How the Elizabeth line was designed

The inside track of everything you need to know about the new railway, from temperature-controlled train carriages to a regal visual identity.

The Elizabeth line is set to open on 24 May at 6:30am, covering over 100km from the west of London (Reading and Heathrow) to the east of the city (Shenfield and Abbey Wood).

While the idea of a railway connecting the west and east of the city has long been popular, the plans for the Elizabeth line (previously known as Crossrail) began in earnest in 2001, a collaboration between the Department for Transport (DfT) and Transport for London (TfL). Following frequent delays, and hindered most recently by the pandemic, the line is finally ready to open.

Courtesy of Shutterstock

To give a sense of scale for the new railway, which is expected to increase London’s rail capacity by 10%, there are 42km worth of new tunnels now situated under London. A total of 7 million tonnes of material have been excavated in the railway’s development. It’s cost an estimated £19 billion.

From the build of new stations to contemporary carriages, designers have had a crucial input into the line’s development. We take a look at some of the main outputs.

“Distinct” stations

Tottenham Court Road station. Courtesy of Crossrail/Flickr

TfL claims that the new line – technically a railway, not a Tube line – is “one of the most complex digital railways in the world”, boasting first-of-its-kind technology and design. That includes the train stations; the Elizabeth Line has ten new stations and many of the existing stations it covers have been refurbished ahead of its launch. In total, the line will service 41 stations.

Among the features at the stations – which each have their own “distinct character” and have been designed by different architects, says TfL – are platform edge screens and newly-designed seating. There is also passenger information above the doors to show the line’s services and signs have been crafted with legibility and accessibility at the forefront. Some of the brand-new services include ticket halls at central London locations like Bond Street (from John McAslan + Partners) and a new building at Abbey Wood (from Fereday Pollard).

When it opens, the Elizabeth line will run as three separate railways across its main areas (east, west, and central London). That means that passengers will need to change at various points if they wish to continue their journey further west or east. Eventually the service will allow seamless travel across the line.

Inside the new trains

Courtesy of Crossrail/Flickr

The line will have 70 new trains, which have been designed and built by Bombardier Transportation in Derby (now owned by Alstom). London design studio Barber & Osgerby worked on the interiors.

The trains will feature either seven or nine interconnected carriages, which mean you can walk through them. According to the TfL, there will be more standing room, a mixture of “metro style and bay” seating, air-conditioning as well as four dedicated wheelchair spaces, alongside multi-use spaces for buggies and bicycles. Each carriage will also have three sets of double doors which aim to make embarking and disembarking easier.

Courtesy of Crossrail/Flickr

TfL adds that “intelligent lighting and temperature control” on the trains will aid electricity regeneration while braking which could result in a 30% reduction in energy use. At full capacity, the nine carriages could carry as many as 1,500 people at a time.

The all-important moquette for the new line has been designed by Wallace Sewell, a materials studio which has worked on many transport fabrics before. The design incorporates the line’s purple tone and adds contrasting pale tones in a horizontal pattern. London Transport Museum already has a full merchandise line-up decked out in the new pattern.

Commissioned artwork

Courtesy of Crossrail/Flickr

TfL has commissioned eight artists to create public artworks at the new stations, including heavyweights such as Yayoi Kusama and English artist and musician Richard Wright. The artists have worked with Crossrail engineers and architects on the projects, which make reference to the stations’ place within London.

These artworks are situated across a stretch of central London locations, running from Paddington to Canary Wharf. You can spot two installations at Liverpool Street, which includes work by Conrad Shawcross and a silvery orb-like structure from Kusama (this marks the Japanese artist’s first permanent piece in the UK).

Designing the Elizabeth line’s identity

The updated Tube map. courtesy of Crossrail/Flickr

Ahead of the Elizabeth line’s opening, TfL revealed a detailed guide to the new line, which lays out key principles across identity, inclusivity, sustainability. Much of this guide lays out familiar branding principles – even without the roundel, an Elizabeth line train, station or uniform should be recognisable for example. The typeface is Johnston100 – Monotype’s modified version of the typeface TfL has used for over a century.

The core colour palette comprises Elizabeth Line Purple (Pantone 266c), TfL Blue and White. A secondary palette – which adds Legible London Blue and a magenta tone – is used on signage and wayfinding.

Earlier this month, the latest version of the London Tube map was revealed, featuring the Elizabeth line for the first time. It appears as a double purple line, which intends to make clear that it’s a new railway and not actually a regular London Underground line, explains TfL.

According to TfL interim customer and revenue director Julie Dixon, it wasn’t easy going. “It has been both a challenge and a privilege to update Harry Beck’s original design to literally put a new piece of transport history on the map,” she says. A new cover of the pocket Tube map has been created by London artist Joy Labinjo, which is inspired by her British-Nigerian heritage.

The banner image depicts Whitechapel Station is courtesy of Crossrail/Flickr.

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