's go back to square one. Will Crossrail launch on time? Firstly it's worth noting that 'on time' is a bit vague. No this isn't philosophical debate on 'what really is time?' rather that TfL hasn't given an exact date for the planned launch. Instead it's given a whole month as a launch date. December 2018.
However, December is a shorter launch period than other months — the end of the month is effectively written off because of the holiday season. Crossrail is hardly going to launch on Christmas Day, is it?
What could happen is the service could launch, even if all the stations aren't fully open. London transport projects have prior with regards to this. The Jubilee line's extension in 1999 opened without Westminster. Whether such an extreme case will happen again remains to be seen, however what's more likely is a station or two partially opening. For example Bond Street station could open with only one entrance while work continues on the other one.
Also, TfL has given itself one rather immovable deadline, though it's unknown to the public. Word is that the Queen has been booked in for an official launch — after all, they did name the whole thing after her, whether we like it or not (no, we're still not using the E word).
Booking the Queen isn't easy, so we doubt TfL did it on a date that might be missed. Perhaps the Queen might be booked a few days or weeks after the intended launch, and Londoners might be using the service before the Queen gets anywhere near it.
We're reasonably confident that some form of Crossrail will launch in December. But what exactly? We'll all have to wait and see...