Travels across Crossrail

Saturday 29th January 2022

The sign says Crossrail, so it must be.

With Crossrail construction finally in sight of the finishing line and the network’s long awaited opening now expected within a matter of weeks I took a ride along the new stretch of line last week so I can appreciate first hand the significantly improved travel opportunities once it’s up and running.

There’s no doubt Crossrail is going to have a huge impact. Mind you, at a cost of £18.7 billion it certainly should. Rail capacity in London will increase by 10 per cent and thousands will find they have a more frequent and quicker way of travelling around the Capital.

Crossrail parallels a significant part of the Central line – between Stratford and Bond Street – but it won’t be just this line which will benefit – indeed in the initial opening phase the long established Shenfield to Liverpool Street TfL Rail line which includes Stratford will continue unaltered. But as I found when making my pre-opening journeys this week, many other Underground lines will be relieved as well as the DLR and National Rail. It will also likely change some travel patterns in the wider south east too as I’ll explain.

I began my antenatal Crossrail travel day on Monday at the eastern end of the brand new section of line, south of the Thames, at Abbey Wood.

This former Southeastern run zone 4 station has had a complete makeover with its island platform serving trains between Cannon Street/Charing Cross and Dartford (including stations on the Slade Green loops as well as Thameslink trains between St Albans and Rainham) joined by a new second island platform for terminating Crossrail trains below a newly enlarged ticket office with the station now becoming a TfL run affair.

As at most stations, signs heralding the new era are still covered over awaiting the upcoming grand opening, but sign lovers are excited to see one on the northern side has been exposed for some weeks….

… giving a taste of things to come, signage wise.

A high-viz overalls and hard hat wearing team were hard at work during my visit putting finishing touches to the station building which now incorporates lifts on both sides of the entrance to the streets below, as the station is located on the elevated Harrow Manorway.

The biggest catchment area for Abbey Wood is the not-too-far away vast Thamesmead estate where 32,000 people live without any access to rail or Underground so rely on a plethora of bus routes connecting them to nearby stations at Abbey Wood or Plumstead.

I wonder if that rather dated signage on the brutalist bus shelter come cycle rack will be updated?

With the arrival of Crossrail residents will have a much quicker ride into central London with a journey time to Liverpool Street of just 18 minutes and Tottenham Court Road in an impressive 24 minutes. The current journey time on Southeastern is around 27 minutes just to reach London Bridge with Thameslink taking 24 minutes to London Bridge and 40 minutes to Farringdon (Crossrail will do that in half the time), so expect a major shift away from Southeastern and this stretch of Thameslink to Crossrail for City and West End bound commuters including those from further east who take the opportunity to change to Crossrail at Abbey Wood on to a frequent empty train and a quicker journey.

In the remaining few weeks before opening I do hope some attention will be paid to the bus stop information outside Abbey Wood station which is currently looking rather sorry for itself – faded and outdated.

But there’s no doubt Abbey Woodians will be looking froward to the gates to Crossrail opening up in just a few weeks time to whisk them towards London every five minutes.

The first station they’ll come to four minutes later is Woolwich. At the moment the way to make that journey is on the almost parallel Southeastern/Thameslink tracks where trains also call at Plumstead before arriving at Woolwich Arsenal. Journey time is therefore a couple of minutes longer with four Southeastern trains an hour and a (currently reduced) hourly Thameslink. So, no contest, Crossrail wins on both frequency and journey time.

I made the journey on a Southeastern train and at Woolwich Arsenal took a walk down to take a look at the new Crossrail station. Whereas the existing Southeastern run station is right next door to the DLR station, Crossrail have built the new station about 250 yards north on the other side of the A206 Beresford Street.

It’s not far to walk, but will be annoying for Plumstead commuters who can only board a Southeastern train and want to make the switch to Crossrail for that quicker more frequent journey but face an inconvenient interchange.

So far there’s no development above the new Woolwich station but I’m sure it won’t be long.

Also, unlike at Abbey Wood, the stations will be separately managed with Southeastern continuing to look after Woolwich Arsenal, TfL the DLR and other TfL staff looking after the new Woolwich. And the latter are obviously fresh faced, keen and enthusiastic, as despite grilled barriers being across the front entrance pretty much preventing any clear vision of the spacious ticket hall within, I saw they were already displaying a quote of the day each day for the passengers yet to arrive.

A departure board showed the ghost trial running of trains was keeping good time and as someone commented on Twitter the absence of an eastbound train to Abbey Wood in 2 minutes almost certainly indicates a default minimum amount of time has been inserted into the software to dissuade passengers to rush down the escalators for the train.

Unless it was cancelled due to staff sickness, which made me realise how lucky Crossrail’s non passengers are to be enjoying a full timetabled service not impacted by Omicron staff shortages whereas actual passengers using Thameslink trains at the adjacent station have seen their frequency cut in half to hourly.

The next station on from Woolwich is north of the Thames at Custom House. A journey time of just four minutes. For me, on Monday’s travels, Citymapper’s journey planning algorithm was recommending I take the DLR to West Silvertown and walk across the footbridge over the Royal Victoria Docks with a journey time of 26 minutes.

Google maps gave me the option of staying on the DLR to Canning Town and doubling back on TfL bus route 147 to Custom House, but I fancied a walk across a Dock so choose the former.

I didn’t have to wait very long for a DLR train to pull into the terminus at Woolwich Arsenal and within a couple of minutes it was back on its way again passing London City Airport (see above screen grab map showing my progress) and arriving at West Silvertown ten minutes later.

The station (and tracks) are elevated through this part of the former docks and the walk through the housing area to the north of the station was very pleasant …

… and it didn’t take long to reach Royal Victoria Dock and its rather impressive footbridge.

Unfortunately the lifts were out of action, and didn’t look particularly inviting either, so it was a case of climbing eight flights of stairs (ten stairs on each flight) to reach the top.

But those eighty stairs were worth it for the views from the top ….

…. and the rather nautical theme that’s been incorporated.

You won’t get this once the Crossrail alternative opens.

It wasn’t me …. that wrote the “When?” but I did think it.

And then eight flights totalling eighty more stairs down as the other lifts weren’t working either and there was no evidence of when they’d last been inspected.

It’s a short walk from the footbridge past the huge Excel exhibition and conference centre to reach Custom House station where I arrived twenty five minutes after leaving Woolwich.

Custom House is on another DLR line (the one from Beckton) and another where the wraps have come off the signs ….

…. and staff are getting everything ready behind the barriers.

The Crossrail island platform has been built next to the DLR island platform enabling a handy interchange between the two giving residents of Beckton a good alternative to destinations they would currently use the DLR and other Underground lines to reach.

Most notably the next two DLR stations west are Royal Victoria and Canning Town where interchange is available with the Jubilee line as well as DLR trains to Stratford where there are connections at West Ham along the way with the District and Hammersmith & City line and c2c. By changing to Crossrail at Custom House, Bectonians will have many more travel options with quicker journey times.

The next station after Custom House on Crossrail is a mere three and a half minutes away at Canary Wharf. It took me exactly ten minutes by taking the DLR to Canning Town where there’s a handy split level interchange with the Jubilee line …

A spiky Canning Town

…. then after passing through North Greenwich you’re soon arriving at Canary Wharf and its vast cavernous station – giving a taster of what we can expect from the new Crossrail stations.

I could have stayed on the DLR from Custom House and changed at Poplar on to another DLR line which also serves Canary Wharf, but frequencies are lower and journey time longer so discounted that option, or I could have taken the short walk – about eight minutes – from Poplar to Canary Wharf.

A journey from Woolwich to Canary Wharf would have taken 22 minutes on the DLR and Jubilee line whereas Crossrail will take just over half that time so it’ll be goodbye DLR and Jubilee for many commuters.

Canary Wharf is another Woolwich style split station arrangement with the new Crossrail station sited about 350 yards north of the Jubilee line station making for a rather inconvenient interchange between the two. The DLR station is sited in a third location. Three stations run by TfL on three different systems all with the same name. What could possibly go wrong?

I always find Canary Wharf a bit of a rabbit warren to walk around especially when using the plush swanky shopping mall to navigate through the area however, I was pleased to see direction signs have been updated …

…. including a rather nice naming of Crossrail Place where you’ll find the new station.

(The Jubilee line interestingly is located in Jubilee Square).

The new Crossrail station is located in part of a former dock which was drained to allow for its construction.

Above it is a rather impressive building housing a high end eatery at a high level.

The nautical themed roof over buildings which are on top of the station

The next station on Crossrail is the much loved Whitechapel famous for where the Overground passes under the Underground and now Crossrail joins the mix on the same site and where there’s been an extensive rebuild in a Tardis like way behind the original entrance on Whitechapel Road which has been refurbished and retained.

As well as the Overground providing links to New Cross, Croydon and Crystal Palace the District and Hammersmith & City lines will being passengers in from Upminster, Barking and East Ham giving huge potential for new interchange and journey possibilities with Crossrail.

Expect Whitechapel to become a major hub for interchange.

A one stop journey on Crossrail from Canary Wharf to Whitechapel will whisk passengers between the two stations in just four minutes. My journey on Monday involved the Jubilee line one stop to Canada Water where there’s a handy split level change to the Overground to Whitechapel. It took 13 minutes.

Whitechapel is the eastern most station where Crossrail trains from both Abbey Wood and Shenfield join together in the new tunnel that’s been built west of Stratford to connect the line from Shenfield to Liverpool Street into the central core providing a coordinated high frequency service through central London. In the immediate future Shenfield trains will continue above ground on existing tracks from Stratford into what is now being called Liverpool Street High Level (ie the terminus station we know and love). Crossrail has its own subterranean platforms which have been constructed beneath Finsbury Circus and stretch all the way from Liverpool Street to Moorgate meaning passengers will have a choice of which station to leave from – and interestingly the distance will be about the same as in Woolwich and Canary Wharf between the different stations!

It took me 10 minutes on the Hammersmith & City line from Whitechapel to reach Liverpool Street and four minutes of that was waiting for the train. Crossrail doesn’t have Aldgate East to stop at and will do the journey in just two-and-a-half minutes.

And so I arrived at the exciting stretch of Crossrail at the eastern end of the central core. I’ll continue my pre-opening travels in tomorrow’s blog including describing how new cross London journeys – for example connecting Southall with Ilford – will be transformed once Crossrail’s doors are open..

Roger French

Bloggin timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

Next blog: Sunday 30th January: More travels across Crossrail

14 thoughts on “Travels across Crossrail

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  1. Logically people would either get a bus or walk from Pumstead to Woolwich crossrail, it would be pointless waiting for a SE train, then having to walk again to the new station.

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  2. Thanks vm.
    Much talk about opening of the core, but any indication yet as to approx when the Shenfield line will be connected in? I think Stratford’s narrow interchanges will become even more difficult once you can cross the platform onto the Lizzie Line – if you can fight your way!

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  3. Thanks for all the very interesting details about timings.

    Whitechapel, as you say, will be even more important as an interchange. Incidentally, for (public transport) travel from south east London to stations on the Enfield/Chingford section of the Overground, Google Maps often shows the quickest journeys involving a 9-10 minute walk between Whitechapel and Bethnal Green stations. Unfortunately the road layout does not lend itself to a bus link, but the walk could be significantly shortened by a north entrance/exit to Whitechapel – does anyone know if that is included in the ‘new’ station plans?

    Canary Wharf Jubilee Line station – cavernous, as you say; I wonder whether if the architects had been less focused on winning prizes for size and grandeur, and more on making the stations user-friendly, it could also have cost a bit less.

    On cost – the Victoria line (finished in 1968, cost £56m = less than £1 billion in today’s money) managed five excellent cross-platform interchanges. Crossrail: ZERO!! – for all that money … At one time they were trying to sell separate-platform interchanges as ‘for the convenience of customers’.

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  4. An interesting read, as usual!

    Just a clarification about Whitechapel: the junction between the Shenfield and Abbey Wood branches is to the east of the station (it is actually under Stepney Green Park) so westbound trains towards Central London would join before Whitechapel, not after. Whitechapel now has a north-side entrance on Durward Place.

    I understand the current plan is to introduce Shenfield-Paddington services and extend the Abbey Wood services to Reading and Heathrow-Terminal 5 towards the end of 2022, with the full timetable following in May 2023.

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  5. I’ve read that footbridge at Royal Victoria Docks in London is ment to be a transporter bridge a strange hybrid between a bridge, ferry and cable car but the passenger ferry bit underneath hasn’t been added yet.I think, unless any small private ones run, England is currently without a single working transporter bridge as the Middlesbrough to Port Clarence one has been out of action for about 3 years now.Wales and France would seem to have the nearest working examples of the breed.

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  6. The Newport bridge in Wales is closed until next year, both for restoration and the building of a new visitor centre.

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    1. The nearest functional transporter bridge then would be the Eriebnisbrucke close to Monchengladbach in Germany but this one is powered by a human turning a wheel.Monchengladbach is around Aarchen and Koln if I recall correctly and don’t cheat using Google!The reason I know is it’s near the Effiel National Park which I was going to go to before COVID-19 struck .

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  7. At almost eye-watering £19 BILLION, you would have at least thought it would have opened on time! I know Covid was unforeseen, but frankly, it appears much of this is already duplicating many existing and satisfactory facilities merely to knock off a few minutes travelling time in the manner of HS2. Unless passengers numbers return (unlikely), the National Audit office report may make interesting reading in a couple of years time. I know emotions run high within those who favour rail over bus and coach matters (tin hat on!), but when compared, it is almost scandalous. Who can blame the rest of the UK for looking in disbelief at money spent at this level in London once more.

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    1. You compare it to HS2 and make the same erroneous assumption that it is primarily about time. It isn’t it’s about capacity. Would you argue that the Victoria Line was a waste of money when everywhere other than Pimlico already had a station? No, because it carries millions of passengers. Crossrail will also be the same, as well freeing up space on the Central Line amongst others.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Once you put covid to one side though, which as you say was unforeseen, the existing facilities weren’t satisfactory though. Chronic over crowding in places which meant that passengers might have to let multiple trains go past. And that’s before we even consider suppressed demand or the amount of housing being built in East London. Like it or not the reason London has been able to make a business case for this kind of investment is because of the sheer volume of people travelling. How it pans out post covid is of course a very different question.

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  8. If I understand correctly, the Woolwich Elizabeth Line station is on the site of the old Woolwich Arsenal, while the Woolwich Arsenal Station most definitely isn’t!

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  9. jeffhb is quite correct about the irony of the two Woolwich town centre station’s names. No doubt future historians will write articles (or a future Geoff Marshall will make a video) explaining why the station names are the “wrong way round”! Woolwich’s Crossrail station will always be first in the alphabetical of stations, however, ahead of Woolwich Arsenal and Woolwich Dockyard.

    I think it is a travesty that the Plumstead tunnel portal, track and station layout were not designed so that the National/Network Rail tracks are on the outside and the Crossrail tracks on the inside to enable simple cross-platform interchange in the direction of travel between Southeastern and Elizabeth Line trains.

    Thank you for featuring the Royal Victoria footbridge. I never knew it existed after all this time and will take a walk over it when I get the chance.

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  10. And if the passengers don’t return as a result of new “lifestyles”…? Appreciate all was planned with a vision for the future, but at £19 Billion (!). My primary point was that the rest of the UK can only look on in disbelief, and you should try travelling on some rush hour trains in any City along the M62.

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