If Crossrail opened as planned three years ago today, here’s what travel would be like in London

Cast your mind back to 2018 and you’ll find a different London, pre-Brexit, pre-Covid and pre-TfL finance crisis. It was a simpler time.

As for Crossrail, things were already pretty complicated. The initial budget was overblown, safety concerns were being raised and Londoners had little faith in the project’s completion.

The first significant sign of things not going to plan happened three years ago today (December 9), when Crossrail (aka the Elizabeth line) was unable to open for business as planned, in line with the December National Rail timetable change.

For the sake of this article, let’s pretend it did actually open. Here’s what travel would be like in London now had everything gone to plan…

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This is what the Elizabeth line would have looked like had it opened three years ago today as this TfL map suggests

Trains, Planes and Automobiles

Should the Elizabeth line have opened by now, we would have probably said goodbye to some of the oldest trains in passenger service in London, the ‘Class 315’ trains. These 40-year-old trains continue to be used on the Liverpool Street to Shenfield route on weekdays to supplement the newer trains specifically designed for the Elizabeth line which need to have extra carriages added to them.

The initial lease on the older Class 315s was extended as they were originally intended to come off lease in 2019. They are now expected to run into 2022 until the newer trains can run the entire service on their own.

Another knock-on effect to the railway would have been on the Heathrow Express. One of the premium train service’s key benefits is capturing a high-profile business market that can afford to pay up to £32 a single to save time on the journey between their offices and the airport.

As the Elizabeth line will run to many of the capital’s key business areas such as The City (calling at Moorgate/Liverpool Street, Canary Wharf and Stratford), it will likely take much of this business leading to changes in Heathrow Express’ operations.

Whilst it is unlikely the Heathrow Express would have stopped/will ever stop altogether, the likely drop in revenue would have forced some form of change.

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The BBC reported in 2017 (after Heathrow tried and failed to charge TfL more money for running TfL Rail trains into the airport) it charges TfL an ‘investment recovery charge’ of £460.09 per train until 2028, hence why fares on that section are so expensive.

On the roads, there also would have been a whole range of bus route changes in East and West London, some of which have still not been introduced, some scrapped altogether and some that went ahead anyway.

Some east-west cross-London journeys would have also become quicker by Elizabeth line than by car, taking vehicles off the congested M25 and North Circular roads.

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A Crossrail train in the underground tunnel section under Central London


One of the main benefits of the Elizabeth line is that it decongests the Central and Jubilee lines, that’s because it duplicates some of the busiest journeys on those lines: Bond Street to Canary Wharf, Bond Street to Stratford or Ealing Broadway to Tottenham Court Road for example.

Right now the Central and Jubilee lines are two lines being hardest hit by Tube strike action due to RMT concerns over work-life balance and Night Tube reintroduction. Were the Elizabeth line to be up and running, the impact of these strikes on passengers would be much reduced because Elizabeth line staff are employed separately and are not affected in the same way. People would be able to choose the Elizabeth line on Tube strike days.

The other contentious issue affecting TfL right now, its funding crisis, would also have been somewhat less impactful as the Elizabeth line would have been able to start making money quicker, allowing TfL to pay back more debt.

0 TfL image PN129 Balfour Beatty Crossrail C530 Woolwich January 2019 332312

On day one next year, the Elizabeth line will run in three sections: Liverpool Street-Shenfield and Paddington-Heathrow/Reading (currently TfL Rail) plus Paddington-Abbey Wood (new)


Paddington is not well connected to the West End and The City despite its relatively central location. It relies heavily on the Bakerloo and Circle/Hammersmith & City lines and its Tube stations can get congested easily. The Elizabeth line will make it much easier for those travelling to and from Reading, Heathrow, Wales and the West of England to access some of the capital’s most important destinations.

It would also make those who travel through Paddington Station lives’ much easier. MyLondon met Bridget and Milly, two regular passengers who pass through the station desperate for the Elizabeth line to open and are now at breaking point after such delays.

The good news is of course, that the majority of the benefits expressed in this article will eventually be realised once the line opens in 2022 and it would have been far worse to open the line prematurely if it would have been unsafe or problematic to have done so.

Still, we can dream, and we’ll keep having to as the Elizabeth line is still not expected to open until next year, almost four years late, only just entering the final phase of testing.

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What are your expectations of the Elizabeth line? How will it change your journey? Tell us in the comments below!

You can read all of MyLondon’s Crossrail-related coverage on our dedicated page here.

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