Cross Rail, London

Finally, it’s happened.  At last, an engineering triumph to be proud of – an epic feat of engineering which can be compared to the marvels of the original the Industrial Revolution, in the country which gave birth to modern world – Great Britain (can you guess I’m British?).

I have been lamenting the lack of vision and what you can only be described as ‘greatness’ of achievement in construction and engineering for a long time.  Our touch-screen, nano-technology world is astounding in many ways, and a lot of the things dreamed of by previous generations have become reality – quite literally the future is now.  Which is all well and good – but it doesn’t provide a sense of awe, it doesn’t make your mouth drop open and go ‘wow’.

Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), Frank Whittle (1907-1996), John Harrison (1693-1776) Alan Turing (1912-1954), Joseph Bazalgette (1819-1891), Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) – and the list goes on!  All great names who changed the world with their leaps of imagination and dogged determination.  The subject of this article may not have one particular name to highlight (a whole range of architectural firms are involved in the new and re-modeled stations, but I cannot find a name for the design of the tunnel and the overall project), but, like Bazalgette, we are heading beneath the streets of London.

Cross Rail is a truly epic undertaking, creating 42Km of new tunnels under the capital; and what is so encouraging about this new type of construction is that the whole process has been thought through from beginning to end – for example, the vast amounts of spoil which have been generated has not just been dumped somewhere, it has been used to create a new 1,500 acre RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.  Engineering with the environment in mind is engineering at it’s best.

Interestingly, although the building of the route has finally happened in the 21st century, it was actually proposed in the 19th and again in the 20th century (see here for more info on that).

Here are some photos, and here you can see videos of the construction on the Cross Rail YouTube page:-

Crossrail Tunnel Boring MachineCrossrail Shaft CrossrailCrossrail breakthrough Crossrail Full WidthCrossrail Route Map Geographic OutlineTo give some idea of the scale of this project here are a few fact from the Cross Rail website (edited from, here):-

General Info

  • Crossrail is Europe’s largest construction project – work started in May 2009 and there have been over 10,000 people working across over 40 construction sites.
  • Over 62 million working hours have been completed on the Crossrail project so far.
  • Crossrail will transform rail transport in London, increasing capacity by 10%, supporting regeneration and cutting journey times across the city.
  • The Crossrail route will run over 100km from Reading and Heathrow in the west, through new tunnels under central London to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east.
  • There will be 40 Crossrail stations including 10 new stations at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich and Abbey Wood.
  • Crossrail will bring an extra 1.5 million people to within 45 minutes of central London and will link London’s key employment, leisure and business districts – Heathrow, West End, the City, Docklands – enabling further economic development.
  • The first Crossrail services through central London will start in late 2018 – an estimated 200 million annual passengers will use Crossrail.


  • A total of eight tunnelling machines are being used to construct the new rail tunnels under London. Tunnelling is now complete.
  • The tunnelling machines in the west were called Phyllis and Ada and have completed their journeys, constructing 6.8km of tunnel each between Royal Oak to Farringdon.  In the east they were called Elizabeth and Victoria and were constructing new tunnels between Limmo Peninsular in Canning Town, and Farringdon.  In south-east London the machines’ names were Sophia and Mary and have completed their 2.9km drives from Plumstead to North Woolwich.  The tunnel boring machines Jessica and Ellie have completed their 2.7km tunnel drives from Pudding Mill Lane portal near Stratford to Stepney Green.  The tunnelling machines Jessica and Ellie have also completed their second tunnel drives – a 900 metre drive from Limmo Peninsual in Canning Town and Victoria Dock Portal.
  • Each tunnelling machine is a 1,000 tonne, 150 metres long underground factory with 20 person ‘tunnel gangs’ working in shifts.
  • At peak, the tunnelling machines aim for around 100 metres of tunnelling progress per week – as the tunnelling machines move forward, precast concrete segments are built in rings behind – 250,000 tunnel segments will be used to line the 42 kilometres of tunnels.
  • 4.5 million tonnes of excavated material from the tunnels will be shipped to Wallasea Island in Essex where it will be used to create a new 1,500 acre RSPB nature reserve.


  • Over the course of the project, we expect there to be at least 75,000 opportunities for businesses, generating enough work to support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs.
  • The delivery of Crossrail will create thousands of business and job opportunities including 400 apprenticeships. Over 350 apprenticeships have already been created on the project to date.


  • Contractors across the project are exceeding recycling targets with more than 92 per cent of demolition and construction waste beneficially reused.
  • More than 98 per cent of excavated material recycled with the vast majority being used to create to a RSPB nature reserve at Wallasea Island in Essex.
  • Development of a new Building Research Establishment Environment Assessment method (BREEAM) for evaluating the environmental performance of new below ground Crossrail stations.
  • Crossrail rolling stock procurement includes requirements relating to regenerative braking, energy consumption and weight limits.

Surprisingly, the whole project is on time and on budget – such a rare thing!

All in all, it is a truly epic undertaking, and one that our Victorian predecessors would be proud of.


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