The long-awaited launch of the Elizabeth Line through central London was marked by many of the capitals’s landmarks being highlighted in purple light, which is the colour of the new line.
The first trains to carry passengers between Whitechapel, Liverpool Street and Paddington left Paddington and Abbey Wood on schedule at 06.30 this morning, and trains will now run every five minutes between 06.30 and 23.00 on Mondays to Saturdays. Sunday services will wait a little longer, except that the line will be open on the Sunday of the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend.
Among the landmarks given purple lighting were the London Eye, Tower Bridge, One Canada Square at Canary Wharf and Westminster Bridge. The Mayor of London’s headquarters at City Hall, near Tower Bridge, were also included.
Mayor Sadiq Khan has had to weather the storm as the Crossrail project became increasingly delayed and more expensive, while he has not yet settled the dispute with the government about longer-term funding for TfL.
At the moment, however, he was in a celebratory mood, having presided over a project involving the creation of a major new London rail artery on a scale not seen before in the city.
He said: ’The opening of the Elizabeth Line is a once in a generation moment for the capital and it is fantastic to see so many famous landmarks across our city lit up in purple in celebration of this historic day. The new line will revolutionise travel in our city and across the south east and bring significant economic benefits to the whole country.’
The first trains departed on time in one sense, but they were also more than two-and-a half years late, because the central section of the line should have been launched in December 2018, when the Queen had been due to open it. Instead, she visited Paddington station on 18 May this year, where she unveiled a plaque. The cost of the project will also be more than £4 billion over the original budget of £14.8 billion.
One sticking point proved to be the difficulties of creating seamless interfaces between several types of signalling and the related software on the trains, while construction of the stations also lagged behind schedule. Bond Street is still not ready, although it has been cleared by the Railway Inspectorate for emergency evacuations. Many such evacuations have already taken place, as part of the intensive testing of the system which involved hundreds of volunteers playing the part of passengers by using the stations and ‘ghost trains’ which have been running for months.
For the time being the Abbey Wood to Paddington line under central London will be operated separately. Later this year it is hoped to connect the suburban lines from Reading, Heathrow and Shenfield with the central section. For the moment, Elizabeth Line trains from Reading and Heathrow will continue to terminate at Paddington and from Shenfield at Liverpool Street, using the main line platforms in both cases, although one immediate change on these lines has been the replacement of the temporary TfL Rail logos with Elizabeth Line branding.
London is paying for most of the Elizabeth Line, with nearly 70 per cent of the total funding paid by London, which has consisted roughly 30 per cent from farepayers and around 40 per cent from London's businesses. The final 30 per cent came from the government. The Elizabeth Line will be part of the TfL’s standard zonal fares system, except that a £7.20 premium will be charged on the trains from Heathrow. This will be more expensive than the slower Piccadilly Line, but less than the Heathrow Express fare of £25.
Transport for London's commissioner Andy Byford said: ’I can’t wait to welcome customers onboard this magnificent addition to our public transport network. The new railway will become a vital part of London’s recovery by creating faster journeys, new jobs and economic growth.’