The Queen made an unexpected appearance to officially mark the completion of the Elizabeth line.
Many were pleasantly surprised to see her – this time last week, she had to miss the Queen’s Speech in Parliament, with her son Prince Charles standing in for the regal undertaking.
But just after 11:30am on Monday, 17 May, the Queen visited Paddington station, her first recent appearance outside the Windsor area, and unveiled a plaque that will remain in the station permanently, a reminder of the day for generations to come.
In many ways, a surprise visit and an official opening such as this is the perfect antidote to the delays that the new route has faced. In 2009, the scheme announced the 17 businesses that would be a part of the Enabling Works Framework Agreements and that would compete for the main packages. But ten years later, it was revealed that it would not open until 2021, and that was later pushed into the “first half” of 2022.
It’s perhaps not surprising: the Crossrail project – now known as the Elizabeth line – was a huge undertaking. Europe’s biggest infrastructure project would see more than 15,000 men and women play a role, working between them over 120 million hours. Careers have been built on the back of this ambitious project, with 1,000 apprenticeships delivered on the programme.
Something like 64km of new permanent way was installed between Wesbourne Park through to Plumstead and Pudding Mill Lane. The project needed 45km of firemain and 42km of evacuation walkway, over 1,500km of cable installed to supply power to 4,500 tunnel luminaries. Meanwhile, four critical radio systems were installed using 146km of radiating cable.
But soon, on 24 May, people will be able to use the Elizabeth line, which links 41 stations, including 10 new ones.
Accompanied by HRH, The Earl of Wessex, Her Majesty met with staff who have been key to the Crossrail project, as well as Elizabeth line staff who will be running the railway – including apprentices, drivers, and station staff.
Her Majesty and His Royal Highness were joined on the visit by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, Transport for London’s commissioner Andy Byford, the transport secretary, the Right Hon. Grant Shapps, and the Crossrail Chief Executive Mark Wild.
London is paying for most of the Elizabeth line, with nearly 70 per cent of the total funding paid by London – made up of roughly 30 percent is from London’s farepayers, around 40 per cent from London’s businesses – combined with 30 per cent from Government.
The new railway is expected to support thousands of new homes and jobs and will boost the UK economy by an estimated £42bn. Throughout its construction, the railway has had an extensive supply chain which has supported businesses of all sizes, and jobs and skills creation across the whole country. The Class 345 trains running on the Elizabeth line were built in Derby, roundels and signage for the line were supplied by a family-run business on the Isle of Wight, and a company based in Leeds strengthened and protected London’s Victorian sewer networks during construction.
The Queen and TfL
The Queen has a longstanding relationship with TfL. One that stands out in the minds of many is when she was the first reigning monarch to travel on the London Underground in 1969, having opened the Victoria line service.
Her Majesty also stood by those affected by the 7/7 bombings, unveiling a plaque at Aldgate station in 2010 to remember the lives of the 52 killed in the attack.
She was also there when Crossrail officially became the Elizabeth line. In 2016, she oversaw the occasion and the unveiling of its distinct purple theme.
A “fitting tribute” on a Jubilee year
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I’m delighted that Her Majesty The Queen and HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex have officially unveiled the new Elizabeth line station at Paddington today. The opening of the Elizabeth line, with nearly 70 per cent of the total funding paid for by London, is a landmark moment for our capital and our whole country, particularly in this special Platinum Jubilee year.
“The Elizabeth line is the most significant addition to our transport network in decades and this new line will revolutionise travel across the capital and the south east and bring economic benefits to the whole country. There is now just one week to go until our world-class new railway will be open to passengers, and I can’t wait for everyone to experience it.”
Andy Byford, Transport for London’s Commissioner, said: “Her Majesty The Queen has a long association with London’s transport network, and I am delighted that Her Majesty was able to visit our magnificent Paddington Elizabeth line station today. In a landmark year for Her Majesty, during the Platinum Jubilee, everyone at TfL is committed to ensuring this new railway will serve as a fitting tribute and will – by creating faster journeys, new jobs, and economic growth – become a vital part of London’s recovery.
“What could be better for encouraging back on to public transport, and what better symbol could there be of London’s renaissance from the pandemic.”
Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, said: “Boasting the oldest underground network in the world, London has long been viewed as a pioneer in world leading transport systems and the Elizabeth Line is no exception.
“Just one week from now, Londoners will have access to faster and cheaper travel on board these state-of-the-art trains and it’s an honour to have played a role in this through the Government’s £9bn investment.”