One of Boris Johnson’s best hits is a carom from the past. On the occasion of Isabel II’s visit to the works of cross rail In 2016, which was already the largest civil engineering project in Europe, the conservative politician and popular mayor of London decided on a name with a greater historical vocation for the new metro and railway line destined to cross the metropolis from west to east: elizabethline (Elizabethan Line). On May 24, the central section of the biggest boost in a generation to public transport in the city will be inaugurated, and it coincides with the year of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee (70 years on the throne). Shielding yourself with the name of the monarch, the most respected institution -the person, above all- in a United Kingdom that is trying to predict its post-Brexit and post-pandemic future, is not a guarantee of success, but it has managed to revive expectations for the project . “The biggest change this is going to bring to London will be an increase in economic activity. This line is going to allow a million and a half people to access, in a temporary space not exceeding twenty minutes, the central economic and labor area of the city”, Mark Wild, executive director of Crossrail, explains to EL PAÍS. “It will produce about 42,000 million pounds [49.000 millones de euros] in aggregate net benefits. It will be the catalyst for London’s return, in the post-pandemic era, to being a vibrant city.”
The total cost of a colossal work, both in its size and in the technology deployed, has been more than 22,000 million euros. Since the first drafts of the project, in 2008, there have been many companies from around the world that have poured their experience and capacity to promote it. The Spanish Ferrovial, for example, has carried out the new Farringdon station. Excavation, tunneling works, finishes and mechanical and electronic installations. And an artistic wink to preserve the historical legacy of London throughout the route of the new line. The station’s roofs, with a twenty degree slope, accumulate 425 tons of prefabricated concrete segments. And they all come together to form the diamond pattern, inspired by the works of the local jeweler’s community, Hatton Gardens.
“Building the tunnels was complicated. And building the stations was also a huge challenge. But putting all this together, with the new train machinery, with three different signaling systems, with the task of making sure that each digital component worked autonomously and in conjunction with the rest, has been something incredibly complex”, describes the commissioner from TransportForLondon [la empresa municipal del transporte] for the works, Andy Byford.
Elizabeth Line is not exactly another line of the London Underground, the oldest in the world and one of the most legendary. It is a completely new metropolis transportation module. In fact, its symbol has the same shape as that of the Underground of the city (the circle crossed in its diameter), but the color, of a purple tone, is its own, to differentiate it. It is a hybrid of metro and suburban. 100 kilometers of route, 41 stations (ten of them completely new), to connect from the west Reading and Heathrow (where the city’s main airport is located) with Shenfield and Abbey Wood to the east. And crossing the middle of the two financial hearts that breathe money and life into the city, the City of London and Canary Wharf.
The project has gone through many ups and downs, with financing problems and the need for the city to pump in extra money, as well as the central government, during the long months of paralysis of the pandemic. And he was immersed in all the doubts and fears for public transport of a new post-pandemic era in which teleworking would proliferate and citizens would be reluctant to immerse themselves in congested and poorly ventilated spaces. From the beginning, however, the design of the new platforms, the stations and the connecting pedestrian tunnels opted for wide spaces, which triple the conventional volume of the classic London Underground stations. Warm lights and a clean, minimalist and clear design that is more reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odysseythan to the dystopian vision of Bladerunner. “Let’s hope that, in this case, there isn’t a malicious central computer doing its thing,” says Byford ironically.
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
The trains, with a speed and smoothness notably superior to that of the rest of the machines that run through the labyrinth of the London underground, have been rehearsing religiously for almost a year, as if they were already in regular operation, the routes and stops. And those responsible for the project have decided that the time has come, at least to start up the central section of the blade structure of the new line. Ten minutes to cover the route that goes from Paddington to Liverpool Street, compared to almost thirty for a line like Hammersmith & City. The rest of the line will be gradually expanded during its commissioning, to complete the deployment in mid-2024.
London, and especially its financial heart, has spent several years trying to convince the world that Brexit has not detracted from the city’s magnetism. Its schools, its museums, its restaurants, its infrastructures, its language, were fundamental assets, until now, to retain weighty financial institutions, and their directors and employees. Elizabeth Line, baptized with the name of the largest tourist attraction in the United Kingdom, will now try to contribute to the rescue of the city.