Rail Industry Focus

15.04.16

Crossrail: moving towards operations

Source: RTM Apr/May 16

Howard Smith, Crossrail operations director at TfL, runs through the project’s latest updates and highlights the ongoing shift from construction to operation.

With tracks already laid and station refurbs gathering pace, the time has come to think of Crossrail as an operational railway rather than just a physical project, Howard Smith, its operations director, told those present during the first day of Infrarail. 

Giving a project update on the major east-west London rail scheme, Smith stressed that Crossrail is edging ever closer to operation, with tunnelling now entirely complete and the first trains already set to run from Shenfield in May next year.

This will have been evident, he said, to those who accessed Infrarail, hosted in London’s ExCeL, through the DLR at Custom House, which links directly to the venue. “You will have probably have seen that opposite [at Custom House] we have a real railway with real tracks. Crossrail is now very real in an operational sense,” he told the audience. 

The Custom House stop is part of one of the two eastern arms in what Smith called “an unusual railway” in many ways. “Not unique in world terms,” he added, “there are other similar systems – notably, of course, RER [Réseau Express Régional] in Paris, the S-Bahn in Germany, and other systems around the world. 

“But for the UK at least, the idea of taking a full-size national railway service, putting it through extended tunnel through the centre of town, running 24 trains an hour, weaving in and out either side on standard national rail practice, is fairly unusual.”

Completed track installed in Thames Tunnel 

Tunnelling and platforms 

Three years ahead of its full operation, one of the major Crossrail milestones so far is that tunnelling has been finished, which the director called a “tremendous achievement”. 

“We are now moving from civils very clearly through to fit-out,” he continued, adding that focus is shifting to the stations, systems and the 66 new trains being built at Bombardier’s Derby plant. 

Showing pictures of the tunnel underneath Tottenham Court Road, Smith said there is already “a little bit more of the platform edge screens that will sit and hang from the top of the tunnel in situ now” than what the latest images show. In total, the Crossrail team will be installing around 4km of floor-to-ceiling platform edge screens at all its underground stations. 

“But the thing that strikes everybody is the length of the stations underground,” he said. “Most people’s mental picture of what an underground station should be like in London is that it’s meant to finish after about 100m. It doesn’t feel right, somehow, being in what you think of as a Tube station, but it goes on and on and on. 

“That’s probably the most startling physical feature of Crossrail.” 

He explained that, at 200m in length, the Crossrail trains will be more than twice the length of most Tube trains. The stations containing them will all either connect with two separate underground stations or come up to two distinct exits at surface levels, and will also replicate the Asian model of ensuring commuters make up their mind about where to go before they turn left or right when alighting. 

Stations and design 

Referring to digital images of what stations will look like, he said Paddington is already “not looking too dissimilar” to its final form (more on pages 38-39), while other stations, such as Whitechapel, are already “physically there”. 

The panelling on platforms, made of glass-reinforced concrete cladding, which has been tested in mock-up form in off-site locations, is being brought in, with station fit-out “now well into full swing”. 

“Stations are kicking off particularly in the west, where Crossrail is rebuilding many of the stations,” he added. “In the east, it’s more about refurbishment.” 

Smith also highlighted how the project will have a single aesthetic undercurrent running through it: “We take design very seriously, and we’ll have certain elements that will be common to the underground parts of Crossrail, as well as all the surface sections. The idea is to have a really joined-up railway: a common thread going right through from trains, through central stations, through the surface stations, and even into the urban realm.” 

Track and maintenance 

There are already over 13km of track laid from a total of 57km long welded permanent rail manufactured by Tata Steel. According to Smith, there is also a concreting train based at Plumstead operating from the eastern end, and a shuttle that goes in via the Royal Oak Portal at the western end. 

Floating track slab, both light and heavy, is also being put in now underneath Soho and the Barbican in advance of the main track layout. 

Floating track slab preparation beneath Soho between Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street c. Crossrail

In terms of rail maintenance, Crossrail recently contracted Linsinger to provide a milling machine to ensure infrastructure “continues to work as well as it should do going into the future”. According to the contract, the Railhead machine is bespoke to Crossrail and its “challenging” maintenance environment and technical specifications, and can transit on both Network Rail and the central section of Crossrail lines. 

On time and budget

Overall, Smith said the project is well on track and budget, with everything expected to come together between 2017 and 2019. New trains will be rolled out from Shenfield next year, and in May 2018 Crossrail will take over services between Heathrow and Paddington. 

In December 2018, Crossrail will be formally launched as the Elizabeth Line as the central tunnel opens between Abbey Wood and Paddington. 

“We won’t have connected the railways together at that point, but that’s when we’ll have all of the network open,” Smith said, adding that the Shenfield services will then be brought into the tunnel in May 2019, ensuring something new is up and running every six months. 

“The final stage is in December 2019, when we’ll bring western services into the tunnel from Heathrow and extend out to Maidenhead and Reading,” he said. “That’s how Crossrail comes together.”

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