IMG 9302fi - Crossrail: TFL services to Reading

Another post on that, erm… you know, new fangled London railway that I’ve loved writing about so much! Simply can’t get enough of it! TBH that’s not the case really. Although I had said I wasn’t doing it I decided at the very last minute to catch the first erm… CrossElizPurpLine to the capital of Berkshire itself. It would be just an out and back trip, because, erm, I’d not be able to enjoy the trip in many ways like others do. You, know… like brandish a cup of Costa/Nero/Pret/Starbucks (delete where appropriate!)

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The boards at Paddington were insisting this was a GWR service operated by TfL Rail! It wasn’t of course. At Reading they at least had it correct.

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Everyone’s excited as the boards come up to confirm platform eleven is the one we want and the train details are flashed up on its boards.

Fortunately on this trip I didn’t see anyone brandishing such stuff which was a good thing… there was one man with a flask – top points for that! As far as I could see there was no-one desperately needing the toilet or supplies from a buffet trolley. Now that would be ideal because on the new Class 345s the aisle is sufficiently wide enough a more substantial buffet trolley could be provided. Perhaps TfL will consider doing this on the off peak services between Reading and Abbey Wood for it will be a long journey even by Inter City standards.

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Our train arrives. This is unit 345063 which had come from Old Oak.

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Our driver, Vicki, for the first official TfL service to Reading.

The train actually left Paddington at 07.03am. It wasn’t any lateness on behalf of MTR I don’t think as the train and crew were all ready to depart, but rather but the fact we had to wait for the signals to clear.

One thing I noticed about this operation compared to the Heathrow one is the crew change overs are effected at Maidenhead instead of Paddington. It means of course there will be a number of crew change over points along the entire length of the Elizabeth Line and reflects the locality of the various Class 345 depots (for example Maidenhead, Old Oak, Plumstead, Ilford and Gidea Park) at which the line’s many drivers and staff will be based.

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Class 345 and a pair of Azumas at Paddington just before 06.55am.

I would say it was the fact that I decided to go at the last minute which made it all the more interesting as I hadn’t planned anything and wasn’t quite so apprehensive about encountering people. The scary thing for me would be if someone challenged me and said ‘you write such shit about Crossrail!’ And I have no means of replying to that.

BTW do I write such shit? No I don’t think so! I write what I think I understand about Crossrail and what it is doing. And if I think its not doing the job properly well yes I’ll write about that. Further let me stress that some of my posts are done in jest even though comedy/satire isn’t any good point of mine (hopefully some do realise that!)

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Central Line at Ealing Broadway as sighted from our train to Reading.

The last one I wrote about Crossrail going to Reading was most certainly done in jest. I mean by gawd who’d in their right mind want to redesign the Elizabeth Line and send it to Uxbridge instead? Bo-Jo might have liked the idea but then it wouldn’t be called the Elizabeth Line would it? It would have to be The Brexit Line (or something like that) because that’s all he ever thinks of!

In terms of Crossrail itself, this post today actually isn’t about Crossrail! Not the section I usually write about. Yes its “Crossrail/Elizabeth Line” but its more about a considerable new train service that has started and which goes to Reading which replaces that previously provided by GWR. The important players in this are not Crossrail this time – although we like to call the line ‘Crossrail’ anyway, or ‘CrossPurpElizLine,’ or the ‘Lizzy Line,’ but more rarely the ‘Elizabeth Line’ because that very connotation doesn’t actually carry much in this day and age of the need for greater equality and a fairer sense of justice.

Its more about that replacement service to Reading, and the people who operate it and by far this is NOT Crossrail at all in any way or any sense. The players this time are TfL and MTR. And the most notable important aspect of it is I found most of the MTR people generally nice – the opposite of scary when I think of the prejudice I have had in the past from rail people and enthusiasts (and still do from a number) and the turn up of noses when I arrived at an important anniversary related to the tube and people thought, ‘gosh, do we really need this person here?’ What had I done? The acumen was visible. Equality stinks in a lot of ways when its such people banging on about it but then apply a derogation, an exemption, when it comes to examples like me.

Anyway as some would say, let’s get on with the show!

One of the drivers I had met I think last year if I am not mistaken, when the first services to Heathrow/Hayes and Harlington began, we met again at Maidenhead!

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Our train driver – many months later! This was at Maidenhead during the crew change over.

Notice the very smart (but still casual sort of) uniforms both of the MTR staff are wearing. The one on the left is the senior driver (and instructor too) and he had worked for GWR prior to this. Thus the Great Western lines were a very familiar ground. The other guy (right) was a newbie, he qualified as a driver last month after eleven months of training. Both are very jovial guys.

I was also impressed by the very smart appearances the train staff wore. The detail in the new uniforms really impressed me – for there were roundels everywhere! And despite the fact the design required blue and purple to be used (the train/line colours) this didn’t get in the way of these excellent uniforms – whats more the colours were done very cleverly. The uniforms were mostly blue with purple used to emphasise different elements such as the collars and the pocket zips.

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The pockets on the staff uniforms are actually designed as roundels which I thought was fantastic. There are also a number of purple roundels too.

This, a complete contrast to say the tube or other railway lines (excepting perhaps GWR, LNER, and the recently departed Virgin railways.) Its nice to see this pride in the railways and to show there can be people who do think about the railways and their appearance to the public. And I must say this, despite what people have said about MTR it seems to me they are really doing their best – and in that they are also expecting the best from their staff and they way they dress, and their skills and professionalism in running the new services.

Remember this is ‘London Underground’ in a much greater sense of privatisation. The Elizabeth Line is far more of a RER than the underground really, but there still is a huge difference compared to say the Metropolitan or the Bakerloo or the District (which too run on the main line) – and that is the fact the operation and management of the Elizabeth Line trains has been devolved to a private company. (Yes I know LUL is ‘separate’ from TfL but that’s a totally different structure there and that’s another post in itself!) I haven’t got any qualms about this as long as it is done properly and it seems to me from the impression that I had got today, MTR are doing a good job. So I say well done to MTR!

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The rear of the MTR staff pass holder showing the core values the company has applied to the Elizabeth Line.

What’s happening on the rest of the line (delays, overspends, the other many shenanigans that have bedevilled the Crossrail project) is of course nothing to do with MTR themselves. I know they are in charge of signalling of the line too but the actual infrastructure (including testing, completion of the integrated signal systems etc) is still down to Crossrail Limited (including the fact the entire project is now several years late and there are rightfuly a lot of people annoyed about this) – and its that particular company – Crossrail – and TfL/The Mayor too to an extent because this is the parent company – so its them who are in the dock with regards to the many failures to get the line finished.

As I understand none of the Paddington/Heathrow/Reading drivers have been through the core Crossrail tunnels yet and one of them told me there was simply no knowing when anyone would even get their first training runs through to Abbey Wood. The connecting tracks at Royal Oak are not even in general use and I think its only specially authorised moves that can be done at the moment.

Which means for now everything on the west side of things shuttles between Paddington, the airport and Reading. With the introduction of new services to Reading there were both TfL and MTR personnel on board, both overseeing the operations and ensuring that the services were running to their satisfaction – and it seemed everyone was very happy with how the start of the new operations has gone.

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Iver station from the train.

Some of you will say ‘but Crossrail has been going to Reading for a few weeks now.’ Yes indeed it has. That’s been widely reported and many were describing it as a soft a launch – with six trains each way daily to give train staff and drivers the necessary bedding in of experience in actual passenger service on the line – and certainly it seems many thought that was the big change in the sphere of things. But today was the actual start of the full services to Reading. One big difference between this and the earlier soft launch is the fact for the first time on a Sunday for many years trains will again call at Burnham and Taplow. Not only that there are 133 services an increase over the previous 111.

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Slough. We were running four minutes late.

This means that there are signficant changes in terms of the trains too. On the soft launch people saw just a handful of purple trains, but from this very day onward practically every one of these would be purple. The very early and late night services do not stop at Burham or Taplow and ours was one of those so we missed those stations off the agenda. As it was still early hours there was also no branch trains to Windsor, Marlow or Henley although there would have been on weekdays.

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Next stops Twyford and Reading!

From Twyford its Sonning cutting and then industrial estates before the Thames comes into sight at Reading, with the Kennet leading off under the railway itself. To the north were huge railway lands and depots which I remember. These have now all gone and there is much new development. As I noticed this morning there is still some residual trace of the former depot which was served via a spur off the Reading (SR) to Waterloo tracks.

Despite the ongoing redevelopment in Reading Thames Water’s Vastern House is still quite a prominent landmark, it was one of the earlier modern buildings established here in the late 1990s. I remember this well because my last visit to Reading about eleven or twelve years ago involved a visit to Vastern House in order to complain to Thames Water about its services – and this because no-one had replied to emails I sent.

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The circular building is Vastern House as seen from the train. In the 1960s this road and a couple of other over bridges would have been points where one could see the Reading trolleybus system from the train as I remember. The system was one of the last to operate in the UK.

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As we arrived at Reading the 07.55 service was just leaving for Paddington!

This foray to Reading was the first opportunity I have had to see the new station. It does look impressive. Perhaps another time I may take a trip (taking a bottle of water and food with me) and get a better look around the new station and also have a peep at both the Kennet and the Thames. I just wanted to get home so I could some breakfast!

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Welcome to Reading!

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Enthusiasts taking photos of 345063.

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One of my favourite pictures of 345063 at Reading, about ten minutes before it was due to depart for Paddington.

At Reading there was half an hour before our train returned to Paddington. Plenty of time for photo opportunities and visits to the driver’s cab! Popular with kids of course, but once they had all seen the driver’s console and sat at it, it was the turn of the adults to have a look and sit at the controls too. I have sat in a Class 313 cab before and a Class 73 and a couple of others. The best perhaps was a Class 37 where I was allowed to drive the diesel slowly for a short distance. Dont worry it wasn’t on the main line but on the private rail network belonging to one of the country’s biggest steelworks.

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MTR crew (and TfL staff behind) by the train. Vicki, the driver we saw earlier at Paddington and who drove the train here – the guy is her instructor. He says he’s been training MTR’s drivers for approximately a year now.

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TfL and MTR staff on the train with the obligatory take away coffee lol! Actually I didn’t know they were officials, apart from the lady. They showed me their passes later on – as when they informed me they were officials I didn’t even believe them lol!

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On the way back the Henley shuttle had begun its services, first at 08.38 – our train was clearly a connecting service.

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Crew change at Maidenhead! Vicki and her instructor take their break while the others take over and continue the journey to London.

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Going over Brunel’s famous Maidenhead bridge. No rain, no steam but certainly a bit of speed! One of the narrowboats had a large xmas tree which I spotted on the way to Reading as it was all lit up in the dark. The Thames was in flood (and boat movements not advised though it doesn’t stop people taking risks if they so wish.)

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The other River Thames! Actually this is the Jubilee River, a considerable length of artificial waterway (7 miles or 11,5km) built as a flood relief to the Thames. It goes from above Maidenhead to below Windsor and its purpose is to prevent Maidenhead, Bray, Eton, Windsor from flooding – however residents further downstream have expressed concern the new channel’s shifted the problems their way.

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Taplow gets its first Sunday services in decades thanks to the new services. Similarly Burnham benefits too.

Its not just the new Sunday services to Burham and Taplow that feature – the new timetable sees TfL introduce 133 new services. GWR has dropped 111 of those (TfL have taken those over of course) however TfL’s introduced 22 extra services so there is a boon for residents en route, although as some say, there are downsides to this including the fact semi fast services have vanished and there are no toilets on the 345s. I could write a whole post based on what I have seen and read from others, but basically the point is TfL wants to introduce even greater capacity and it says introducing toilets would reduce this considerably.

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Poster at Taplow illustrating the new Sunday services.

At Ealing Broadway I was invited by the train staff for a ride in the driver’s cab. I rode this from there to Paddington and it was great. I took a video too of practically the whole route between the two London stations – however I think the polarised screen of the 345 caused the video some degradation in quality. Its not too bad really but it will need to be edited.

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By Old Oak the train crew waved to the passing TfL train heading for Heathrow.

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Not yet! The junctions and gradients leading to the Royal Oak portal of the central core of the Crossrail line. From the Hammersmith trains I do occasionally see trains that have come from Plumstead on trial running and are stood in the reversing sidings .

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Back to Paddington – where the next 345 to Hayes and Harlington was waiting to depart.

ITV News were at Paddington filming a report on the start of the new services. I cant find any report of this on the internet however, it was probably just televised. They were filming the Hayes services not the Reading services which I thought odd (though in all respect they could have been doing it for an establishing shot whatever.)

The cab ride was a huge novelty for me. As I have said I have had some cab rides or sat in the cab, and driven a 37, but actual main line cab rides practically never. I do remember as a kid having sat in the cab of a DMU some fifty years or more ago as we sped westwards on Brunel’s fast down main line (as opposed to looking through the glass window from the passenger saloon) one year on a special running non stop to the West Country. I couldn’t tell you exactly where but was probably Maidenhead to Reading.

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A group photo at Reading! Many thanks to the TfL guy who took it for me! Also many thanks to TfL and especially MTR for their kindness, and answering questions I had even though it wasn’t easy – and their surprising me greatly with the cab ride 🙂

2 thought on “Crossrail: TFL services to Reading”
  1. Hi
    It was lovely to meet you on my first drive to Reading.
    The train actually come from the Old Oak Common Depot in Acton for this first journey from Paddington to Reading.
    Maybe we will meet again, may I please ask if you would be kind enough to send me a copy of the photo you took of me at Paddington station I would appreciate it, I cannot copy from your website and my Son would be so thrilled to have it.
    Festive wishes Driver Vicky

    1. Thanks for the comments! Have corrected the post & also sent you an image as requested by email. Happy xmas too! 🙂

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