Track services

Everything changes for Elizabeth Line trains on a faster route to Heathrow

New possibilities: the new Elizabeth line also offers opportunities for people in south London

‘Going anywhere nice for your vacation?’ Gatwick has long been the obvious airport of choice for people from Croydon looking to fly out, but the completion of the £17.6billion CrossRail could finally provide a viable public transport route from south London to flights from Heathrow.
KEN TOWL put it to the test

A message arrives from Inside Croydon Towers: try the new Elizabeth Line, see if it makes getting to Heathrow easier, cheaper or more enjoyable.

It turns out there are two and, as the great meatloaf used to claim, “two out of three isn’t bad.”

It is certainly easy.

Simply hop on one of the many Thameslink services to Bedford or other points north via Farrringdon and change to the central section of the Elizabeth line.

Or, to give it its full name, the Mass Transit Railway Elizabeth Line, or MTREL for short.

Cross rail: for now, passengers must change trains at Paddington

Parent company MTR has interests in the People’s Republic of China, Australia, Sweden and now a narrow strip stretching from Reading in west London to Shenfield in the east.

It turns out that we do have a partially nationalized transport system in the UK. Nationalized, but not by the UK. MTR started as Hong Kong’s Metropolitan Railway and is majority state-owned.

I left East Croydon on 10.31 and arrived in Farringdon 25 minutes later. I followed the large purple signs for the Elizabeth line and within minutes was on the train to Paddington. Here, for the moment at least, you have to change, emerge on one side of the main hall of Paddington station and cross on the other. No problem for me but I wouldn’t want to do it with a few big suitcases.

The plan is to join the various sections of the line eventually for a single train journey from one end of the line to the other. But for now, we’ll have to settle for a little faff in Paddington.

There’s hardly any waiting in Paddington, and the trip is a smooth and comfortable air journey through West London’s light industrial areas and business parks, with plenty of time to admire the new carpet.

Part of the family: train seats reflect that the line is part of London transport

Even though the Elizabeth line isn’t strictly part of the London Underground family, it has its LU-style carpeting, the fabric design on the seats, a rather appealing mix of purples, blues and beiges, with pops of red and orange.

Curiously, the Elizabeth appears on new Tube maps as the “Elizabeth line” alongside the other lines which are only referred to by name, the Victoria, Central or Bakerloo etc.

So while we are supposed to infer that the blue line on the map indicates the Victoria line and the red line marks the path of the center line, we must be informed that the purple line is the Elizabeth line. Maybe I’m making something from scratch, but it looks weird. Did anyone somewhere think that “Elizabeth” in and of itself would seem disrespectful?

We arrived at Heathrow Terminals 2 and 3 at 11.45am. The trip, from station to station, therefore lasted a little less than an hour and a quarter. At £32.30 for a single off-peak ticket (return is double) it wasn’t cheap, but it was nice and relatively quick.

So if this summer you’re going somewhere not as hot as London, maybe the Elizabeth line offers those traveling from Croydon a reasonable alternative to having to drive or be driven to Heathrow or, worse, shell out at least two times more than the train fare for an Uber or similar.

The Elizabeth line: offering a journey from East Croydon to Heathrow, via Farringdon in under 1hr 15mins for £32

For a change I switched back to the X26, the half-hour service which costs the price of a single Oyster ticket or debit card, £1.65 – around 5% of the new train fare.

While the X26 wins hands down in terms of money, it’s pretty awful in all other respects.

The return, after a bit of a wait at the airport, took just over an hour and three quarters. The seats are quite cramped, there is little space for luggage and the service seems designed more for airport employees than for travellers.

It claims to be TfL’s longest bus route, and you can see lots of planes up close as the bus winds through and around Heathrow. Some people might like this stuff.

Cheap and horrible: the X26 takes you past land or aircraft, however

The bus winds a lot, however, through Hampton Wick and Kingston and New Maldon and Cheam and Sutton and Carshalton before arriving in Croydon. And there is traffic. For a while between Hampton and Wick, our X26 got stuck behind an idling 481.

The 481 is managed by the RATP group, another public company whose logo is based on the meanders of the Seine which passes in front of its headquarters. It seems that in this country we have the nationalized transportation system that the left is calling for. It’s just that it was nationalized by other countries.

So while the Hong Kong offering was fast, comfortable and expensive, the bus was slow, uncomfortable and cheap. I think I will stick to flying from Gatwick in the future. You can get there for £5.90 off-peak on Southern (partly owned by SNCF, the French rail system) or Thameslink (also partly owned by SNCF!) and you can get there in 15 minutes from East Croydon.

Long live difference !

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