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Main Construction

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At the heart of the Elizabeth line are 42km of new tunnels that stretch under central London connecting existing railways to the west of Paddington and to the east of Liverpool Street.

In July 2008, the Department for Transport (DfT) made an Order to appoint Crossrail Ltd (CRL) as the Nominated Undertaker for the Crossrail works. The Order, which transferred to CRL the powers to gain the necessary consents and build the railway, was made under the powers of the Crossrail Act which gained Royal Assent in July 2008. At that point, CRL changed from a planning and promotional organisation to the Delivery Agent for the new railway.


Utility diversions in preparation for the start of main construction activity commenced in October 2008 until early 2013 in the Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon and Liverpool Street areas. Small trenches, approximately 1.5m deep and 1m wide were dug at various station sites to identify whether below-ground services - pipes, cables and so on - matched with the information provided by utility companies and other service providers. This was essential to enable the main construction works to proceed safely from 2010 with sufficient knowledge of the existing conditions.

At Liverpool Street station before construction could begin on the Broadgate ticket hall a London Underground power substation which was situated underneath Liverpool Street had to be decommissioned. Crossrail contractors built and commissioned a new Communications Equipment Room (CER), power substation and switch rooms for the Liverpool Street London Underground station on Broad Street Avenue. A cable tunnel constructed 5 metres below ground connects the new substation with the London Underground station and was the first permanent sprayed concrete lining tunnel to be finished on the Crossrail project. 

The telecommunication ducts, power cables and sewers in Liverpool Street also needed to be diverted, however, it was not feasible to divert these to surrounding streets due to the shallow depth of the London Underground. A new underground utility corridor was therefore created beneath the north side pavement of 1-12 Liverpool Street. This corridor had piled walls, and the northern set of piles were some 40m deep as they were also used as the southern piled wall of the new ticket hall. Cables and a sewer from within Liverpool Street were rerouted into, or beneath this new utility corridor. 

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The land acquisition process undertaken for Crossrail has been amongst the most complex ever undertaken in the UK, given the extent of the project from Reading and Heathrow in the west through to Shenfield and Woolwich to the east and south east of London, and including two 21km tunnels through the heart of the west end and the City of London.  On this basis, the land interests affected include many of London’s most economically important districts, and also some of its most historic urban fabric.

The Crossrail Act gave the project powers to acquire over 150 hectares of surface land and over 10 million cubic metres of subsoil, in which over 1,500 individuals or organisations had an ownership interest. 

The Act provided a time limit of 5 years in which these powers were to be exercised to complete the acquisition process and ensure all the land and associated rights over land were available for the construction and long-term operation of the railway.

Whilst the Act specified the extent of the land over which compulsory purchase powers could be used, Crossrail was required to demonstrate for each work package that it would acquire no greater amount of land than reasonably required to deliver the railway and that the proposed use of compulsory purchase powers was proportionate and in the public interest.

Once acquired, Crossrail Ltd managed the land safely and responsibly, including arranging for custodianship to be passed between contractors and ensuring all responsibilities and obligations were covered. 

To prepare for the main works to commence, a number of the purchased buildings needed to be demolished. 


In November 2008, an agreement was finalised for a £230m funding package from BAA to ensure that when fully open, the Elizabeth line will guarantee a fast train service four times an hour to/from Heathrow for the majority of the day.

In December 2008 an agreement worth up to £350m was finalised with the City of London Corporation, who agreed to make a direct contribution of £200m to the Crossrail project. In addition, the City of London Corporation would seek contributions from businesses of £150m and guaranteed £50m of these contributions.

Also, in December 2008, Canary Wharf Group agreed to contribute £150m towards the costs of the station at Canary Wharf and that work on the station would begin in 2009.

In March 2009, Crossrail Ltd announced the appointment of Transcend, a joint venture between AECOM, CH2M Hill and Nichols Group, as its Programme Partner. The Programme Partner would provide strategic programme management with the object of helping to deliver the overall programme safely, to time, to the desired standard and within budget.

In April 2009, the DfT confirmed that it had appointed Jacobs Engineering UK Ltd as the Project Representative for Crossrail Ltd. The Project Representative would provide oversight support to the project sponsors (DfT and TfL) to ensure that Crossrail Ltd would deliver the project on schedule, within budget and to the agreed standard.


Crossrail Canary Wharf Station launch event_ 15 May 2009_235

On 15 May 2009, the project reached a landmark moment as the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson and the then Rail Minister Lord Adonis marked the start of construction of the Elizabeth line. The formal start of construction, held at Canary Wharf, signalled the intensification of work on the project and followed the confirmation of major funding agreements with BAA, Canary Wharf Group and the Corporation of London, the appointments of the Chief Executive and Chairman of Crossrail Ltd and the appointment of contractors who would oversee the overall project delivery including design, tunnelling and construction.

Canary Wharf Group subsidiary Canary Wharf Contractors (CWC) was the lead contractor for the design and construction of the Canary Wharf station. CWC handed over the station to Crossrail Ltd in 2015 for fit-out, testing and commissioning.


From 2011 to 2013 a total of seven contracts were awarded for the new central section stations, including:

  • Paddington station awarded to Costain Skanska Joint Venture (July 2011)
  • Farringdon station awarded to BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman (UK) & Kier Construction Joint Venture (November 2011)
  • Whitechapel station awarded to Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering, Morgan Sindall & Vinci Construction UK Joint Venture (November 2011)
  • Liverpool Street station awarded to Laing O’Rourke Construction Ltd. (March 2012)
  • Tottenham Court Road station awarded to Laing O’Rourke Construction Ltd. (June 2012)
  • Custom House station awarded to Laing O’Rourke Construction Ltd. (August 2012)
  • Bond Street station awarded to Costain Skanska Joint Venture (February 2013)

Following Network Rail’s award of the contract for Abbey Wood station to its principal contractor, Balfour Beatty, work started in 2013 and included the construction of an interim station, the demolition of the old station and the installation of a new one-mile section of track. The new station opened to National Rail passengers in October 2017. Additional testing and commissioning work was carried out for the Elizabeth line to October 2021.

The main structure of Custom House station was manufactured in segments in Steetley, near Sheffield, then transported more than 130 miles to east London and assembled on site. The 825 station components were installed using a purpose-built 35-tonne gantry crane. The last section was installed a year and a day after the first piece went in.

The process of manufacturing large sections of the station off-site in pre-cast concrete significantly simplified the process of building the station, saving time, reducing disruption, improving quality and making the process safer.

3_Custom House Station structure complete_190190

The redevelopment works at Tottenham Court Road Tube station started in early 2010 and were completed in 2016, delivering an enlarged ticket hall nearly six times the size of the previous one, new station entrances and additional access points to the Northern and Central line platforms reducing congestion, additional escalators and five new lifts providing step-free access. TfL awarded the contract for the redevelopment of Tottenham Court Road Tube station to Taylor Woodrow Construction and BAM Nuttall Limited in 2009.

After the structures of the stations were built, teams fit out the stations with architectural finishes such as the Glass Fibre Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) cladding and hardwearing flooring. These elements helped transform the spaces from construction sites to areas which passengers will use over the lifetime of the Elizabeth line. Alongside the installation of architectural finishes was the installation of the various systems which enable a complex railway such as the Elizabeth line to work - from CCTV cameras to help points.

Before handing over the stations, a rigorous testing and commissioning process ensured that the stations were safe, reliable, operable, and maintainable. 

Following the testing and commissioning process, stations were handed over to Transport for London who continued their preparations for future passengers with an extensive staff familiarisation process.

Station commissioning and handover to TfL:

  • Custom House was the first station handed over to TfL, in May 2020
  • Farringdon was the second station handed over to TfL, in March 2021
  • Tottenham Court Road was the third station handed over to TfL, in May 2021
  • Woolwich was the fourth station handed over to TfL, in June 2021
  • Liverpool Street was the fifth station handed over to TfL, in July 2021 - the new Moorgate ticket hall opened at this time for London Underground services
  • Paddington was the sixth station handed over to TfL, in August 2021
  • Whitechapel was the seventh station handed over to TfL, in August 2021 - the new ticket hall, London Underground, London Overground and second entrance opened at this time
  • Abbey Wood was the eighth station handed over to TfL in October 2021 - the new ticket hall and National Rail platforms opened in October 2017 
  • Canary Wharf was the ninth station handed over to TfL in January 2022
  • Bond Street will be the tenth of ten new stations to be handed over to TfL, currently expected to be later in 2022. In preparation for the opening of the Elizabeth line, the station achieved a level of staged completion which enabled Bond Street to operate, if ever required by the circumstances, as an emergency escape route whilst the construction, system integration and commissioning work continues. 


In addition to the new stations and tunnels, the central section of the Elizabeth line includes a number of shafts and portals which house railway systems and mechanical equipment to support Elizabeth line services. The designs for the shafts and portals were bespoke to integrate with new and existing infrastructure.

There are five tunnel portals that make up the Elizabeth line’s central section: Royal Oak, Pudding Mill Lane, Victoria Dock, North Woolwich and Plumstead along with the Connaught Tunnel in the Royal Docks which dates back to 1878. The portals provide an entrance and exit for trains to the underground sections of the Elizabeth line.

TBM Elizabeth lowered into launch chamber 40 metres below ground_49197

Construction of the Royal Oak portal, the first of the five new tunnel portals to be built for the Elizabeth line, commenced in January 2010 and was completed in September 2011. These portal structures were also the entry or exit points for the TBMs used to construct the new twin-bore tunnels.

There are five shafts: Fisher Street, Eleanor Street, Mile End, Stepney Green and Limmo. These structures house drainage, ventilation fans and provide emergency access and egress if required. The main construction of the shafts started in 2010.

The locations of the shafts along the route were selected based on the need for airflow and access to the tunnel along with land availability on the surface. All shafts and portals followed a rigorous testing and commissioning process, followed by a handover to Rail for London Infrastructure, the Infrastructure Manager for the central section of the railway, in 2020.


The twin-bore running tunnels, one each for eastbound and westbound services, begin in the west at Royal Oak portal near Paddington. They link the central London stations before splitting into two eastern routes at an underground junction below Stepney Green. The southeastern section surfaces at Victoria Dock portal and continues to the above-ground Elizabeth line station at Custom House and then passes through the Connaught Tunnel (now refurbished) under the Royal Docks. The route then enters a new tunnel to pass under the Thames and through the underground Woolwich Elizabeth line station before surfacing at the Plumstead portal and continuing along new tracks built adjacent to the existing North Kent Line to reach a terminus at Abbey Wood Elizabeth line station. The northeastern route comes to the surface at Pudding Mill Lane, where the Docklands Light Railway station needed to be relocated by Crossrail to accommodate it, and then joins the Great Eastern Main Line to serve the existing surface stations from Stratford to Shenfield.

The precise route of the tunnels was chosen after extensive studies and surveys to consider the potential impact on many thousands of buildings above the route, including many listed buildings. The route had to weave around foundations, existing Tube lines, sewers, utilities and other underground infrastructure. At Tottenham Court Road, one of London’s most congested underground locations, the route had to be built within a metre of an operational Northern line platform tunnel. At Liverpool Street, the station was built within half a metre of the old Post Office railway.

In August 2009, Crossrail Ltd published notices in the Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) inviting expressions of interest for three principal tunnelling contracts –Tunnels West, Tunnels East and Thames Tunnel. The publication of these OJEU notices marked the beginning of the procurement process for the construction of the new rail tunnels in central London. In December 2010 the contracts for the Western Running Tunnels (Royal Oak to Farringdon) were awarded to BAM Nuttall, Ferrovial Agroman and Kier Joint Venture and the Eastern Running Tunnels (Limmo to Farringdon, Limmo to Victoria Dock and Stepney Green to Pudding Mill Lane) to Dragados and John Sisk Joint Venture. The contract for the Thames Tunnel (Plumstead to North Woolwich) was awarded in April 2011 to Hochtief Construction and J Murphy & Sons Joint Venture along with the refurbishment of the Connaught Tunnel to Vinci Construction.

All 8 Tunnel Boring Machines (TBMs) used to construct the Elizabeth line were manufactured by Herrenknecht in Germany. Tunnelling began with the TBMs in May 2012 at Royal Oak portal with tunnelling machine Phyllis and ended at Farringdon in May 2015 with the arrival of tunnelling machine Victoria from the east. For three years, the eight 1,000 tonne tunnelling machines bored 42km of new 6.2m diameter rail tunnels under London.

What happened to each of the TBMs?

Crossrail end of TBM tunnelling progress map June 2015_199945

  • Phyllis and Ada were driven ‘off-line’ after arriving at Farringdon, the front ‘cans’ and cutter heads left buried 30 metres below ground. The 130-metre long trailer systems were removed via the Fisher Street shaft and returned to the manufacturer, Herrenknecht, for recycling and reuse.
  • Victoria and Elizabeth were driven into the eastern end of Farringdon station, where platform enlargements had been constructed, and were then stripped and dismantled underground. Their 130-metre long trailer systems were removed via the shaft at Stepney Green and returned to the manufacturer for recycling and reuse. The cutter heads were cut into small pieces and removed via the shaft at Farringdon. The front ‘cans’ of each machine were left in the tunnels and Elizabeth line trains now pass through them.
  • Mary, Sophia, Jessica and Ellie were also dismantled with parts returned to the manufacturer to be recycled for use on future tunnelling projects.

Wallasea Island WIld Coast Project July 2017 - 275956

The eight tunnelling machines excavated a total of 3.4 million tonnes of material. A total of 8 million tonnes of material was excavated during the construction of the Elizabeth line, with over 99% of all excavated material being re-used.

In a landmark partnership with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), 3 million tonnes of material excavated from deep below the capital was used to create a flagship wetland nature reserve twice the size of the City of London, at Wallasea Island in Essex.

Material from the western tunnels was transported by rail from Westbourne Park to Northfleet in Kent before being shipped to Wallasea. As many as five rail movements took place between Westbourne Park (western tunnels) and the Northfleet transfer site per day at peak. Material from the eastern tunnels was shipped direct to Wallasea from Instone Wharf near Canning Town.

Five ships were dedicated to the transport of excavated material to Wallasea Island. 1,528 shipments delivered 3 million tonnes of excavated material and the last shipment of excavated material donated by the Crossrail project arrived in Essex in April 2015.

For further information on sustainability and the environment please visit our Environmental Sustainability section of the website.

Over 200,000 concrete segments were required to line the 42 kilometres of running tunnels. Seven segments and a keystone were used to make up every tunnel ring, locked together to build a concrete tube. Each segment weighed 3,000 kilogrammes and each keystone weigh 1,000 kilogrammes. Three factories manufactured the pre-cast concrete segments and keystones:

  • For the Western tunnels, a factory established in Old Oak Common, west London produced 75,000 tunnel segments and employed 60 people at its peak,
  • For the Eastern tunnels, a factory in Chatham, Kent, produced 110,000 tunnel segments and employed 120 people at its peak, and
  • For the Thames tunnel, a factory in Mullingar, Ireland produced 25,000 tunnel segments.

Aerial view of Old Oak Common segment factory

Keeping the machines supplied with materials was critical to maintaining production and was done via a temporary construction railway, laid beneath the machines to move people and materials to and from the cutter head. The construction trains were relatively small and carried heavy loads on a narrow gauge track, directly bolted to the tunnel floor but provided with noise attenuation where necessary to mitigate noise and vibration.

The restoration of the Connaught Tunnel by filling it with concrete foam and reboring, as originally intended, was deemed too great a risk to the structural integrity of the tunnel, and so work was required to deepen, strengthen and widen the structure. 13 million litres of water were drained from the dock that runs above the tunnel to allow project workers to access the structure from above. The rail tunnel originally served the Royal Docks when they formed the largest enclosed docks in the world, serving large ships from all over the globe. It survived a hit from a bomb during WW2 and is the only existing tunnel re-used for the Elizabeth line. This work took place during 2013.

Connaught tunnel, February 2012

Prior to above-ground station construction starting at each location, 14km of station and platform tunnels, passenger walkways and other spaces were created through a mining technique known as sprayed concrete lining.

Bond Street platform tunnels _161024

In May 2012, the project’s first two sprayed concrete tunnels were constructed under Finsbury Circus in the City of London. The two tunnels were temporary structures and were used for compensation grouting, one of the ways that teams could control any ground movements that could result from tunnelling activity. By July 2012, the construction of the first permanent sprayed concrete lined tunnels on the project was underway at Blomfield Street for Liverpool Street station.

The sprayed concrete lining method has been used extensively on the Elizabeth line to form each of the station platform tunnels at Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street and Whitechapel. Cross-passages between the platform tunnels, ventilation tunnels, concourse tunnels, cross-over caverns and ventilation, escape and intervention shafts across the central section of the route were constructed using this method.  

In October 2013, Crossrail Ltd announced that it had awarded the contract for Paddington New Yard to Costain Limited. Paddington New Yard, located between the Westbourne Park Tube station and Paddington National Rail station, contains both the Royal Oak portal and Westbourne Park project worksites. The contract included the construction of a new 180-metre-long elevated bus deck to connect to Westbourne Park Bus Garage, the relocation of an existing concrete batching plant, and preparatory works for the installation of new rail track and associated systems for the Elizabeth line. Prior to the Elizabeth line works, Paddington New Yard was used for the maintenance and overnight stabling of buses. Under the Crossrail Act, Crossrail Ltd was required to provide a replacement facility at Paddington New Yard.

Crossrail Ltd demanded the highest standards of health and safety across the project and we continue to work closely with our principal contractors in support of making sure this is the case. Since construction work began on the project in 2009, there has sadly been one construction fatality. This incident took place on 7 March 2014 at the construction site for the Fisher Street shaft. There have also been four fatal collisions involving HGVs or lorries working for sub-contractors on the Crossrail project - three cyclists and one pedestrian - the last occurred on 19 February 2015.