Elizabeth Line set to open in London, giving travelers more transit options to and from the airport
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After more than a decade of work, years of delays and tens of billions of dollars in spending, this week London will officially launch the Elizabeth Line, the city’s newest Crossrail train service. It will provide travelers with new and additional public transportation options as they head in and out of London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and throughout the city.
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While arriving travelers will benefit beginning Tuesday, when the new line opens in separate segments, perhaps the biggest impact will come later this year when sections of the Elizabeth Line fully connect, allowing air travelers direct train service from Heathrow to key parts of central London, the Canary Wharf district and beyond.
Under construction since the late 2000s, the line named for Queen Elizabeth, will service 41 stations spanning the city and surrounding region, traveling both above and below ground, acting both as a subway in the city and a commuter rail in the suburbs.
Ultimately, this new line will “transform rail transport in London” once completely up and running, officials say.
With the Elizabeth Line officially opening Tuesday, the current plans call for the system to be fully connected by this fall, and fully operational by next year.
Why this matters for travelers
Currently, a trip from Heathrow to the center of London can often force travelers to choose between a host of options, including lengthy commutes and hefty prices.
While the Heathrow Express can transport flyers between the airport and London’s Paddington Station in 15 minutes, it comes at a pretty high cost – about $31. Then, if you’re not staying near Paddington, you’ll likely have to connect to the London Underground, or choose another form of transit to continue on to your final destination.
The Tube’s Piccadilly Line also has service to Heathrow and travels to many of the city’s most popular destinations. It is generally the cheapest rail option for getting to and from the airport – and likely will remain so – but you’ll want to weigh its convenience as you plan travel.
Perhaps the biggest impact of the new Elizabeth Line will be simply more choices for travelers going back and forth from Heathrow or through the city – and on newer, sleeker trains traveling through Wi-Fi equipped stations.
A new public transit option
As London officials confirmed the new Elizabeth Line was full speed ahead for opening this week, the city’s transit agency incorporated the new line into its historic and sprawling Tube and Rail Map.
Once fully combined this fall, the line, with its new, 1,500-person capacity trains, will start in the west with service from either Reading or Heathrow, travel through the center of London, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf, to Abbey Wood or Shenfield in the east.
Here’s what the Elizabeth Line’s map looks like, isolated from the city’s other rail lines, on a map shared by the contractor.
In all, the Elizabeth Line will encompass 41 stations – including 10 newly-built stations in key parts of London.
City officials see this new line as a way to reduce congestion at its London Underground stations, increase rail capacity to the city, and – a key benefit for travelers – make Heathrow more accessible.
The line, which went through years of delays during its construction and ultimately cost more than $23 billion, will feature newly dug tunnels and new stations built specifically for the line, including at Paddington, Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon, Liverpool Street, Whitechapel, Canary Wharf, Custom House, Woolwich, and Abbey Wood.
A phased opening
As crews continue their work on completing every aspect of the Elizabeth Line project, it’s going to be a sort of phased opening.
Starting Tuesday, May 24, you’ll be able to ride the line through its new tunnels in the center of the city – from Paddington to Abbey Wood.
On that same day, existing rail services between the airport and Paddington (as well as commuter routes between Reading and Paddington, and between Shenfield and Liverpool Street) are going to be ‘re-branded’ as the Elizabeth Line. For now, though, you’ll have to change trains to connect to the new line’s central route through the city: if you’re arriving at Heathrow, that change will be at Paddington.
By this fall, though, the system is expected to be fully integrated, at which point you’ll be able to ride the Elizabeth Line from Heathrow all the way through the city, including Canary Wharf, up to Abbey Wood.
Tuesday’s changes are set to launch at 6:30 a.m., with officials saying this week, the new stations were in the final stages of preparation.
What you’ll pay on the Elizabeth Line
Once the Elizabeth Line opens Tuesday, it won’t transport travelers from the airport to Heathrow as quickly as the 15-minute one-way trip on the Heathrow Express, but it will be far cheaper than its $31 USD fare.
A trip between the airport and Paddington will cost about $13.36 USD, or $15.86 during peak hours. Compared to the Heathrow Express, it will be quite a bit slower, at about 28 minutes, with several stops along the way.
While not your best option if you’re rushing to catch a flight, its certainly more affordable than the Heathrow Express, especially when you consider this: Transport for London, which oversees the system, caps daily spending within Zones 1-6 (the areas in which you’re most likely to travel in London as a visitor) at £14.10 ($17.61 USD) …so, by the time you travel from the airport to Paddington, you’ll already be a good portion of the way to your daily spending maximum.
Now, as mentioned, the Elizabeth Line won’t be quite as cheap as existing Tube service to Heathrow. Right now, service on the London Underground from the center of the city to Heathrow costs about $4.37 USD, or $6.87 during peak hours.
You’ll want to weigh convenience, location of stations and your timeline as you decide how to get to your destination in the city, but, again, this will just mean additional options for travelers.
Hotels along the new line
While the new line will truly be a game-changer this fall once the trains run right from Heathrow to the key stops in London, travelers moving around the city will be able to tap into the central Elizabeth line service right away.
Many of the line’s new stations are near or within a moderate walking distance of popular destinations in the city, and situated not far from hotels you can book on points.
Related: 17 of our favorite hotels in London
Take the Elizabeth Line’s new Tottenham Court Road station in London, for instance. If you were to travel to this station from the airport (again, with a train change at Paddington for now, but no train change by this fall) you could stay within a few minutes’ walk (less than a mile) at the Waldorf Hilton London, a 19th-century hotel building that itself is minutes from the Royal Opera House, British Museum, Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square.
Those looking to use Marriott Bonvoy points can walk half a mile from the Liverpool Street Station to Threadneedles, an Autograph Collection property in the former Victorian City Bank building with a stunning stained glass dome in the lobby.
Meanwhile, if you’re hoping to stay in the Canary Wharf area, you can take a pedestrian bridge over water from the line’s Canary Wharf station to the Hilton London Canary Wharf, close to the neighborhood’s offices, shops and restaurants.
Planning your trip
Be sure to use the TfL journey planner as you choose transit options for your trip between the center of the city and the airport, and within London.
This will help you get a sense for train frequency, where the different lines go, and what you’ll pay.
Related: TPG’s favorite restaurants in London
Options are always helpful for travelers, and that’s what the new Elizabeth Line means for those visiting London.
After more than a decade of work on this massive project, travelers visiting London this summer will now have additional options for transit between the airport and Paddington, and will be able to truly experience the new underground portion of the system through the city beginning this week.
By this fall, once the Elizabeth Line is fully connected, it will mean a major new and affordable option for travel to the airport and throughout the city.
Featured photo courtesy of TfL.
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