Project Title: Crossrail Transforms into the Elizabeth Line
Project Category: Rail Network Expansion
Geographical Coverage: Greater London, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, and Essex, England
Route Length: Extending over 118 kilometres (73 miles) Enhanced
Capacity: A 10% Boost in London’s Rail Capacity; Catering to 200-280 Million Annual Passenger Journeys
Longevity: Envisioned to Serve for a Minimum of 120 Years.
Total Capital Allocation: A Substantial Investment of $21 billion

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet1
Grimshaw Crossrail Tottenham Court Road_©


Crossrail, the new Elizabeth Line railway project, is now Europe‘s largest infrastructure project in the works. 

Categorized as a mega project due to its immense size, substantial cost, and intricate nature, this $21 billion railway endeavor is poised to increase London’s train capacity by a noteworthy 10%, significantly enhancing the city’s environmental footprint.

 In terms of long-term viability, this is the “right project.” To avoid risk, megaproject managers and stakeholders choose tried-and-true procedures. In contrast, the Crossrail management team pursued innovation and established a precedent in sustainability for a project of this size.

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet2
TCR Elizabeth line platform_ ©Jack Hobhouse

Historical Roots of the Elizabeth Line

The idea of an east-west tube railway linking London‘s mainline termini was first proposed by Frank Pick, the Underground’s Commercial Manager, in 1919. This concept is also mentioned in the County of London Plan of 1943.

Post-World War II, London Transport explored several new railway projects, including one closely resembling the Elizabeth Line, complete with a link to London Airport. However, these plans remained unrealized, much like proposals for the Victoria Line and the Jubilee Line extension from the 1940s.

Despite a failed attempt in the 1990s to obtain parliamentary approval for what would later become Crossrail, a revised proposal gained approval in 2008, marking the commencement of construction. In February 2016 it was renamed the Elizabeth Line by Boris Johnson, then Mayor of London, to honor Queen Elizabeth II. 

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet3
Queen Elizabeth II visits Paddington Station in London, to mark the completion of the Crossrail project _©Photographer: Andrew Matthews/Pool/AFP

Design Consistency and Forward-Thinking Scalability: Crossrail’s Station Aesthetics

The ten newly constructed station buildings feature an array of architectural styles and design philosophies that draw inspiration from their respective locations. However, the subterranean circulating areas, passages, and platforms maintain a cohesive and uniform aesthetic. These below-ground spaces are notably more spacious than the typical Underground infrastructure, strategically designed to accommodate future growth and increased demand.

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet4
Escalators at Whitechapel station_©

The defining characteristic of these spaces is the elegant, curved white glass fibre reinforced cladding (GFRC) linings that grace the passageways. These claddings feature gently flared corners, not only enhancing visibility and safety but also minimizing visual clutter. Complementing this design, free-standing finger posts, referred to as ‘totems,’ provide clear and consistent directional guidance to exits, platforms, and interchanges.

Accessibility is a top priority, with the inclusion of lifts, ramps, improved signage, pedestrian crossings, and designated stopping areas. These elements collectively ensure that the stations are easily navigable, with step-free access to the platforms as a fundamental accessibility standard. All ten newly established stations offer step-free access, ensuring a seamless journey from train to street.


Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet5
Elevation_ ©Grimshaw

Crossrail, spanning 118 km of railway across London and its surroundings, extended from Reading in Berkshire to Shenfield in Essex. The project was jointly sponsored by the DfT and TfL, with TfL’s wholly-owned subsidiary, CRL, responsible for its delivery. A program director led an integrated delivery team, comprising Crossrail, program, project staff, and supply chain partners for design, construction, and implementation. The central section, featuring 21 km of twin-bore tunnels and nine new stations, had Bechtel as the project delivery partner, working alongside CRL.

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet6
WhiteChapel station_ © Hufton + Crowe

Transcend, a joint venture involving AECOM, CH2M Hill, and Nichols Group, served as the project management contractor for the overall Crossrail program. Network Rail also played a role in constructing the eastern and western surface sections. Agreements with various entities were established for upgrades to London Underground assets, Canary Wharf station, Woolwich station, and statutory utilities to facilitate asset protection and modifications for the new railway.

Design materials

The materials palette, integral to the line-wide aesthetic, seamlessly blends two distinct design languages: long-lasting architectural elements, such as tunnel cladding and flooring, and short-term technology servicing various environments.

Within the tunnel design, Glass Fiber Reinforced Cladding (GFRC) effectively wraps around the engineering, enhancing the perception of spaciousness in these bustling spaces. Its form and neutral color scheme support indirect lighting, integrate wayfinding signage and acoustic perforations and improve accessibility for passengers while maintaining a clutter-free environment.

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet7
A train at the platform at Farringdon station during trial operations on the Elizabeth Line_©Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Double-curvature forms at junctions open up sightlines for passengers, creating an open and organized atmosphere across the five tunneled stations and reducing costs through standardized cladding panel types.

Conversely, technological elements, including platform-edge screens, equipment cabinets, and totems, prioritize regular access for future upgrades. These components utilize durable materials like glass and stainless steel, facilitating straightforward maintenance and accommodating a range of uses, ensuring unimpeded passenger flow in platforms and tunnels. Integrated totems, for instance, combine lighting, signage, security features, and speakers with easily replaceable elements.

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet8
Tottenham Court Road station_ ©

Conclusion and Valuable Insights

Crossrail, now known as the Elizabeth Line, has brought substantial environmental and economic advantages to both London and the UK. From a citywide perspective, the project offers a compelling business case by alleviating congestion on existing transport networks and fostering job creation. With construction costs amounting to dollar 20.19 billion, the broader UK economy is expected to benefit by at least dollar 53 billion.

Unlike many megaprojects that shy away from innovative or sustainable approaches due to perceived risks and costs, Crossrail embraced innovation and sustainability from its inception, establishing a precedent for projects of its scale. The project’s sustainable performance has been affirmed across all its components through the utilization of rating systems like BREEAM and CEEQUAL.

Project in-depth: The Crossrail, London, UK - Sheet9
Volunteers exit a carriage onto a platform during a test run of an Elizabeth Line train at Paddington Station_©Photographer: Niklas Halle’n/AFP

While it is challenging to quantify in detail, there are strong indications that these innovative and sustainable features have resulted in reduced construction and operational costs, further underscoring the project’s success. The Innovate 18 program exemplifies how innovation can thrive in large projects, emphasizing the importance of implementing such programs early for substantial benefits.

The introduction of a “digital twin” strategy and the adoption of innovative solutions, facilitated by the Crossrail-Bentley Academy, have streamlined engineering design, minimized waste, and decreased operating costs. This academy’s approach has set a precedent for integrating physical and digital models, harmonizing standards and procedures, and establishing a practice that is likely to become the norm for future infrastructure projects. Bentley’s initiative to replicate this concept by establishing a network of academies worldwide underscores the project’s legacy, offering valuable lessons from prior endeavors, including the current signalling challenges faced by Crossrail.


Deepika is an undergraduate architecture student who truly believes everything has a relation to everything. Therefore, several fields do teach us a lot about the same thing. She perceives Architecture as a paradigm of change in the world followed by evolution with the utmost potential for a better civilization to come.