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Prototyping – refining design every step of the way

Prototyping components for use across the Elizabeth line has been vital to refining and enhancing design for manufacturing, installation and future maintenance.

Mock-ups, benchmarks and prototypes, combined with user testing and ergonomic testing have ensured teams could maximise efficiency - a rare opportunity for infrastructure projects on the scale of Crossrail.


One example of prototyping was the bespoke light drum designed for the ceilings inside the Tottenham Court Road Elizabeth line station.

These are situated in the Dean Street ticket hall and platform level lobby area, and in the eastern ticket hall lobby area. 

Intended to reference theatre-style lighting, there are two types of light. The first is a lighting drum, 800 millimetres tall, with a 45-degree faceted perimeter that creates a halo effect. The second, is an acoustic drum which has a capped base, performs acoustic attenuation and contains speakers where necessary. Subtle variations in lighting intensity improve wayfinding functionality. 

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The Glass-Fibre Reinforced Concrete (GFRC) cladding used inside the new below-ground Elizabeth line stations is one example where prototyping resulted in significant programme benefits.

Concrete moulds used to create glass-fibre reinforced cladding for Elizabeth line stations_236331

Through the prototyping and testing programme, the GFRC cladding and cladding grid were optimised to achieve a lighter weight, cost-effective solution to the complex double curvature geometries.

This programme also tested other elements, including a test to identify the optimum distance between panels such that a newspaper couldn't be jammed between them, and tests to identify the optimum hole size for acoustic panels.

Identifying issues during prototyping and refining the components and processes meant that teams could maximise efficiency in production and installation.

Glass-fibre reinforced concrete panels test_235080


Design prototype of new timber seats for the Elizabeth line_236334

The Crossrail project gave designers the opportunity to produce a new set of seats for the millions of passengers who use the Elizabeth line each year. The seats are made of Kebony sustainable yellow pine - a modified softwood that is extremely durable. This relatively new product to the transport sector avoids the use of tropical hardwood. 

Ergonomic user-testing - from the seat height, backrest tilt, armrest width and more, helped achieve an optimal balance between comfort, accessibility and functionality for the final design.

The modular design allows each individual component to be replaced when required.


In 2011, a life-size ‘mock-up’ of a below-ground Elizabeth line platform was created to develop and test designs for the below-ground station platforms.

The mock-up was built to help Crossrail architects and designers understand how the designs for new below-ground platforms will look in real life and to determine from a practical perspective whether any design modification needed to be made ahead of station construction commencing.

In finalising its station designs, the project team included lessons learnt from London Underground and Transport for London and London Rail about the operation and maintenance of Tube, rail and DLR stations. This knowledge and experience helped improve and finalise the internal designs and layouts for the Elizabeth line stations.

The mock-up of the Elizabeth line platform - measuring 20m in length, 10m in width, with a ceiling height of 5m above the platform-edge doors - helped inform the final design decisions about the below-ground station environment.

The mock-up was created using film set design techniques to replicate the feel of actual finishes, which are significantly cheaper than using actual construction materials:

  • Sprayed Concrete Lining was created by spraying expanded foam onto wallpaper and cut into panels.  
  • Light fittings were made with painted plywood.  
  • Real floor tiles and glass were used but the metal work is actually plywood coated in metal laminate to make it look like stainless steel.  
  • Lower glass plastic reinforced panels were made using a mould, similar to boat making techniques.

The mock-up was extremely valuable in understanding the visual and spatial effects created by the proposed combination of finishing materials and components within the platform environment.

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