LONDON.– The oldest underground transportation system in the world – the beloved, smelly, iconic, noisy and crowded subway – is about to experience its biggest expansion in decades with the opening of the Elizabeth linesuper fast and quiet, which promises to transform this city for travelers and visitors.
The Elizabeth line, which will be ready to board its first passengers on May 24has elegant wagons that move along the tracks located 10 floors below the streets, balanced on rubber cushions that absorb shock and dampen noise, thanks to air-conditioned tunnels and WiFi.
When fully operational, the 117 kilometer east-west corridor will bring the outermost suburbs closer to central London, putting an additional 1.5 million people at 45 minutes.
London Transport Commissioner Andy Byford described the new railway as “World’s wonder” and predicted that users will be “blown away”. “We sweat blood to come to a conclusion”, he added.
The opening corresponds to the Platinum Jubilee of its namesake, Queen Elizabeth II, who celebrates 70 years on the throne. However, authorities know that the Elizabeth Line carries four years late and a budget of 6 billion dollars, and that decades of underground and surface tunnels have diverted people from their path. In all, the “Lizzie Line” cost over $22,000 million.
Also called the Crossrail project, it was at its height the largest infrastructure project in Europe. He survived three London mayors and four prime ministers, and thousands of scathing British tabloid headlines for repeated delays.
Traversing the heart of London, one of the oldest megacities on the planet, tunnel boring machines have discovered during their decades of excavation prehistoric bison, Roman streets, plague victims, Tudor mansions and plenty of Victorian sewer pipes.
At Liverpool Street Station, a monument marks the spot where archaeologists discovered the remains of 3,300 victims of successive plagues of the city, buried in the New Yard of the Church of Bethlem, or Bedlam, between 1569 and 1738.
Archaeologists worked for six months to remove the skeletons, they were buried in a new cemetery in the Thames Estuary.
Nearby is a bird sanctuary, created by the three million tonnes of London clay excavated by tunnel diggers and transported down the river by barge.
Byford — a former chief administrator of the New York City Transit Authority, hired in 2020 to complete the ailing Elizabeth Line project — said it wasn’t the digging that slowed everything down. Was the “the most difficult integration of complex railway systems to date”.
There were “16 million pieces”, and they all had to communicate with each othersaid Byford, whose grandfather drove a London bus. Byford suggested that for the global megaprojects ahead of us, it’s not the concrete that’s difficult, but the computer coding.
The new line is more than the metro. Its trains will perform a dual function: as fully automated underground tube in central London and as a surface railwayreaching the towns of Essex to the east and Heathrow Airport and the town of Reading to the west, requiring three switching regimes, to keep trains on time and prevent them from crashing.
The old metro, the classic, goes nowhere. The original lines and their people-carrying vehicles remain.
The London Underground system – and in particular the plan drawn by Harry Beck in 1933 – shapes the conception that many have of the geography of the city. But soon it will be reissued Beck’s “compressed design masterpiece”, with the Elizabeth line at the center.
As workers cleared the last bits of construction dust at the new Paddington station for the Elizabeth Line, Byford led a group of international journalists on a tour of the system.
The oldest parts of the London Underground look like a Victorian time capsule. A maze of narrow corridors connects the stations with blood-red tiles, dirty nooks and rusty bricks. The cars smell slightly of urine and pork pies from the day before.
Elizabeth line cars, however, still smell like a new car.
There are 10 new airy and artistic metro stations, taller than cathedrals, adorned not with stained glass but with concrete reinforced with fiberglass, in an oatmeal color designed to calm the urban nervousness of the passage of the metro, say the designers. Purple accents recall the colors of the Queen’s horse racing.
Architecture critic Edwin Heathcote, writing in the FinancialTimesnoted the new line of “large but austere” and “calm but a little beige”.
The Elizabeth line is powerful, not flashy. Outside the city center trains will reach just over 140 kilometers per hour. But the the ride is so quiet that when the trains run, what you hear will be people, not machines.
There are tempered glass benches on the edges of the platforms, making it impossible to fall onto the tracks. Glass also surrounds the tunnels, so the cars are neither too hot nor too cold.
When the bill was first debated in Parliament in the 1990s, the challenges of climate change have hardly been taken into account.
Similarly, before Covid arrived, policymakers weren’t too concerned about an infectious airborne disease that could cripple the planet’s global economy. So good to know the Elizabeth line will be filled with fresh, filtered air, and that the rail line will add 10% capacity to the systemtaking more cars off the road.
Boris Johnson, as mayor of London he applauded the Elizabeth line as “a great success for the British economy” and a “transformative new railway”.
But politicians are waiting to see how much Johnson, as prime minister, welcomes the launch of the project, since his Conservative Party government promised to “level out” spending in Britain, giving more to starving provinces and less to fat London.
The oft-maligned Transport for London agency overseen by the mayor Sadik Khan, struggling to be independent, one day. But Labor’s Khan celebrated the railway as the “new pride” of the city, noting that post-Brexit and post-pandemic Britain is working again.
Mark Wild, CEO of Crossrail, was equally enthusiastic when he showed off the gleaming new stations to reporters this week. “It feels like the subway, it feels like the subway,” he said. “But I promise you it’s much more than the subway.”