5 reasons to be proud of Britain’s trains

5 reasons to be proud of Britain's trains

2. Threading Crossrail through London

If you’re a Londoner, dark blue hoardings emblazoned with “Crossrail” have been a fact of life since 2009. Around 14,000 people are working to build London’s newest railway line. At times this has been annoying, with services suspended and stations closed, but this shouldn’t overshadow the scale of what is being achieved beneath our feet.


Unlike previous underground lines and extensions, the dual Crossrail tunnels are built for full-size mainline trains, despite going deep underground. When the line opens fully in 2019, the 200m long trains will carry 1,500 passengers in every train – and, in the central section, will run at 24 trains per hour. The new line will single-handedly increase London’s rail capacity by 10%.

The complexity of this challenge is hard to overestimate – and it is mind-boggling to consider the myriad of large and small problems faced during building. Unlike in the olden days, when rail companies were able to simply bulldoze their way through slums, or in China where the country is only now industrialising for the first time, building in 21st century London requires engineers to tread carefully lest they disturb any of the 4,500 buildings above ground on the route. To protect the Grade 1-listed House of St Barnabas in Soho Square, engineers went as far as digging a number of extra trenches in order to inject extra grout into the soil, to ensure that the ground remains stable.


Building the stations is just as tricky as building the tunnels. For the new Canary Wharf Crossrail station, it was decided that the best way to build it would be to drain an entire dock. The work at Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street is perhaps the most impressive. Although the new railway line is being augmented onto existing stations here, the stations have mostly remained entirely operational and open to passengers (both have closed individual lines for a little while, but they’ve mainly managed to build around serving millions of passengers).

And the engineering isn’t even the beginning. Imagine planning such a mammoth £20bn project: first spending literally decades building the political will, and then coordinating different stakeholders to make it all come together on time and on budget. Crossrail is a modern wonder of the world.

Crossrail photos by Katy Moon (Flickr), used under Creative Commons.

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