Planning for the new train service

Crossrail’s Howard Smith on moving from project delivery to railway operation. Interview by Jackie Whitelaw.

Howard Smith, Crossrail operations director

In just over four months time at the end of May Crossrail starts its first train service. It won’t be called Crossrail and there won’t be any of the 65 new Bombardier Class 345 trains running on the tracks. But Transport for London and Crossrail operator MTR will be taking over the eastern part of the Crossrail route and operating services from Shenfield to Liverpool Street. 

And that section will be the first to appear on the London Tube map – a major milestone in the story of the project. It is the first stage of a phased opening of London’s revolutionary new railway from Reading in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east right through the heart of the capital. 

Crossrail operations director Howard Smith has the job of managing the transition from Crossrail the project to Crossrail the operating railway. He explains what is happening and why.

What is the plan for opening Crossrail?

There are six stages to watch out for.

May 2015 – Transport for London and  Crossrail’s operating concession MTR take on the line between Shenfield and Liverpool St from Abellio Greater Anglia. We’ll be running 30 year old trains from existing stations so it won’t be called Crossrail but TfL Rail as we don’t want people to misunderstand the Crossrail brand. But from day one, as we did on Overground (Which TfL took over and expanded between 2007-12) we will be staffing stations all hours that trains run and cleaning and refurbishing the trains and the stations. 

May 2017 – we introduce the first of the new trains between Shenfield and Liverpool St and that will be more high profile and will begin to demonstrate what’s coming with Crossrail. That’s when people will start to understand how different Crossrail is – these trains are 200m long, walk-through with air conditioning and up to the minute passenger information systems. And they can take 1500 people with nearly 500 seats. It’s going to be dramatic. 

May 2018 – TfL and MTR take over the Heathrow Connect services that run into Paddington. This will be the first appearance of the new Crossrail trains west of London.

December 2018  – the tunnel section opens and we start operating trains from Abbey Wood in the east to Paddington in the west. 

May 2019 – we feed the trains from Shenfield into the tunnels.

December 2019 – we’ll be operating all the way to Reading and feeding trains from there though the tunnels, the end state of Crossrail as currently planned.

What is the thinking behind the phased opening?

There is great merit in having a progressive programme of bringing the elements into service. It’s common sense but sometimes there is pressure to have a big iconic day. With Shenfield to Liverpool St for instance we’ll have hundreds of thousands of in service miles with the new stock to learn from before we ramp up for the full tunnel service. And it gives MTR a more progressive timescale to hire and train new personnel and give them experience – it needs 850 new staff including over 400 drivers, which is a big task. At every step in the phased opening we’ll be taking over the stations, then we’ll introduce the trains, run the trains in service as live tests, then bring them through the tunnels. 

What is the most important target for Crossrail and MTR when it opens?

The starting point has to be what do passengers want from Crossrail. Safety, obviously is the number one thing they expect. Beyond that, two thirds of customer satisfaction marks are on reliability and expectations are rising. What was acceptable five years ago is unacceptable now, and what people demand now would have been superlative 10 years ago. So the headline target is 95% reliability in terms of the national performance measure.

Is reliability a measure of running on time, or meeting headway targets?

Both, that’s the big challenge. We need to measure performance against a timetable when we run on Network Rail lines and on headways when we are underground and are effectively a Tube. In the Tube section the trains could all be 10 minutes late but as long as the headways are maintained people would be happy. But we have to operate on a timetable for Network Rail who have given us train paths and we have to stick to those. Crossrail needs to meet all those expectations.

What impact will Crossrail have on London and its transport operation?

It creates a 10% increase in capacity, though that’s likely to fill up pretty quickly. It will provide faster journeys and one-seat options removing the neeed to change trains. People’s personal geography is based on how long it takes to get somewhere, not how far is it. Crossrail will change the map of London.

HS2 is about to start procurement. What are the key lessons for them from Crossrail in terms of the link between construction and operations?

HS2 have links with Crossrail and it’s self evident really. The earlier you think about operations the better and Crossrail has had a big input from the operations team as it’s developed. Progressive opening makes sense. And whilst technology is moving at such a speed you need to be clear and consistant in how often you want trains to run and how many people you want them to carry. 

If you would like to contact Jackie Whitelaw about this, or any other story, please email jackie.whitelaw@infrastructure-intelligence.com.