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She may have a lifetime of royal engagements behind her, but in December Her Majesty The Queen will experience a first as she opens a brand new railway bearing her name.

There are now only six months to go until the opening of the tunnelled section of the Elizabeth line between Paddington and Abbey Wood.

It has taken just six years from the launch of the first Crossrail tunnel boring machine to excavate and fit out the 42 km network of tunnels for one of Europe’s biggest construction projects but, for many contractors and suppliers, it will feel like the end of an era.

Overhead power equipment at Westbourne Park. Photo: Crossrail.
Overhead power equipment at Westbourne Park. Photo: Crossrail.

Regular milestones

The project has reached a stage where major milestones are being celebrated on an almost daily basis. The overhead line has now been switched on between Westbourne Park and Stepney, fully energising the Elizabeth line tunnels, and testing of automatic train control is underway between Abbey Wood and Canary Wharf.

The May timetable change provided another surge towards the finishing line. Elizabeth line Class 345s are now operating between Paddington and Heathrow. Known as stage two, it sees TfL Rail taking over the Heathrow Connect services between Paddington and Heathrow terminals 2/3 and 4, and a half hourly Great Western Railway (GWR) service from Paddington to Hayes & Harlington.

At Infrarail 2018, Crossrail’s engineering director, Chris Binns, neatly summarised the project’s journey to date, detailing the engineering challenges faced.

Following the opening of the tunnels in December, the next big milestone will be to connect the central core with the western and eastern approaches in May 2019.

The weekend before the opening of the 2018 Infrarail exhibition, signalling and platform clearance testing was being completed outside the ExCeL venue at the nearby Custom House station. Chris said engineers were still working on the complicated interface between the three different signalling systems used across the route.

It is a reminder that the Elizabeth line will be one of the most advanced railways in the world and that its construction has facilitated various advances in design and construction practices.

Elizabeth line test train passes through Custom House station. Photo: Crossrail.
Elizabeth line test train passes through Custom House station. Photo: Crossrail.

Learning Legacy

Through the Innovate18 programme, which will live on outside of the project as the i3P innovation scheme, Crossrail and its contractors have developed and trialled various new construction techniques. Crossrail was one of the first rail projects to employ drones to carry out inspections and certainly one of the first to embed building information modelling (BIM) so deeply in the construction of a new railway.

Crossrail has taken steps to ensure this knowledge is not lost.

Through its dedicated website, Crossrail’s Learning Legacy has shared a huge bank of resources on topics such as skills, health and safety, procurement and engineering. It provides a template to help guide future transport schemes and, no doubt, will provide a solid foundation for Crossrail 2.

Crossrail’s Learning Legacy programme was modelled on the legacy scheme launched off the back of London 2012. The different departments within Crossrail were asked to collate useful guidance and resources which could be added to the programme’s website every few months. The first batch of material was uploaded in 2016 and there are now almost 600 documents online. Some of this material has also been disseminated by the professional institutions and associations.

“You can’t just take it and say do all of that and your major projects will work, but it more or less covers everything your organisation needs to set up,” said Simon Bennett, head of learning legacy at Crossrail.

The two most popular items cover project governance and performance assurance. The latter included a document which showed how Crossrail’s contractors were performing against a number of key measures. As a result of its publication, the project experienced a 47 per cent increase in performance from its delivery partners.

“A lot of projects and a lot of companies do a ‘lessons learned’ at the end of the project and put it on a shelf,” said Simon. “It should be possible to make those shelves more visible.”

HS2 is looking to learn from Crossrail’s approach and Simon believes Learning Legacy could be a useful resource for major projects around the world, but only if projects are willing to learn from their mistakes and share information openly and honestly.

Simon said: “It should be a total no brainer – if we’re going to transform construction and major projects we’ve got to share knowledge.”

Elizabeth line test train at Paddington station. Photo: Crossrail.
Elizabeth line test train at Paddington station. Photo: Crossrail.

Crossrail 2

As each station starts to resemble the CGI graphics that have become so familiar, the modern approach to station design which has been employed on the Elizabeth line becomes apparent.

Very little was left to chance, with designers and ergonomics experts carrying out a significant amount of prototyping to help finalise the look and feel of stations. A mock-up station was even built at the Crossrail test centre in Leighton Buzzard to test out different materials and finishes.

Many of the stations have incorporated design elements that reflect the appearance and culture of the surrounding area. Canary Wharf has been designed to look like a huge ship moored in the North Dock and the theatre-style lighting at Tottenham Court Road reflects the surrounding West End.

The design of Tottenham Court Road also demonstrates the forward thinking that is required with major transport schemes. The station has been built with passive provision for the pedestrian tunnels which will connect the shared ticket hall with the future Crossrail 2 platforms. It is a reminder of how London’s surging population will allow little time for engineers to look back and admire what has been achieved with Crossrail.

Chris said it had been “such a privilege“ to work on the project, which will hand over the first completed infrastructure to Transport for London later this year. A period of trial operation and commissioning will follow ahead of the opening of the Elizabeth line in December. It will no doubt be a proud day for each one of the tens of thousands of people that helped deliver it.

Read more: What next for the Great North Rail Project?