London’s Crossrail project not only now has an official name — it was revealed the the cross-city rail system will be called the Elizabeth line — it is also less than a year away from the start of the first testing phase.
It was a year ago that tunnelling was completed — using two tunnel boring machines (TBMs) called Victoria and Elizabeth, continuing with the regal theme.
That followed three years of tunnelling that started in May 2012, and now, four years on, the project is approaching 75% complete, says Crossrail project manager Nisrine Chartouny.
The first services will start in May 2017 with trains running from Shenfield to Liverpool Street. The tunnels below the capital and ten new stations in central London will open in December 2018 and the line will open fully in December 2019, when it will connect Reading and Heathrow in the west with Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
It’s the largest transport project in Europe, and will add around 10% to the capacity of London’s rail network, serving 40 stations — ten of which are new for the project. An estimated 200M passengers will ride the line each year.
Inspiring the future
Since the TBMs finished their work in May 2015, work has included constructing cross passages, ventilation, and preparing for the track to be laid. The track is being installed from east and west simultaneously — with more than 10km of the required 50km of track has already been laid, says Chartouny — and the ventilation systems have been fitted at the same time. Next step will be signalling communication systems, power, and fitting the stations with energy, services and so forth.
It’s all set to be complete on time and on budget — something that the Crossrail team are very proud of, says Chartouny, and which could inspire further construction projects.
“The industry needs confidence that construction projects can be provided on time and on budget,” says Chartouny. “There is also the human aspect, in terms of inspiring future projects. There was a serious skills shortage in the UK, and we could have either hired from abroad, or do what we did instead — set up an academy, and train 20,000 people to develop tunneling and construction skills.
“These people can now use their skills on the HS2 and Tideway projects, and the skills are also being exported to Europe and beyond. We’ve already had 550 apprentices go through the system.
“What we’ve seen is that when people believe in themselves, then we are able to beat our own goals.”
The innovation used throughout Crossrail has attracted attention from overseas — and the team has been keen to share its knowledge.
“We thought long and hard how to approach the process of sharing knowledge and skills, and launched the Learning Legacy website,” says Chartouny. “We publish lessons learnt, technical papers, and so on, publishing new items every six months. We also host visits from jobs all over the world, such as Australia and China. The project has certainly put the UK on the map.”
There is also the economic legacy that Crossrail will leave — whilst the project will cost £14.8bn, it is due to generate more than £42bn in industry and business.
And of course, Crossrail may inspire the mooted ‘Crossrail 2’, proposed as a north-south counterpart — but no plans have yet been officially confirmed.
Part of what has given the Crossrail team so much knowledge to share with the global construction industry is the approach to taking on board innovative techniques and approaches.
“One of the things we’re most proud of is our work on innovations,” says Chartouny. “We’ve encouraged ideas to be put forward from everyone regarding safety, productivity, and so on, which has developed momentum. The HS2 and Tideway projects will both have access to this information.”
There are numerous examples of this — from thermal imaging cameras being used to detect water ingress, to the spray concrete used the line platform tunnels, and the idea that heat exchange from tunnel segments could be used to heat buildings which, although not used on Crossrail, is now being considered for future projects.
“We’re also proud of how flexible our team and our contractors have been,” says Chartouny. On a project like Crossrail there will always be lots of changes along the way. There were archaeological finds, which is not unexpected in London. We were very agile and so were our contractors, being able to move onto other plans if required. Our mindset was to be able to change the method and to do so safely.”
There was also the issue of minimising disruption within London, one of the world’s busiest cities. Crossrail achieved this, and also a little bit more.
“Our ground-moving techniques generated less movement than anticipated,” says Chartouny. “And we used track and barges to remove spoil, which avoided the need for tens of thousands of lorries moving it through London.
“The spoil was then used to create the Wallsea wildlife sanctuary. Things like that are how you create job satisfaction, and you end up with people working more heartily.”