The Elizabeth line will operate over more than 100km of railway, including 42km of new tunnel and track under central London, serving 41 stations with a fleet of new trains. The railway will increase central London’s rail capacity by 10 per cent and bring an additional 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of central London.
Opening any railway is a massive job. With new stations, new infrastructure, new track and new trains, it is important that the Elizabeth line is opened in phases to ensure it is safe, reliable, performs as expected and is maintainable.
The Elizabeth line is a complex railway which will operate across the Great Western mainline, one of Britain's oldest and busiest railways, a newly built railway under central London, and the Great Eastern mainline, built in Victorian times. Spanning old and new means the Elizabeth line trains must operate on a purpose-built railway serving only the Elizabeth line, and on the existing national rail tracks shared with other operators and freight. To add extra complexity, Elizabeth line trains will need to effortlessly transition between three signalling systems across the line. It’s vital therefore that we build reliability in the trains and systems over many hours to ensure they are ready to safely carry passengers.
Each element of the Elizabeth line goes through a rigorous testing and commissioning process. Learn more about how we handover and assure the railway here.
2015 - TfL Rail between Liverpool Street mainline and Shenfield
The first phase, completed in 2015, was the start of operations on the Liverpool Street mainline to Shenfield route, directly replacing the Greater Anglia ‘Metro’ services, using the same trains. The service was branded ‘TfL Rail’. This is a temporary brand in operation until the Elizabeth line launches, after which TfL Rail will become part of the Elizabeth line. Changing to a TfL run service provided several benefits to passengers, from deep cleaning of stations, better accessibility through station staffing offering customers who need assistance a turn-up-and-go service, to cheaper fares.
2017 - The start of operation with Class 345 trains in the east
2017 saw the introduction of the new Class 345 trains, purpose-built for the Elizabeth line on the Liverpool Street mainline to Shenfield route, replacing the older trains used by TfL Rail since 2015. At launch, these new Class 345 trains were seven carriages long, instead of the full nine carriages to fit into Liverpool Street mainline station which required platform lengthening. The trains provided several immediate benefits to passengers including air conditioning, dedicated wheelchair spaces, CCTV and on-train service information. A number of infrastructure improvements were carried out to enable these trains to run on this section, including construction of sidings at Ilford Depot and Gidea Park.
2018 - TfL Rail between Heathrow and Paddington mainline
The next phase, completed in 2018, was the start of operations on the Heathrow Airport to Paddington mainline route, directly replacing the Heathrow Connect service, and using the same trains. Like the east, the service was also branded ‘TfL Rail’ and stations received several improvements benefitting passengers, from ticket barriers and better lighting, to improved signage and ticket machines.
2019 - TfL Rail between Reading and Paddington mainline
The start of operations from Reading to Paddington mainline from December 2019 marked the next phase. This was directly replacing several Great Western Railway stopping services into Paddington. Network Rail extended platforms to cater for the new trains, install new walkways and lifts to improve step-free accessibility, and improve passenger flow within stations. Old Oak Common depot was commissioned in 2018 to house and maintain the new trains and will be the main depot for the Elizabeth line train. Services between Reading and Paddington were introduced using seven carriage Class 345 trains.
2020 - The start of full-length Class 345 trains from Reading
The next phase, completed in early 2020, was the start of the full nine carriage Class 345 trains on the Reading to Paddington mainline route.
2020 - The start of Class 345 train operations from Heathrow
A major milestone was completed in July 2020, with the replacement of the older trains on the Heathrow to Paddington mainline route, previously operated by Heathrow Connect, with the new nine carriage Class 345 trains. Customers travelling to the airport benefitted from longer trains with walkthrough carriages.
2021 - Platform extensions at Liverpool Street mainline
The platforms at Liverpool Street mainline were extended at Easter 2021 to be able to accommodate the full nine-carriage Class 345 trains on the Liverpool Street mainline to Shenfield route. Trains on this route will be extended to their nine-carriage full length throughout 2021 and into 2022.
2021 - Timetable changes
Between May 2021 and May 2022 a number of planned changes to timetabled services will be carried out, which will better align the railway on the east and west with their future final frequencies and create space for Elizabeth line services which will eventually operate through the new central section from Shenfield, Heathrow and Reading.
2022 - Launch of the Elizabeth line
In the first half of 2022, the Elizabeth line will launch with a passenger service through the new central tunnels from Paddington to Abbey Wood. Services from Reading and Heathrow to Paddington mainline, and from Shenfield to Liverpool Street mainline will be rebranded from TfL Rail to the Elizabeth line. The services on the east and west will continue to run into the mainline stations when the Elizabeth line is launched. Passengers wishing to continue their journey to one of the new Elizabeth line central London stations will need to change to Paddington or Liverpool Street Elizabeth line station until the next phase of opening. The initial service in the central section between Paddington and Abbey Wood will be 12 trains per hour, in each direction, all day.
2022 - Integration of Elizabeth line services from the east and west
Later in 2022, currently expected to be the autumn, the next phase will integrate services from the east and west into the new central tunnels and stations. When this phase launches, services from Reading and Heathrow will operate through to Abbey Wood. Services from Shenfield will operate through to Paddington. The service in the central stations between Paddington and Whitechapel will be 24 trains per hour during the peak.
2023 - Final version of the timetable
The final timetable across the entire railway will be in place no later than May 2023. The service in the central section between Paddington and Whitechapel will remain at 24 trains per hour during the peak.