How London’s new Crossrail proved to be a game-changer

Published : 07 Jun 2023 07:33 PM

Back in his day — and that was some three centuries ago — Dr Samuel Johnson, a great thinker who came up with the very notion of ordering words in a dictionary, noted that “you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

Obviously, Dr Johnson never tried to get from Heathrow into central London using public transport, and never tried to cross the city of 10 million at peak time. And now, one the English summer does its worst, the London Underground is stifling and not for the faint-hearted, packed into jostling, rollicking metal tubs clattering through the bowels of the city.

More than a century ago, just as Great Britain was emerging from the horrors of the trenches of the First World War and looking, briefly, at how to fully improve, Londoners offered up the idea of a single line from east to west, a quick and convenient means of transiting. Nothing came of that 1919 proposal. And even when the idea of Crossrail came up again in Parliament in the late 1990s, it was quickly shot down.

There’s a lot of things that can be said about Boris Johnson. One of the decent things is that when he was Mayor of London, it was he who propelled Crossrail forward. He has always had a penchant for big projects, some hare-brained — “Let’s construct a new London airport on a purpose-built island in the middle of the River Thames,” or, worst yest, “let’s leave the European Union” — and the new railway project, which he politically styled “The Queen Elizabeth Line” after the longest-serving British monarch of all time.

The project has consumed the offices of four London mayors and some six Prime Ministers and was originally costed at £10 billion (Dh45.7 billion)

If you’ve ever tried to get to Heathrow by public transport, you’ll know just how awkward Europe’s busiest airport is to reach. Sure, you can always hire a taxi but you’ll fret as you grind your way through Hammersmith and Fulham, navigate the Chiswick overpass and that horrible big roundabout, and be bumper to bumper as the M4 begins and you’re watching the clock — and the meter — through Brentford and the bottom end of Southall and Hayes, hoping the M25 ring road isn’t one big parking lot.

While the line is a benefit toall Londoners 

and visitors to the city, one unexpected

benefit of the project has been British birdlife.

 More than six million tons of earth were hauled

out from under London, and about half was

 taken to Wallasea Island in Essex

Sure, there’s the Heathrow Express from Paddington — but you have to get yourself and your luggage through the tube to that station in the first place and that, as most who have felt the worst of the underground at rush hour — is no easy feat.

Or, if you’re feeling really brave and don’t suffer from claustrophobia and have the physical strength to ward off heaving commuters as you guard your luggage in the rattling tube, there’s the Piccadilly Line from central London. Make sure you get on the right Piccadilly tube, otherwise you’re likely to end up in Uxbridge or Hounslow, far from the check-in desks at Heathrow.

But all is not lost

For the past year, and at a cost of £19 billion (Dh86.9 billion), the Queen Elizabeth Line is now up and running. What’s more, it’s surprisingly quick, clean, bright, with brand-spanking new trains running every five minutes (Hey, London isn’t supposed to work like this!) — and it’s reliable. Well, almost. Train drivers and other railway staff have been on a series of on-again, off-again strikes that have meant that sometimes there are no trains, other times about a third of the service is running. But, overall, when there are no union-enforced stoppages, the thing works really well.

The line runs for more than 100km, from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through central London, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, using new trains that are 200 metres long, almost double the length of current tube trains.

Suddenly, you can take a good gulp of Dr Johnson’s 18th Century kool aid and begin to believe that it’s possible to move across the city with relative ease — and some 200 million have used the service in its first 12 months of operation.

Transport for London don’t classify the new line as a “tube” or underground, simply because much of the line uses infrastructure that belongs to Network Rail, the body responsible for running the national railway networks and signalling systems for commuter and intercity services. But much of the line is, by necessity also underground, in tunnels that wider, better lit that the small holes used by those tube services on the Central, Circle, Northern, Piccadilly and other lines.

Here’s the thing, since the east-west line opened, Londoners are beginning to think that maybe it’s time they had a similar north-south link — quick, clean, effective — Crossrail 2 is already being mooted. No one knows for sure what the cost of that might be, but whatever it is, double it, and the taxpayers will pick up the tab anyway.

All stations on the line offer free wifi and, soon, so too on the trains. London’s current mayor Sadiq Khan, the son of a London Transport bus driver, has described the new stations as “like cathedrals”.

While the line is a benefit to all Londoners and visitors to the city, one unexpected benefit of the project has been British birdlife. More than six million tons of earth were hauled out from under London, and about half was taken to Wallasea Island in Essex.

A new 160-hectare bird sanctuary called Jubilee Marsh was created, and it’s a big hit with the birds. And yes, the line is a big hit with Londoners too.

Mick O’Reilly is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News