Here at SmartRail World we are always happy to report on global mega projects, and earlier this month we were granted an exclusive site visit to one that is just a ten minute stroll from our office - the new Farringdon Station, that is part of Europe’s largest construction project, Crossrail. The 100km+ route which will run from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new tunnels bored through central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east. In this special feature, our editor Luke Upton and reporter Emily O’Dowd provide an insight into their experience which took them both 42 metres under street level, guided by Andy Scholes, Farringdon’s West Ticket Hall Site manager, who underlined the importance of the new line by explaining that without it; “London would have simply ground to a halt.” So let’s put on the hard hat, climb down the ladder and see what the nearly 100 million working hours have delivered so far.
"For us at Crossrail it has been important to carry on a legacy not just a transport hub.”
Plans for Crossrail ( @Crossrail ) were first proposed in 1943 but war, politics, economics and technology blocked progress, so it wasn’t until 2008 that designs were finally approved, with construction beginning the following year. The project is now over 80 percent complete and as we’ll learn, is a rare global mega project running both on time and on budget.
The Farringdon station that will be part of the Elizabeth Line (the railway that will operate through the Crossrail project when complete) will contain two new ticket halls that are connected by underground mined platforms. We entered through what will be the Western end, located on the corner of Farringdon Road and Cowcross Street.
The construction is taking place on an already complex site, with the adjacent Farringdon Station serving both the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines on the London Underground as well as being a stop on the Thameslink route between St Pancras and City Thameslink. This station has remained fully functional throughout the construction of its Crossrail sister-station. Plus the challenges of being in the heart of an ancient city, with Victorian utility pipes, buried oil tanks, long lost streams and even plague pits all being a part of the planning in the sector. These challenges have driven many tailored design solutions such as its lifts that move on a slope rather than the standard vertical movement.
Farringdon's western ticket hall now...
Farringdon's Western ticket hall by December 2018.
Farringdon’s Elizabeth Line station once completed will become a major “hub of interchange” in London that will also connect Thameslink, London Underground and three of London’s five airports. It’s a fitting site for such a great example of rail development, building on the history from the first station in Farringdon which opened in 1863 which was the terminus to the world’s first underground railway – the Metropolitan line. It was originally built alongside a freight route to take livestock from a depot to its south to supply the nearby Smithfield Market.
Andy explained that the project has entered its next phase of “fine tuning” now the core infrastructural developments have been achieved. He has been a site manager at Farringdon since the very beginning. “Although I’ve been working on the site for seven and a half years now; it hasn’t felt that long because the project reinvents itself every couple of years.”
As we entered into what will become the western ticket hall it was clear to see that design has been key to their vision. Influenced by the nearby Hatton Garden, London’s famous diamond and jewellery quarter, 100 diamond-shaped concrete segments have been pieced together to create a lattice roof that spans 25 metres and weighs over 360 tonnes. In the eastern ticket hall, the design is influenced by the Barbican centre and the design of heavy metal sliding-screen gates has been derived from a barcode for Farringdon. As Andy explains; “For us at Crossrail it has been important to carry on a legacy not just a transport hub.”
We move down onto the platforms, from where a train will depart every two and a half minutes at peak times. The first thing that strikes you is with a platform length of just over 250 metres is just how big it is, far larger than anything else in London. The floor-to-ceiling platforms screen doors are now being installed, made of laminated glass with minimal framing they will be far sleeker than those on other metro lines including the Jubilee Line. The platform screen doors will be integrated with the platform edge screen that will sit above to fully enclose the platform, provide a physical barrier between the platform and the track, ensuring that passengers are not able to access the tracks.
Above each door will be the digital Passenger Information Screens and between them will be vertically mounted TV screens to show advertising. Also in the screens just above the doors are extraction ducts, that will help to maintain the flow of air through the station and, in the event of a fire, be used to extract any smoke from the platform space. The platform edge screens will be operated by the train signalling system, which will ensure the door operation is closely synchronised to train movements. Unlike many other new metro projects around the world, the Elizabeth Line’s trains will have drivers.
The trains these drivers will guide through the tunnels will be 200m long, built by Bombardier in the UK, and feature nine fully-interconnected walk-through carriages, air conditioning, CCTV and real-time travel information. Each train will be able to carry up to 1,500 people. The service will be run by Transport for London (TfL) through central London from December 2018, when the new railway will be fully integrated with TfL’s existing transport network.
Whilst underground we also see the lifts that will ensure that Farringdon, along with all of the stations on the Elizabeth Line will be step-free from street to platform level. This will vastly improve accessibility for wheelchair passengers who once on-board will have dedicated clearly distinguished priority seats as well as space for wheelchairs.
So how has this multi-billion pound development been able to stay on time and on budget? Something which isn’t all that common in similar projects across the world. Andy emphasises that; “It was costed properly from the very start. Yes, we are risk averse, but there was also a realism about what a project like this entails and what it will cost and this has been borne out by being on budget. Time scale and sequencing is critical. We have been realistic from the beginning, and our engineers have been fantastic - this performance should be repeated elsewhere.”
Farringdon station's platform now...
What we can expect in December 2018.
“I have greatly enjoyed being able to see the project from start to finish and engaging with the wide range ofpartners in the area. And now, with had a lot of work already done, it’s fantastic to see the station emerge from CGI plans to reality.”
As we finished up our tour, popping out onto the street where the Eastern Hall will be, one thing is evident and that is the great sense of pride and enthusiasm that every employee we met with shared about the project. Andy emphasises that “Crossrail is a story of London, not just a rail line,” and we walked away as convinced as the workers that this station will open in December 2018 when services begin through central London.