13 JUNE 2022


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Article from BTNews 13 JUNE 2022

ON TOUR: Reflections on the Elizabeth Line

BTN’s railway guru Andrew Sharp takes an in-depth look at London’s full size underground train, the central section at last opened.
(See BTN 30 May COMMENT: Fine railway – No loos.)

“I rode the new railway – between Paddington and Abbey Wood, just east of Woolwich. The stations are impressive – they are BIG, mostly underground, with long wide platforms. The one at Liverpool Street, for example, has one end under Liverpool Street main-line station and the other beneath Moorgate station, the next station along on the Tube!  At the other extreme Woolwich only has one escalator, at the western end. Coming from London make sure you are at the back.  It is a 200m walk from the front of the train.  Two entrances were planned we are told, but cost cutting removed one!

Signage is generally good. The stations have platform screen doors and there are signs over the doors with information about the next three departures: I noted that Liverpool Street was signed with an interchange to Stansted and Southend and Farringdon to Gatwick and Luton – but Paddington was not signed to Heathrow. This may be in anticipation of through running between the city and Heathrow in future.  No mention of London City which it only bypasses.

The Transport for London (TfL) journey planner recommends the Elizabeth Line to Canary Wharf then the DLR if travelling between Heathrow and Greenwich. Perfectly feasible – but it is a seven-minute walk at Canary Wharf between the Elizabeth Line and the DLR.  And you have to keep your eyes open for the signage: the Canary Wharf area is complicated. In fact Poplar DLR is less complex, a feasible walk from the Elizabeth Line station also offers trains to Beckton, London City Airport and Stratford.

Following a different route back from Canary Wharf to the DLR, the signage ran out at a crucial point! At Woolwich, interchange to Woolwich Arsenal National Rail station is signed – that’s a long walk too.

At Paddington, if you need to change between the new Elizabeth Line station and either Heathrow Express or the old TfL Rail (former Heathrow Connect) stopping service at ground level, it takes at least five minutes to get between platforms.

While waiting for an Abbey Wood train at Paddington, there was a friendly announcement asking people to move down the platform because of crowding near the entrances. Fair enough, but it would have been helpful to tell people where ‘down’ was! At Heathrow, you are asked to move towards the front of the train or to your right as you face the tracks: that actually means something to people.

I noticed some quite long station stops – up to a minute at Canary Wharf and Tottenham Court Road, for example, compared with 20 seconds on the Victoria Line at Euston. This may not seem much, but 40 seconds extra dwell time at seven stations is nearly five minutes on the journey between Abbey Wood and Paddington.

My editor has commented adversely on the lack of toilets on trains. True, but I noticed several at stations (and there is a TfL guide to toilets on the underground). Woolwich Abbey Wood and Custom House had them, and the ones at Liverpool Street were a pleasure to use.

Why aren’t they on the trains?  Well, especially in these days of wheelchair-accessibility they take up seating (and standing) space, they need cleaning (often!) and they need specialized emptying equipment. Moreover, they often go wrong. They are much easier to deal with on stations!  Thameslink provides this essential service with a product with much longer overall length.

One nice point I noticed about several of the stations – they had three escalators (usually two going up and one down). I first saw this at Madrid Barajas airport 20 years ago, and regard it as good practice. Passengers coming into a station from the outside tend to arrive randomly in small groups so they only need one escalator to the platform: passengers arriving on a train and heading for the exit arrive in much larger groups as they all leave the train together.

I am agnostic about architectural splendour at stations – or airports. However, the Elizabeth Line stations seemed to be uniformly clean, spacious, brightly lit and well signed.  It is a great addition to London’s transport network – although the train seats are hard.

And from Heathrow.  T4 opens this week (see in this issue) and BTN will look to see if the signage has been changed from TfL Rail.

Assuming you are not bothered about the cost, the Heathrow Express is an express.  There are six stops to Paddington on the Elizabeth Line and it takes twice as long.  Until it runs through to central London stick with the flyer!


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