Huge new railway opens deep below London

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London (CNN) – A massive new underground railway transported faree-paying passengers deep under the streets of London for the first time on Tuesday as the British capital opened a new $25 billion metro line that will transform travel through the city.

Large crowds of rail fans, travelers and locals eager to catch the first new Elizabeth Line trains left Paddington Station shortly after 6.30am.

The line, known as Crossrail before being renamed in honor of the British Queen – who visited it last week – will dramatically reduce journey times across London. It’s the largest increase in rail capacity in the often-interrupted city in half a century.

Crowds queued outside Paddington Station to board the first trains on the New Elizabeth Line in London.

Leon Neal / Getty Images

Its construction – an engineering marvel fraught with perils of digging around London’s tangled network of Victorian tunnels, sewage pipes and the foundations of ancient buildings and tombs – has not been without controversy.

Originally slated to open in 2018, the railway was at times the largest infrastructure project in Europe, and has suffered from delays and a growing budget. There is also a question mark hanging over its usefulness after Covid has drastically reduced passenger traffic.

But for those who used the service on its first day, there were few concerns as passengers basked in the luxury of spacious air-conditioned train cars, beautifully ventilated stations and smooth movement – a world away from the cramped and bustling experience of old metro lines.

Among the first was Elizabeth Harding, 37, a health service worker from St Albans, north London, who rode the shiny new bars in special Elizabeth Lane sneakers after leaving home at 3.30am.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan pretends to pat his brow in relief as Elizabeth I Line trains leave on time.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan pretends to pat his brow in relief as Elizabeth I Line trains leave on time.

Leon Neal / Getty Images

“I love trains and my name is Elizabeth, and I have the boots, so I had to come,” she told CNN on the wide platform of Farringdon Station as the train sped away quietly to its next destination.

“How often will you have the opportunity to be part of an entirely new train line that is opening in London?”

‘Trials and tribulations’

Elizabeth Harding

Elizabeth Harding: “It’s smooth, calm, and aesthetically pleasing.”

Barry Neild/CNN

Harding said the line lived up to expectations. “I think it’s smooth, quiet, and aesthetically pleasing,” she said. “I especially like the seat fabric – it’s beautiful.”

Will Volcker, a 24-year-old London rail enthusiast who works in sales, also boarded early Tuesday to be among the first passengers. He said: “It’s been one of the biggest rail openings in the UK for quite some time, so I’m very excited to see it open after all the trials and tribulations.”

shoes

Elizabeth Harding shoes.

Barry Neild/CNN

Volcker also praised the experience of riding the new line. “It’s smooth, easy to use and precise. It will make things easier for people coming into central London.”

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, who spent Tuesday morning traveling on the new line and happily taking selfies with customers and staff, spoke of his delight at the launch of the long-awaited line.

Premium Elizabeth Line seat covers.

Premium Elizabeth Line seat covers.

Leon Neal/Getty Images

“The last time we expanded transportation of this magnitude was in 1969 when the Victoria Line opened.”

Operating normally, Tuesday’s opening saw trains connecting Paddington in west London with Abbey Wood in the southeast, with stops at key stations including the shopping center at Tottenham Court Road and the financial district at Canary Wharf.

When fully opened, the 62-mile network will connect remote passenger cities, bringing another 1.5 million people within 45 minutes from central London, and Heathrow, the UK’s main international airport.

Ben Jones contributed to this report.

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