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Railfanning London‘s Railways

Visitors to London who are also transport enthusiasts (‘railfans’) sometimes ask for advice as to the ‘best’ things to see on London’s railway network. This page is part of a guide which aims to answer that question.

If this is the first time you have reached these pages then it is best to go to the Opening Page which sets the scene, explains the difference between the small and the large profile trains, offers advice on the best type of ticket to buy and photography tips.

Alternatively, it is possible to view everything on one page


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Crossrail Line 1 (Elizabeth Line)
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Crossrail as a name in the London context refers to two (or three) new subterranean railway lines which will travel across central London and in the suburbs extend over existing heavy rail routes. The primary aim is to reduce overcrowding on London's existing railways. The concept of introducing trains to the many areas which are remote from any railway service is seen as a secondary (less important) side effect.

What is significant about Crossrail is that its deep level 'tube' tunnels will be large enough for full size mainline trains. Until now only the deep level 'tube' tunnels used by Northern City Line were suitable for full size mainline trains.

CrossRail Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map modified by me, original source & license: Ed g2s / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:CrossrailLine1Map.svg

Click map to see larger version in a new window! .

When it opens Crossrail Line 1 (which is going to marketed to the public as the Elizabeth Line) will enable some of the existing mainline suburban and regional trains that travel into Paddington station (which is at the western edge of Central London) and almost all the trains on the Stratford - Ilford - Romford - Shenfield route which travel into Liverpool Street station (which is at the eastern edge of Central London) to be joined up via a new route through the centre of London. In addition there will be a new branch to the south-east of London which is routed via the Canary Wharf Financial District in the Docklands area, this branch will reopen a closed section of railway and end at a new interchange station at Abbey Wood, which is on the southern side of the River Thames.

Both sections of railway which will be used by Elizabeth Line trains that already exist have at least four tracks divided as being for fast (longer distance) trains and for slow (local) trains. Mostly Elizabeth Line trains will use the slow (local) tracks.

In addition to building new tunnels and stations the existing railway routes are being revamped. The first stage towards this occurred at the end of May 2015 when control of the London Liverpool Street - Shenfield suburban service was taken over by Transport for London and started using the temporary brand name of TFL Rail. To make this route suitable for the new trains many station platforms are being lengthened and the overhead wire power supply system which dates from the late 1940's is being renewed. In addition many points / switches / turnouts are being renewed or removed, so that the route will have very few remaining connections with the rest of the national rail network. One side-effect of this descoping is that freight / goods trains which used to be able to join this route at Forest Gate and then cross over to the adjacent fast lines before diverting to the North London Line (which is a major freight artery across London) at Stratford will find that the crossover tracks to the fast lines have been removed. making such journeys impossible. A potential side-effect of this is former railfreight traffic switching to the roads! The national railway system is supposed to be for the entire nation - not just the people of London!

The line to the west of London is also benefitting from much investment, but largely as part of an electrification and resignalling project that is unrelated to the Crossrail project.

TFL Rail Class 315 train. . TFL Rail Class 315 train.
A Class 315 train in full TFL Rail livery at Seven Kings station. The white railing are a recent innovation designed to prevent passengers from entering the little-used section of platform passed by fast trains. . The grey surround around the doorway on the left identifies this as being the nearest entrance to the wheelchair space.
Crossrail poster. . blank.
A poster about what at the time was simply known as Crossrail at Whitechapel station. Click here to read the text on an extra large 480kb version of this image. . .
front Class 345 train Crossrail Eliabeth Line. . middle Class 345 train Crossrail Eliabeth Line.
The first of the new trains arrived in London on Friday 9th December 2016. The train type is the Bombardier Aventra, although in the British train naming scheme these trains will be known as Class 345. These two views show the first train passing platform 10a Stratford station.

Project Timeline

The first of the 65x 9 carriage air-conditioned walk-through Elizabeth Line trains will start being introduced in May 2017. These 200 metre long trains will have 450 seats and an estimated total passenger capacity of 1,500 people. They are expected to have the full Elizabeth Line branding (ie: not TFL Rail branding).

In May 2018 the local 'all stations' service between London's Paddington station and West Drayton / Heathrow Airport (ie: the Heathrow Connect) will become part of the pre-Crossrail service, either as TFL Rail or the Elizabeth Line.

In December 2018 passenger trains will start running through the tunnels below central London, albeit only between Abbey Wood (in south-east London) and Paddington stations.

In May 2019 trains between Liverpool Street and Shenfield will start running through the tunnels as far as Paddington station.

Full service will commence in December 2019. This will include through trains from the east of London to Heathrow Airport and Reading. Although the Heathrow Connect service is being subsumed into the Elizabeth Line, the the non-stop Heathrow Express will continue as a dedicated service which links Paddington station with Heathrow Airport.

In the rush hours 24 trains per hour (tph) per direction will travel through the tunnels between Paddington and east London.

Only 10tph will travel west of Paddington; 4tph to Heathrow Airport, 4tph to Maidenhead or Reading and 2tph to West Drayton.

To the east of London all trains will travel to Shenfield / Abbey Wood.

In the rush hours there will also be additional trains between the existing mainline (above ground) Liverpool Street station and Shenfield. This is because this extremely busy route will need more trains than those which travel through the tunnel.

The brand new deep level tube train tunnels and the Abbey Wood branch are being equipped with radio Communications-Based Train Control (CBTC) moving block signalling with Automatic Train Operation (ATO) and Automatic Train Protection (ATP). To allow train frequencies to increase the signalling is being designed for up to 30tph.

West of Paddington station Elizabeth Line trains will travel on tracks which are shared with other trains and as part of a different route modernisation and electrification scheme is going to be equipped with the European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2. To the east of London the route to Shenfield uses the legacy Train Protection Warning System (TPWS).

Part of the funding for the construction of the Elizabeth Line has come from London's second financial centre at Canary Wharf. One of the conditions of their investment is that at least 50% of trains on the Abbey Wood branch serve Heathrow Airport. Especially at busy times it is possible that ALL Elizabeth Line trains to Heathrow Airport will travel to Abbey Wood, so passengers for the Shenfield branch will need to change train. This may yet change after trains have started running and the general public realise the situation.




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