November 07, 2016

Crossrail prepares for the start of operations

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With construction 75% complete, preparations are now well in hand for the launch of operations on London’s Crossrail east-west link. Crossrail operations director Howard Smith updates Keith Barrow on progress with this huge project.

THE mayor of London Mr Sadiq Khan made his first station-to-station journey on the city’s new Crossrail east-west rail link on August 31, when he travelled on an engineering train between Custom House and Canary Wharf station. Khan’s visit marked a twin milestone for the £14.8bn project, which is now 75% complete with half of the permanent track in place on the new-build section.

Crossrail fuses the Great Western Main Line (GWML) and the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) with 21km of new twin-bore tunnel beneath central London, connecting Reading, Maidenhead, and Heathrow Airport in the west with Abbey Wood and Shenfield in the east.

Crossrail east westConstruction began in 2009 and excavation of the 6m-diameter tunnels began in June 2012. Eight 120m-long TBMs were used to bore and line 42km of tunnels beneath central London, a process which was completed in June 2015.

When it is fully operational, Crossrail will increase rail capacity in central London by 10%, relieving congestion on some of the busiest sections of the London Underground (LU) network. Ridership is forecast to be around 200,000 passengers per day and the line will bring an extra 1.5 million people within 45 minutes commuting distance of London’s main centres of employment.

Over the next year Crossrail and its contractors will continue to fit out the tunnels - a process which involves the installation of more than 15,000km of cable - as well as the line’s 10 new stations, which will be equipped with more than 4km of full-height platform screen doors.

The delivery of rolling stock is also making progress. Bombardier is supplying 66 nine-car class 345 Aventra EMUs for the network (IRJ September p58) and the first test train was unveiled at the company’s Derby plant in July. This seven-car set is now undergoing trials at the Old Dalby test track near Nottingham, where it has been tested at its maximum operating speed of 145km/h. The trains will make their debut in the London area this month, when a seven-car set will be delivered to Ilford depot for compatibility testing and mileage accumulation on the GEML. Meanwhile a second train will be delivered to Old Dalby to test the Siemens Trainguard CBTC system used in the core tunnels. By the middle of October, Bombardier had begun production of the fifth train at Derby. Driver training is due to start on the GEML in April 2017.

In July 2014 Transport for London (TfL) awarded MTR Crossrail an eight-year concession to operate Crossrail, with an optional two-year extension. MTR subsequently took over London Liverpool Street - Shenfield GEML suburban services from Abellio Greater Anglia in May 2015, operating under the TfL Rail brand. With the exception of Liverpool Street and Shenfield, all stations are now operated by TfL Rail and staffed from the arrival of the first train to the departure of the last - a measure that will be applied at all 40 Crossrail stations.

The operating concession for Crossrail follows the successful model applied on the London Overground network: TfL sets the service, quality and timetable requirements, as well as the fares with a performance-based pay structure for the operator with a focus on reliability.

From May 2017 TfL Rail will introduce the new class 345 EMUs on these services, with 15 of the trains initially operating as seven-car sets due to constrained platform lengths at Liverpool Street. The introduction of these Reduced Length Units (RLUs) will enable the withdrawal of TfL Rail’s class 315 EMUs, which date from the 1970s.

The Crossrail approach to operations is already being implemented on the Shenfield services. “The aim is to operate the basic service reliably, starting with the GEML,” explains Crossrail operations director Mr Howard Smith. “MTR has already driven up performance, taking over operations on the existing railway while there is a lot of infrastructure work going on and things are working better.”

Testing of the new trains in the Central Operating Section (COS) beneath London will begin towards the end of 2017 and this is likely to be carried out in phases, starting at the eastern end of the tunnel. Test running on the COS is due to be completed in spring 2018, when the trial running phase begins. Smith says the new infrastructure will be treated as a fully-operational railway during this period.

In May 2018 TfL Rail will begin operating between the existing surface station at Paddington and Heathrow Terminal 4, replacing the existing Heathrow Connect service and part of the Great Western inner-suburban service. These services will operate from the outset with full-length nine-car trains and ETCS.

Fully operational

The COS is due to be handed over in mid-2018. Passenger services will commence between Paddington and Abbey Wood in December 2018, when the Elizabeth Line brand will be introduced, although the three sections of the route will effectively be isolated from each other until May 2019, when Shenfield services will begin running into the tunnels and through to Paddington. The Elizabeth Line will become fully operational in December 2019, when services from Shenfield and Abbey Wood will be extended beyond Paddington onto the GWML to Heathrow Terminal 4 and Reading.

“The key long-term challenge is to bring two busy existing railways together with a new bit in the middle, and the phased opening is absolutely crucial to this,” explains Smith. “£14.8bn buys a lot of railway and we’re bringing a huge amount of new infrastructure online. A staged opening is the most effective way to manage this.”

When the Elizabeth Line is fully operational, the core section between Paddington and Whitechapel will be served by up to 24 trains per hour in each direction at peak times, with 12 services running southeast to Abbey Wood and 12 continuing to Shenfield via the GEML, calling at all stations east of Stratford. In addition, there will be four trains per hour between the existing surface station at Liverpool Street and Gidea Park running into London in the morning peak and back out to the suburbs in the evening.

At the western end, 10 peak services per hour will operate beyond Paddington to serve stations on the GWML as far as Hayes & Harlington, with two continuing to West Drayton, four to Heathrow Airport Terminal 4, two to Maidenhead, and two to Reading.

It is expected that the core section will be served by 20 trains per hour per direction off-peak and at weekends, with reduced early morning and late-evening services to reflect demand.

“Trains will generally be longer and more frequent than the trains they will be replacing into the surface stations at Paddington and Liverpool Street,” explains Smith. “The Elizabeth Line also takes away some of the need to interchange between lines. In future passengers will be travelling through some of the busiest stations instead of getting on or off a train, which saves time and reduces stress.”

Bombardier will maintain the trains at a purpose-built 33-track depot at Old Oak Common in west London under a 32-year fleet servicing contract. By October the main depot building had been erected, tracklaying had been completed and electrification work was underway.

The 850-strong workforce is also taking shape. TfL has begun the process of recruiting around 200 signalling, control and maintenance staff. Smith says around 300 new drivers will be recruited to the industry by MTR Crossrail also recruited more than 600 apprentices for the construction phase of the project.

Seven years after construction began, London’s new railway is beginning to emerge from behind the hoardings and in the next six months passengers travelling into the capital from the east will get their first taste of the new trains that will provide a single-seat ride across the city. With London’s population forecast to increase by 12.6% by 2025, the Elizabeth Line will play a vital role in keeping a growing city on-the-move.

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