Elizabeth Line: A look at London’s new train fit for a queen

If you go to her party: what do you get the queen who has everything? How about a new train line?

Queen Elizabeth II of England celebrates her unprecedented 70 years on the throne this weekend. During the special four-day weekend, big celebrations take place across the country, including street parties, parades, and even a dessert-making contest in her honor.

London’s public transport authority, Transport for London, or TfL, also nods to Her Majesty. This month it officially opens a long-awaited new train line that runs through deep tunnels in central London, dubbing it the Elizabeth Line.

There’s a lot of fanfare, sure, but also a number of issues for a service that’s brand new. It took 13 years and nearly $24 billion to get the city’s new rail line officially operational. Now the 73 miles of east-west track has shortened journey times and provided better connectivity for areas around London in south-east England.

Passengers welcomed it with open arms, saying it was “worth it” and “amazing”. Others worry about the cost and the time it takes.

“I think with bigger projects it gets a bit difficult to manage time, especially with the cost,” said one passenger. “But in the end, if we’re able to capitalize on it, then maybe it was worth it.”

A man waits to board the first scheduled train as the Elizabeth Line opens to the public at Paddington station in London. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

With its cavernous and seemingly endless corridors, the Elizabeth Line was one of the biggest infrastructure projects in Europe. But it was not without challenges.

Not all stations on the line are open yet. And the project was nearly four years behind schedule and $5 billion over budget. Even the project’s general manager admitted the complexity was “out of scale”, thanks to complications incorporating new signaling systems and software.

Tony Travers, a professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science’s School of Public Policy, said large-scale infrastructure spending running into the billions “is something only governments can do”.

For this reason, some delays with projects like the Elizabeth line are to be expected, he said.

“There are a number of major infrastructure projects around the world that are over budget and delivered late. This one, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t so bad.

Travers explained that while billions have been spent on the new line, billions are also likely to flow back into the economy because of it.

“Low-income households on the outskirts of town now have better access to downtown jobs. And, indeed, the city as a whole has greater access to itself than before. And mobility helps the economy.

In its first week of operation, passengers made more than 2 million journeys on the line. These numbers could bode well for London as the economy returns to pre-COVID normalcy. In recent months, the government has abandoned all precautionary measures and encouraged workers to return to the office and back on trains. Ridership has steadily increased, according to Andy Lord, TfL’s chief operating officer.

Transport to Andy Lord from London
Andy Lord, from Transport for London, said passenger numbers had increased as workers returned to their offices after the end of COVID-19 restrictions – and as the Elizabeth line opened. (Victoria Craig/BBC News)

“We operate around 70% on the metro. Over the weekend they reached a high of 80 and 90% of the pre-pandemic level,” he said. “We believe the Elizabeth Line is going to be the catalyst the city needs to help with economic recovery.”

Business travelers are a key part of London’s overall recovery. Wi-Fi-enabled trains reaching 145 km/h then offer easy access to the city’s historic financial center near the Bank of England and the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf’s investment banking centre.

For example, “you’ll be able to get straight from Heathrow to Canary Wharf in just under 50 minutes,” Travers said.

And, when the three sections of the Elizabeth Line are linked this fall, he said the time will be cut by another 10 minutes. That’s about half an hour faster than the current travel time. TfL hopes this will help workers save money and give them greater flexibility with their schedules.

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About Jun Quentin

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