LONDON – The world’s oldest underground rapid transit system – the beloved, smelly, iconic, slamming and overloaded tube – is about to undergo its biggest expansion in decades with the opening of the Elizabeth Line lightning-fast and quiet library, which promises to transform this city for commuters and visitors alike.
Elizabeth line: London unveils its new underground line, 10 floors underground
When fully operational, the 73-mile East-West Corridor will bring outer suburbs closer to central London, putting an additional 1.5 million people within 45 minutes.
London Transport Commissioner Andy Byford called the new railway a “wonder of the world” and predicted that passengers “would be blown away”.
He added: “We sweat blood to bring this about.”
The opening coincides rather well with the platinum jubilee of its namesake, Queen Elizabeth II, who is celebrating 70 years on the throne. But authorities are candid that the Elizabeth Line is four years behind schedule and $6 billion over budget and that decades of underground tunnels and above-ground construction have left people distracted.
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In total, the “Lizzie line” cost more than $22 billion.
Also called the Crossrail project, it was at its height the largest infrastructure project in Europe. He has survived three London mayors and four prime ministers – and thousands of biting UK tabloid headlines about repeated delays.
Digging into the heart of London, one of the world’s oldest megacities, tunnellers in their decades of digging have uncovered prehistoric bison, Roman streets, plague victims, Tudor mansions and numerous pipelines of Victorian sewer.
There is a memorial at Liverpool Street Station marking the site where archaeologists discovered the remains of 3,300 victims of the city’s successive plagues, buried in the New Churchyard in Bethlem, or Bedlam, between 1569 and 1738.
Archaeologists worked for six months to remove the skeletons, which were buried in a new cemetery on the Thames Estuary.
Roman roof. Tudor shoes. London mudlarks uncover the history of scraps along the Thames.
Nearby there is a bird sanctuary, created by the 3 million tonnes of London clay excavated by tunnel excavators and transported downstream by barge.
Byford — a former senior administrator of the New York City Transit Authority, who was hired in 2020 to get the lame Elizabeth Line project across the finish line — said it wasn’t the digging that slowed everything down . It was “the most difficult integration of complex railway systems ever”.
There were “16 million pieces” and all had to talk to each other, said Byford, whose grandfather drove a London bus. Byford suggested that for future global megaprojects, it’s not the concrete that’s hard to manage, it’s the computer coding.
The new line is more than the Tube. Its trains will do double duty – as a fully automated underground tube in central London and as a surface railway, reaching the towns of Essex to the east and Heathrow Airport and the city of Reading to the west, which required three changes. regimes, to keep trains on time and prevent them from crashing.
The old Tube, the classic Tube, is going nowhere. The original lines and their workhorses remained.
The London Underground system – and in particular the map drawn by Harry Beck in 1933 – shapes the conception of the city’s geography. But soon, Beck’s “compressed design masterpiece” will be reissued, with the Elizabeth line at its heart.
As workers wiped away the last particles of construction dust at Paddington’s new station for the Elizabeth Line, Byford took a group of international journalists through the system for a tour.
The oldest parts of the London Underground look like a Victorian time capsule. A maze of narrow passageways connects stations lined with blood-red tiles, with dodgy corners and moldy brickwork. The carriages smell slightly of urine and yesterday’s pork pies.
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Elizabeth line cars, however, still have a new car smell.
There are 10 airy, arty new subway stations taller than cathedrals, adorned not with stained glass, but with fiberglass-reinforced concrete – in a boiled color designed to calm the urban nervousness of building underpasses, say the designers.
Purple accents recall the colors of the Queen’s horse racing.
Architecture critic Edwin Heathcote, writing in the Financial Times, called the new line “tall but austere” and “quiet but a little beige”.
The Elizabeth line is all about power, not flash. Outside the city center, trains will reach 90 miles per hour.
But the ride is so quiet that when the trains pass, it will be people you hear, not machines.
There are tempered glass benches at the edges of the platforms, so it is impossible to fall on the tracks. Glass also envelops the tunnels, to keep the carriages neither too hot nor too cold.
When the project was first debated in parliament in the 1990s, the challenges of climate change were barely mentioned.
An English castle has stood for centuries. Climate change is causing its collapse.
Similarly, before covid, lawmakers didn’t care much about an airborne infectious disease that could cripple the planet’s global economy.
So it’s good to know that the Elizabeth line will be flushed with fresh, filtered air – and the railway line will add 10% capacity to the system, taking more cars off the roads.
Boris Johnson, as Mayor of London, hailed the Elizabeth Line as ‘a huge success for the UK economy’ and a ‘transformative new railway’
But politicians are watching to see how much Johnson as PM embraces the openness of the plan, as his Conservative Party government has pledged to ‘increase’ spending in Britain, giving more to the provinces hungry and less fat in London.
The oft-criticised Transport for London, overseen by Mayor Sadiq Khan, is struggling to ever be self-sustaining. But Labor’s Khan celebrated the railway as the city’s ‘new pride’, signaling that post-Brexit and post-pandemic Britain is back in business.
Mark Wild, Crossrail’s chief executive, was equally enthusiastic when he showed off the gleaming new stations to reporters this week. “It looks like the Tube, it looks like the Tube,” he said. “But I promise you, it’s something much more than the Tube.”