Elizabeth Line London
- Connects Heathrow and a couple of periphery boroughs with Central London
- Modern trains and nice new train stations
- Significant travel time reduction compared to Piccadilly Line
- Neither luggage rack nor toilet
- Current operation with transfers in Paddington and at Liverpool Station
Adding a rail connection for Heathrow Airport, improving the travel options between the West and the East of London – there have indeed be many reasons to build a new rail tunnel across the British capital. Project Crossrail finally turned into Elizabeth Line in late May 2022- a (theoretically) seamless connection. Even though some parts of the project are not working as they are finally supposed to do, I was really flattered when I could ride the Elizabeth Line in mid June 2022 from Heathrow Airport to the city center of London. Here are my thoughts.
Elizabeth Line – Route & Fares
The Elizabeth Line is connecting West and East London. On the West London side, there are the terminal stops Reading and Heathrow Airport (Terminal 4 or 5, all trains pass Terminal 2&3). On the East side of London, there are Shenfield and Abbey Woods. There are also some proposed/planed expansions. Baker Street station is not yet operational. The most prominent possible change is likely a potential re-activation of the former Silvertown station, which would also serve as stop for London City Airport (LCY) and thus connect Heathrow and City Airport directly. The typical frequency is four trains per hours.
Not another Heathrow Express
However, you have to clearly state that the main motivation for the Crossrail project has not been a better transport situation for Heathrow Airport. In fact, the Elizabeth Line was very unpopular at Heathrow during my ride – people either went for the Piccadilly Line or for the faster Heathrow Express. One reason for that may also be that Elizabeth Line is currently interrupted at Paddington station. Trains from the West still arrive in the train station, but then the route continues in the Underground station. You can take a detour on your route and say “Hello” to the Paddington Bear. Similarly, the Shenfield branch of the Elizabeth Line still requires a rail level to Underground level (or viice versa) transfer at Liverpool Street. These issues are scheduled to be eliminated in late 2022.
In general, the Elizabeth Line is operating under the normal Transport for London (TfL) fare system. There is a supplement for using the Elizabeth Line, but the daily cap of your ticket applies to the fares including that supplement, so that if you take the Elizabeth Line in the morning to connect to the city and then do sightseeing across London, you will pay 14.10 GBP (as at the time of writing), regardless if you use Piccadilly Line or Elizabeth Line. There are some very outside stops which do not support Oyster payments.
Elizabeth Line – Rolling Stock
The Elizabeth Line uses the British Rail Class 345 Aventra rail. There are seven and nine carriages version of the train – I just had the longer version during my visit. So far Crossrail runs 70 units, which are built by Bombardier and have a total capacity of 1,500 passengers, thereof 450 seated. I was a bit of surprised about the fact that the whole train, which is roughly 204 meter long (in the long version) only holds four spots for wheelchair passengers. The trains are built for a maximum speed of 90 mph, 145km/h.
Air Conditioning – but no Luggage Rack
The individual wagons do have a different layout. For example, the carriage at the very front of the train I rode to Paddington Station just had bench-alike seats at the walls of the cars, while there were groups of four seats in the middle section of the train. The most striking new feature of the Elizabeth Line compared to Underground trains, though, is that they are air conditioned. The Elizabeth Line features WiFi as long as the train is overground. Unfortunately, I forgot to check when I later had a ride from Tottenham Court Road. I also liked the new displays mounted under the ceiling, which give you good information about connections, the next station and similar essentials.
However, there is one essential which is missing: luggage racks. Compared to the Piccadilly Line trains, which have some priority area to luggage, this makes the Elizabeth Line even worse than that peer. On the one hand, I was absolutely stunned by this fact – on the other hand, this also underlines that the connection to Heathrow is just a subordinate part of the project. The Elizabeth Line trains are equipped in line with the Underground train comfort. This also means that there are no toilets onboard. There are also no power outlets.
Elizabeth Line – Stations
At Heathrow, the Elizabeth Line operates like a train and is thus sharing the platform with the Heathrow Express. Typically, the Heathrow Express leaves the airport station a few minutes before the new train connection. The information displays are very handy. The Elizabeth Line stations have slightly modified ticket machines, which finally sell the same range of tickets or allow you to top up your Oyster Card.
I also had a look at the new Elizabeth Line station at Tottenham Court Road. The station has a designated entrance – you may, however, also transfer from other lines and then use the already existing gates. Apart from that the station is very modern and the walkways are much wider than in most Underground stations, the most striking feature is that there are walls with opening doors at the platform. This is not new to London visitors, some Jubilee Line stations use the same technology, for example. There are modern and much better displays at the stations, which help you a lot to spot the right train.
I liked the new Paddington Elizabeth Line station even more. The design is very modern and a bit “warmer” than the Tottenham Court Road one. However, the facilities are in general equivalent at both stations. A vast majority of the new train stations are barrier-free.
Heathrow to Central London – Comparison to Alternatives
At my visit in June 2022, the Elizabeth Line was the least popular connection. I guess there are two factors: many tourists do not know about the new connection yet. Additionally, locals already know about the disadvantages. Currently, the key disadvantage is the mandatory transfer at Paddington. If that is solved, a trip between Heathrow Terminal 2&3 station and Tottenham Court Road will reduce to roughly 26 minutes. The equivalent journey by Piccadilly Line takes about double the time. The Elizabeth Line will also lead to a smooth connection to the key National Rail stations at Paddington and Liverpool Street, which may be advantageous (if you ever transferred at London Underground with heavier luggage, you know what I mean…)
It will be interesting how the Elizabeth Line will compare to the Heathrow Express in the future. My limited experience made me feel that the non-stop express service to Paddington Station was significantly more popular than the Elizabeth Line. Of course, the Heathrow Express comes with being designed for air travelers, toilets and a two-class system – whoever needs that on a 15 minute trip. In addition, there are also coach services, especially the National Express bus to Victoria Coach Station.
Elizabeth Line – My View
I have to admit: I expected a bit more. I expected more train feeling and less Underground service. The people living close to the new route already love the Elizabeth Line. The next months will show, if the new offer is also strong enough as a Heathrow transfer alternative. At the moment, the transfer in Paddington is too bothering. The daily price cap on Oyster and contactless payment is a key selling argument for the new peer, though. I definitely struggle with the decision of neither having luggage racks nor toilets on board, though.
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