Crossrail Starts Boring Phase After 23 Years

Published 10th May 2012

Crossrail boring machines start tunneling under London to create 21km of twin-bore tunnels

LONDON - Crossrail is the project to provide east-west train services across London in similar fashion as provided on a north-south axis by Thameslink. The project was being developed over 20 years ago by Network Southeast but was stymied by rail privatisation and several bouts of funding uncertainty.

Now in its 4th decade!

Crossrail’s origins started with the Cross London Rail Study in 1989 and this developed into the Chelsea-Hackney Line project and the Jubilee Line extension also became part of the original scheme.

The first Parliamentary Bill was submitted in 1991 and debated for three years. The East-West Rail Study was completed in December 2000 followed by the Cross London Rail Links study in June 2001, itself followed in November 2002 by the Case For Crossrail.

The business case was completed in Sept 2003 and the Hybrid Bill deposited in Parliament in February 2005 which received Royal Assent in July 2008. This gave Powers to compulsory purchase land where necessary and to start letting construction contracts and to start dealing with environmental issues.

The original scheme was to link Reading, Aylesbury and Chesham with central London and Shenfield but this has now been altered to run from Maidenhead to Heathrow, Abbey Wood and Shenfield.

TBMs switch-on

The project will use seven Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) and these are huge circular devices measuring 120m long and weighing 850 tons. The first one arrived at Old Oak Common at Christmas and will be eventually followed by another four or five. The first two have been named Ada and Phyllis and they will tunnel eastwards from Royal Oak. The spoil they generate is taken back to Royal Oak, just outside Paddington, for loading onto trains for onward transportation to Northfleet in Kent.

Spoil from other sections of the tunnel boring will be taken by barge down the Thames to the RSPB Wallesey Island bird reserve. This is largely below sea level and protected by barriers so the spoil will help protect and enlarge the reserve. It also means landfill tax does not have to be paid on the millions of tons of spoil. Tunnel boring has now commenced.

Keeping track in wider and deeper bores

The tunnels are larger than currently used by the underground as they will have to be able to accept main line trains. Therefore the tunnels are 6m wide whereas the Jubilee lines are 4.35m wide and the Victoria Lines a mere 3.81m wide.

In some places, Crossrail will be within 1metre of the Northern Line cast iron rings so great care has had to be built into the design, construction and operation of the scheme. A special factory at Old Oak Common has started to produce 70,000 concrete segments to line the tunnels.

The project will build 66kms of track and provide 61 platforms or extensions and will electrify 146km of track. 90kms of surface track will be affected by the project and 28 stations will be upgraded on the surface plus eight sub-surface stations upgraded.

Post Office Railway nearly re-opened for rubbish!

The disused Post Office Railway which runes under central London was considered for being brought back into use to kove rubbish and spoil but the idea became beset with difficulties and the plan was abandoned.

Station facilities

Two new ticket halls will be provided at Bond Street, and one each at Tottenham Court Road, Liverpool Street, Farringdon, and Barbican. The main central London stations will have up to four entrances/exits to enable the expected numbers of passengers to flow smoothly into and out of the stations. It is expected that Liverpool Street will be the busiest station with Farringdon close behind.

Canary Wharf station has been built on an old dock on the Thames and the land is owned by British Waterways. The station has been constructed using hollow piles which will help control floodwater by providing storage when needed.

Train timetables

The provision of trains has been a bit controversial with the Government becoming involved in the procurement row delaying the process somewhat after the Bombardier political fiasco. The trains will be 200m long, have regenerative braking and will carry 1500 passengers in air conditioned conditions through the tunnels, a huge improvement over the tube.

Each carriage has three double doors on each side and the trains will run 90 seconds apart using conventional signalling. Trains will remained coupled between Mondays and Saturdays to minimise faults caused by splitting and joining units.

The first trains will run between Shenfield and Liverpool Street on test from December 16 2017 which gives a year to ‘shake down’ any teething problems. The first Crossrail services will run from December 2018 between Paddington and Shenfield followed by being extended to Abbey Wood. The full service is planned to operate from December 2019.

Sewage solution

London has a complex sewage-pipe system running below the streets and Crossrail has had to avoid disturbing these brittle cast-iron pipes. For example, running underneath Oxford Street is a cast iron sewer built in 1826. This was deemed too fragile to disturb so a PVC lining was inserted inside the pipe to ensure no leaks occurred.

Employment, the economy and passengers

Crossrail has estimated that 14,000 jobs will be created by the project and it will be worth a huge £42bn boost to the economy. The line will serve a population of 1.5 million within 45 minutes of key London districts and the scheme will pay for itself by the extra taxes generated by the employment created when completed.

These taxes will be the result of an estimated 600,000 extra jobs helping the 800,000 higher population forecast. The existing rail and road networks could not cope with the increased population which will need transport to London.

Funding to the tune of just under £16bn was announced by Gordon Brown in October 2007 and the deal was signed on December 4, 2008. This survived a review by the new Government two years ago and the scheme is now in full swing.

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