The eastern, western and central parts of the line will not be fully connected at the opening. But once everything is hooked up in the UK autumn, passengers will be able to travel from Heathrow Airport to the Docklands financial district in just 17 minutes, instead of an hour on public transport now.
Work started in 2009 and is expected to be completed in 2018. But what Mr Wild called the ‘tremendous complexity’ of his signaling system confused the project’s timetable, with costs rising from £14.8 billion to around £19 billion.
At the time, this sparked a debate about whether Britain would ever be able to complete major infrastructure projects on time and within budget.
But Mr Wild said the challenge was all in the advanced digital and signaling aspects of the project.
He said tunneling and construction had been largely completed on schedule, despite having to navigate existing underground lines, skyscraper foundations and London’s plethora of archeology – including the discovery of 3,000 bodies near Liverpool Street station, in the eerie called Bedlam Burial Grounds.
“The civil engineering has gone very well. What went wrong in the first place was dealing with the immense digital complexity,” he told a news conference.
The line’s custom signaling had to interact with several existing systems and travel both over the surface and in the tunnel, with trains switching between the systems as they ran at high speed.
‘Brain drain’ to Australia
Mr Wild, who worked at Public Transport Victoria from 2012 to 2015 as project director and then chief executive, said the Melbourne project would likely struggle with similar challenges.
Now that Crossrail was done, he said, many of its experts would likely start working on the Australian projects if they reached that same critical point.
“Many of my team will be working in Melbourne and Sydney. There is a brain drain going on,” he said.
He had hoped to keep the team together to begin work on Crossrail 2, a new line connecting the northeast and southwest of the capital, but that project had yet to get off the drawing board.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has shifted the country’s infrastructure efforts beyond London with a so-called “levelling” agenda targeting deprived and disadvantaged parts of northern England.
In the December 2019 elections, voters in these areas defected en masse from Labor to Johnson’s Conservative Party.
Alexander Jan – who chairs a local business lobby group in central London, where Farringdon will be the busiest station on the Elizabeth Line – said it is difficult to get new projects off the ground in the capital.
He said public transport governance in England was more centralized at the national level, while in the US and Australia it was a state-level responsibility. The network operator Transport for London was also extremely dependent on tariff revenues instead of government subsidies.
Transport for London’s fare revenues plummeted during the COVID-19 lockdowns and the organization has had lengthy discussions with Mr Johnson’s government over a bailout and long-term financing plan.
But that’s all forgotten, at least for a moment, as train spotters queue up Tuesday morning for their first ride on the sleek new trains. Even the ailing queen was tempted for a rare public appearance, to see the line named in her honor.
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