IMG 3072 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

An important but brief stage in the Crossrail testing regime began on 6 September when a number of trains began trial running from Farringdon station to Old Oak or Acton Main Line. There have been trial through trains before but not on this scale and not recently because of the huge problems with the signalling systems interface. The operation this particular day was likely a one off designed to gain some knowledge and insight into the problems of running trains through to the GWML now that the infrastructure and track has been upgraded. There doesn’t seem to be any immediate prospect of this happening again soon at Royal Oak or the Westbourne Park sidings.

Before this stage could even begin some considerable upgrade work had to be undertaken to the track as well as other infrastructure work including tunnels and OHLE. This was part of a five week line shutdown during August and the first week in September to enable upgrades to the line to be made.

IMG 3002 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

The 11.02 am train from Farringdon to Acton Main Line, running just a couple of minutes late with Class 345 067. The OHLE doesn’t help in taking photographs of the trains!

The morning’s operation seems to have gone reasonably well however the afternoon saw a lack of trains in use (which I assume may have been due to glitches in the software.) The only trains that apparently ran were the Plumstead based 345s and not those from Old Oak which explains the rather odd destination of Acton Main Line at times. – I may be wrong on that however as I’m not familiar with the different allocations of 345s to Old Oak, Plumstead and Ilford depots.

It was my observation of of one of these and how it stabled at Westbourne Park carriage sidings which rather confirmed the other main testing operation had indeed stopped and confirmed (for me at least) that it was the Plumstead based trains doing all these operations anyway whether they were Abbey Wood or Acton Main Line. It must be pointed out out that Real Train Times did not have any details at all on its site for the Abbey Wood workings hence I assume that was a last minute switch (perhaps due to some glitch with the through running) and it wasn’t causing other operators or Network Rail any problems because it was all being done on Crossrail’s own tracks.

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The 11.02 am from Farringdon to Acton Main Line. Awkward trying to take photographs from this location due to the high sided walls as well as the OHLE!

Maybe there was a problem with the partial close headway running which was clearly featured on this particular stage. Most of the services on the 6th September were actually running in pairs which means the trains had just a minute’s headway between each other – although there was then a substantial gap in services before the next pair of trains.

IMG 3006 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

Class 345 067 waited briefly in the down XR main before heading towards Acton Main Line. These workings had no destinations of any sort showing.

Its known previous attempts at close headway testing were cancelled because of an unspecified ‘safety critical failure,’ thus I guess Crossrail wasn’t trying to push its luck and that’s why this rather uneven close headway running was being employed – clearly that would have given Romford Operating Control and the Bombardier/MTR/TfL staff riding the trains some moments to analyse the results before permitting the next lot of trains to run.

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A view of 345 050’s leading cab as it waited for authorisation onto the GWML. This was the train that ran immediately behind 345 067.

Some of the trains turned back at Acton Main Line – which probably means they stopped up in the westbound platform and had just a couple of minutes or so to regain their route back to Royal Oak by way of the crossover just past the eastern end of the station thence the up slow GWML.

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At 11.19am 345 050 began its run onto the GWML to Acton Main Line. A number of personnel could be seen inside the various carriages.

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Real Train Times showing the Crossrail trial runs on 6th September 2020. Just the morning’s operation and perhaps the first part of the afternoon’s services were actually run. There were additional timings in the early morning and evenings however these were as required. The website will show these times for just a few weeks.

IMG 3046 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

345 067 at Westbourne Park sidings again, the time being 15.15pm! This time it seems it had been switched over to Abbey Wood to Royal Oak test runs which were clearly not in the timetable.

In the afternoon 345 067 arrived from Abbey Wood and made it into the down through siding at 15.15pm. None of the trains timetabled after 3pm showed up which led me to think the timetable had been scrapped and units were being employed Abbey Wood – Royal Oak instead. As I said before, I could be wrong about that. Anyway 345 067 moved off towards the Elkstone Road stabling point at about 15.19pm – and clearly this move couldn’t have happened if the other workings had been active because 345 067 would have blocked the trains’ route towards Old Oak.

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A view of the start of Crossrail/Elizabeth Line’s section at Westbourne Park. Clearly this would be about as far as a Class 345 could get if it was stabled on the down XR main. The CE sign on the gantry clearly indicates this is the start of Crossrail’s route.

What intrigued me was how 345 067 used the down through siding and then continued (after a few minutes pause) onto the main Crossrail westbound track where it then stabled within the immediate section of line just before it joins the GWML. I didn’t think trains were able to stable on this section of line alongside Elkstone Road but clearly they are!

DSC 0082 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

Just past the official start of the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line are the signs warning this is where the CBTC commences. The other side of these signs have CTBC with a red line through which means end of that section. As we now know these sections of track can also be used to stable trains coming from Abbey Wood/Shenfield in addition to the Westbourne Park sidings.

I have observed many workings from Abbey Wood in the sidings at Westbourne Park however this was the first time I have seen one go past those sidings and almost onto the GWML itself! I measured the distance from just beyond the connection with the GWML to Westbourne Park bridge on Google Maps. The distance was 260 metres thus there’s easily plenty of room for a nine car Class 345 Length of 205 m (673ft) length to stand on Crossrail’s own tracks alongside Elkstone Road without actually fouling the GWML.

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345 067 seen underneath Westbourne Park bridge in readiness for its return journey to Abbey Wood.

The rear of 345 067 could just be seen from Westbourne Park Road standing underneath the main road bridge thus I went down into the tube station there to see the train better that surprised me because clearly it was stabled on Crossrail’s own tracks and not encroaching the GWML.

IMG 3061 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

The surprise about this for me was it meani in theory Westbourne Park carriage sidings plus the down/up XR main could plausibly hold up to nine Class 345 sets because, for a start, the through Westbourne sidings are far more than double the length of a single unit although in normal circumstances (eg when the GWR tracks are not accessible) stabling a maximum of six, maybe seven, Class 345s would be possible without causing conflicts. But they could stable more overnight or during an emergency if they so wished.

IMG 3066x - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

The indicators on 345 067 clearly say Abbey Wood via Canary Wharf. The train number was 8A44.

Clearly four (maybe even five or six) trains could be held on the non automated reversing tracks, leaving the pair of centre sidings free for the Class 345s that would need to perform the automated ‘Zorro’ type reversing move out from, and back into, Paddington Elizabeth Line station – while the driver walks through the train in readiness for the return journey eastwards.

IMG 3068 - Crossrail operations at Royal Oak

S Stock from Hammersmith arrives at Westbourne Park station. 345 067 can be seen in the background as it awaits authorisation to Abbey Wood.

In terms of previous through operations, the first instance of a Class 345 entering the tunnels was in February 2018 with the first working the full length of the line between Pudding Mill Lane and Royal Oak being on June 11th 2018 (Evening Standard) and even on that day things were fraught with problems. The Jacobs Semi-Annual Construction Report 20 does tell us dynamic testing was conducted through the central tunnels and onto both GE and GWML and it seems this may have continued until May 2019. No doubt it stopped because of the enormous problems of getting the Class 345s to switch from CBTC to TPWS and so on, thus at some point dynamic testing was relegated to the section between Royal Oak and Abbey Wood. It must be remembered that during the COVID-19 pandemic Crossrail stopped all operations including train testing. Its actually got quite complicated to know what Crossrail’s been doing in terms of actual train testing – and that’s besides whatever other construction/testing work) they’re doing – so I leave it there!

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When will trains actually be tested towards Shenfield via Pudding Mill Lane? I really have no idea at the moment – this was the Pudding Mill Lane portal on the Friday (4th September) before the weekend’s operations and its entrance was clearly barricaded! I took this picture from a Class 315 heading towards Liverpool Street.

At the start of this post I briefly mentioned the fact that five weeks of upgrade work was undertaken on the tunnels and tracks between Royal Oak and Abbey Wood. Here are a couple of pictures of that work at Royal Oak during the period in question.

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Engineers/workers at Royal Oak as they upgrade the line’s infrastructure. This was taken from one of the 345s that had begun working directly to Heathrow Airport.

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Workers on the tracks leading down in to the Royal Oak portal. Taken on a different day but again it was a 345 direct from Heathrow Airport.

My report on the Class 345s to Heathrow is here.

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