LONDON — After 13 years, there’s a light — finally — at the end of the tunnel with the opening of the long-awaited Elizabeth Line, an underground and overground, multibranch train that will run east-west across London, and into the suburbs beyond the capital.
Phase one, which runs from Abbey Wood in the east to Paddington Station, opens on Tuesday and will stop at stations including Liverpool Street and Tottenham Court Road. The new Bond Street station, near Selfridges, is set to open in the fall because of delays in construction work.
When it opens fully in May 2023, the Elizabeth Line will shorten journeys into London’s retail-rich West End, which is attempting to recover from the impact of COVID-19 closures, Brexit and a sharp decline in office workers.
Inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth II last week, the new line is set to expand central London’s rail capacity by 10 percent, and carry an estimated 170 million passengers a year by 2026. Quick and quiet, the trains are scheduled to run every two and a half minutes, at peak times, through central London.
The line has cost an estimated 19 billion pounds and will have 41 stations, including 10 new ones. It will open in different phases through next year, although customers won’t be able to travel the full 60 miles, from one end to the other, until May 2023.
Fully integrated into the London Underground network, and operated by Transport for London, the Elizabeth Line is expected to add an estimated 42 billion pounds to the U.K. economy.
Crucially for retail, hospitality
and other businesses, it is set to bring 1.5 million more people within a 45-minute commute of the West End, and the City of London and Canary Wharf financial districts.
Retailers in the West End have been counting the weeks and months until the project’s completion and are eager to see Bond Street open. The arrival of the Elizabeth Line (and the new Bond Street station) is also the big reason why so many brands and retailers have been moving northward to New Bond Street.
Dee Corsi, chief operating officer at New West End Company, which represents some 600 retail, restaurant, hotel and property owners around Bond, Oxford and Regent Streets, said the opening this week “marks an exciting new chapter for the capital, offering a speedy gateway into London’s West End via Tottenham Court Road — and, later in the year, Bond Street.”
She said the new line “will not only improve the commuter experience for domestic and overseas visitors looking to make the most of London’s West End, but will also significantly boost our recovery as we enter into our first, full summer with zero restrictions since 2019, welcoming more visitors and more spend to ensure we remain on track to reach 8.6 billion pounds annual turnover this year.”
Piers Townley, director of the London Estate for Grosvenor, one of the largest property owners in Britain and Ireland which holds vast swathes of prime Mayfair real estate, said the opening of Bond Street in particular will offer a “big boost” to businesses in the area.
He said that once the Bond Street stop, which is located between Tottenham Court Road and Paddington, opens later this year, “we’ll all be celebrating.”
Townley also believes the new line will bring many neighborhoods on the route to Heathrow, which is one of two final stops at the western end of the line. “People will have a greater choice about where they stay, based on journey times to Heathrow. It will give a boost to hotels located along the line, and make business travel easier,” he said.
Trains from Heathrow will no longer terminate at Paddington Station, but continue through the central section of the line and eventually to Abbey Wood, southeast of London, and to Essex in the east.
Selfridges has been paying particular attention to the new Bond Street station, funding a large-scale art installation by the British artist Darren Almond.
The store is the only retailer to have provided sponsorship for the Crossrail Art Program and has been working with the City of London Corporation on the artwork. It will be installed in the station’s western ticket hall on Davies Street, just a few feet away from Selfridges’ Oxford Street store.
Almond’s work is meant to be a conceptual piece inspired by Britain’s transport heritage and will be integrated into the spaces above and around the escalators.
The Crossrail Art Foundation is a charity that was founded to create a display of large-scale art at many of the new Elizabeth Line stations. It worked with Selfridges, White Cube gallery and an advisory roundtable of art world representatives to select an artist for Bond Street.
Other artists creating work for the Elizabeth Line include Spencer Finch at Paddington Station; Yayoi Kusama and Conrad Shawcross at Liverpool Street; Chantal Joffe at Whitechapel, and Michal Rovner at Canary Wharf.
Almond said he hopes his work “will address the space and passage of time and will activate, and hopefully stimulate, the inherent narratives implied by descent and ascent, by arrival and departure.”
The Elizabeth Line opening dovetails with a surge of investment in the West End planned over the next five years.
As reported, the area is set to benefit from 5 billion pounds in capital investment across 22 existing and new West End developments, while more than 220 million pounds is to be spent on open public spaces in Mayfair, Soho and the streets around Oxford and Piccadilly Circuses.
The developments will focus on providing a more diversified and immersive experience, with some 76 percent of the West End developments set to be mixed-use.
There are plans to turn Cavendish Square near Oxford Circus into a health and wellbeing destination, while the almost-completed Outernet London, atop Tottenham Court Road station, will offer a 2,000-person capacity music venue, a gallery, broadcasting and media facilities, a hotel, bars and restaurants.
The overarching strategy is to prepare for better times ahead when international travel picks up again and local consumers are more in the mood to hit the streets and start spending time in physical spaces.