42 kilometres of new rail tunnels under London

The Crossrail route will link existing Network Rail services from Reading and Heathrow in the west, and Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east through 42 kilometres of tunnels and new underground stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel and Canary Wharf.


21kms of new "twin-bore" tunnels are being constructed to deliver the new rail tunnels through which the Crossrail trains will operate. The five tunnels being constructed are:

  • Royal Oak to Farringdon west (Drive X) - two 6.8km rail tunnels, constructed by tunnelling machines Phyllis and Ada, were completed in October 2013 and January 2014 resepctively.
  • Limmo to Farringdon east (Drive Y) - tunnelling machines Elizabeth and Victoria are constructing new tunnels between Limmo Peninsular, in Canning Town, and Farringdon. The length of each drive is approximately 8.3 km
  • Pudding Mill Lane to Stepney Green (Drive Z) - Tunnel boring machines Jessica and Ellie completed their 2.7km tunnel drives from Pudding Mill Lane portal near Stratford to Stepney Green in February 2014 and June 2014 respectively.
  • Limmo to Victoria Dock Portal (Drive G) - Tunnelling machines Jessica and Ellie have also completed their second tunnel drives - a 900 metre drive from Limmo Peninsual in Canning Town and Victoria Dock Portal. 
  • Plumstead to North Woolwich (Drive H) - In south-east London, tunnelling machines Sophia and Mary have completed their 2.9km drives from Plumstead to North Woolwich.

All of this adds up to 42km of rail tunnels located below the busy streets of London.

Eight giant tunnelling boring machines, or TBMs, are being used to construct the new tunnels.  Each 1000 tonne machine will weave their way between existing underground lines, sewers, utility tunnels and building foundations from station to station at depths of up to 40m.

More than 23 miles (nearly 90%) of train tunnels are now complete, with tunnelling due to finish in spring 2015. Six of Crossrail’s eight tunnelling machines have now completed their drives.

#ExploreCrossrail in this 360 degree image of one of our rail tunnels beneath Tottenham Court Road

Crossrail tunnel alignment

Tunnelling vertical alignment diagram, August 2013

Crossrail tunnelling drives

Crossrail tunnelling drives diagram

Crossrail began building its first tunnel in May 2012 when the first pair of tunnelling machines, Phyllis and sister TBM Ada, started tunnelling at Royal Oak in west London.

Teams of dedicated construction workers are working 24 hours a day to complete the tunnels for Europe's largest civil engineering project.

The new tunnels will surface via newly constructed tunnel portals at Royal Oak, Pudding Mill Lane, North Woolwich, Victoria Dock, and Plumstead.

Crossrail tunnelling machine progress

Crossrail tunnelling machines progress

Download Tunnelling brochure

Constructing our tunnels

The tunnelling strategy for the western section of the Crossrail route is quite different from the eastern and south-eastern tunnelled sections.

In the west the tunnel boring machines (TBMs) were launched at Royal Oak Portal to tunnel towards Farringdon creating the running tunnels first, after which the station tunnels will be enlarged around the running tunnels. These TBMs will pass under station sites at PaddingtonBond StreetTottenham Court Road and Farringdon.

For the eastern tunnel drive between Limmo Peninsula and Farringdon, the station tunnels and underground structures are constructed before the TBMs pass these locations. Tunnelling machines Elizabeth and Victoria have already constructed over 10 kilometres of tunnel, following spectacular break throughs at Canary Wharf station box, Stepney Green shaft and Whitechapel station.  

Tunnel boring machines Jessica and Ellie have completed their 2.7km tunnel drives from Pudding Mill Lane portal near Stratford to Stepney Green.  Jessica and Ellie have also completed their second tunnel drives - a 900 metre drive from Limmo Peninsual in Canning Town and Victoria Dock Portal.

In the southeast, two tunnel boring machines - Mary and Sophia - were used to drive a new tunnel beneath the River Thames, launching from Plumstead portal and driving through a pre-built station box at Woolwich.

Read more about each of our tunnel drives using the links below.

Explore Crossrail

WESTERN TUNNELS - ROYAL OAK TO FARRINGDON

WESTERN TUNNELS - ROYAL OAK TO FARRINGDON

The western tunnel drive, between Royal Oak and Farringdon will be the point at which the existing Network Rail services... Read more

EASTERN TUNNELS - LIMMO PENINSULA TO FARRINGDON AND PUDDING MILL LANE TO STEPNEY GREEN

EASTERN TUNNELS - LIMMO PENINSULA TO FARRINGDON AND PUDDING MILL LANE TO STEPNEY GREEN

At approximately 8.3 km in length, Limmo Peninsular to Farringdon (Drive Y) will be the longest of the 5 Crossrail... Read more

THAMES TUNNEL - PLUMSTEAD TO NORTH WOOLWICH

THAMES TUNNEL - PLUMSTEAD TO NORTH WOOLWICH

To deliver Crossrail services to Abbey Wood, a new tunnel will be built underneath the River Thames between Plumstead... Read more

BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO THE CONNAUGHT TUNNEL

BREATHING NEW LIFE INTO THE CONNAUGHT TUNNEL

To deliver the Crossrail branch to Abbey Wood, a major proportion of the construction work involves reusing disused... Read more