Sadiq Khan apologises to commuters for repeated Elizabeth line chaos

Sadiq Khan apologises to commuters for repeated chaos on TfL Elizabeth line and admits it’s ‘not good enough’ – after MailOnline revealed beleaguered £19billion service suffered disruption five days in a row last week

  • Four issues since yesterday morning after problems every weekday last week 
  • Service delays being caused by track faults, broken trains and signalling issues 

Sadiq Khan today apologised that major reliability issues were continuing to plague the £18.9billion Elizabeth line, admitted the service was ‘not good enough’.

Passengers have been complaining for months about the poor Transport for London (TfL) service, with some stuck on trains in tunnels and others on packed platforms.

This week the line has already suffered four separate issues since yesterday morning, including faulty trains at Paddington and Whitechapel – the latter of which caused severe delays – a signal failure at Twyford and a customer incident at Stratford.

Matters have intensified in recent days with MailOnline revealing disruption was also reported every day between Monday and Friday last week. The Elizabeth line faced six separate issues in just over 24 hours between last Thursday and Friday morning.

These included three broken down trains at Paddington, a track fault in the central section, a signal failure at Tottenham Court Road and a track inspection in the west.

Now, amid mounting calls for an investigation, the London Mayor has revealed TfL commissioner Andrew Lord has ‘taken personal charge’ of improving the service.

Mr Khan also admitted that the line was ‘not perfect’, adding: ‘The commissioner himself apologised for the service commuters received and I echo that apology.’

It comes after opposition politicians told the Mayor to ‘dig down into the source of this disruption’ and be ‘pushing’ TfL to urgently deliver infrastructure improvements.

The line was meant to provide a fast route between Heathrow and Reading in the west and Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east through 26 miles of new tunnels.

But disruption is now an almost daily occurrence, with excuses for delays ranging from track faults to broken trains and signalling issues to overhead cable problems.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan embraces Transport for London Commissioner Andy Byford as they travel on the first eastbound train on the Elizabeth Line from Paddington on May 24, 2022

Mr Khan told MyLondon today: ‘We raised this at the last TfL board meeting last week and the commissioner himself has taken personal charge of this.

READ MORE What IS going wrong with the Elizabeth Line? Calls for Sadiq Khan to get a grip of TfL’s £19bn flagship line that has been beset by problems – from 1 in 10 trains cancelled in a month to track faults and constant delays

‘The good news is this is a train line that’s the most popular train line in the country. More than 3.5 million journeys a week. But it’s not perfect.’

He added that bosses were speaking to Network Rail about improvements to issues west of Paddington and east of Liverpool Street because ‘those lines aren’t TfL lines – they’re Network Rail lines.’

Asked if the service will be improved, Mr Khan added: ‘No complacency, but Londoners, and those across the country who use the Elizabeth line, are receiving the best service in the country when it comes to the quality of service.

‘But it’s not good enough – and that’s one of the reasons why I’m really pleased the TfL commissioner himself is looking into this… seeing what more that can be done to regularise the service.’

Elizabeth line director Howard Smith told MailOnline that bosses ‘sincerely apologise for the disruption’ and understood that delays have been ‘frustrating’ for customers.

He added that TfL has been ‘urgently reviewing recent incidents’ and is working with Network Rail and Alstom, which maintains the trains, to improve the service.

Mr Khan’s apology comes after mounting fury about the state of the line, both from passengers and politicians.

Caroline Pidgeon, the London Assembly’s Liberal Democrat group leader, told the Evening Standard: ‘Services on the Elizabeth Line have clearly deteriorated over the course of the summer. 

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan poses for a selfie on the first Elizabeth line train on May 24, 2022

The line runs from Heathrow and Reading in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east

‘As London’s flagship piece of transport infrastructure, customers rightly demand more reliable levels of service. 

From Cross London Rail Links to Crossrail: A 21-year timeline of the capital’s Elizabeth line 

London’s Crossrail project has suffered numerous setbacks over the past two decades, as follows:

January 2002: Cross London Rail Links Ltd, a joint venture between the Strategic Rail Authority and Transport for London (TfL), is set up to develop plans for Crossrail.

July 2004: The Government commits to introducing legislation to enable Crossrail to proceed.

October 2007: Prime Minister Gordon Brown gives the green light for the project. It is expected to cost £15.9 billion and open in December 2017.

May 2009: London Mayor Boris Johnson and Transport Secretary Lord Adonis break ground on the project at Canary Wharf.

October 2010: Crossrail’s budget is cut to £14.8 billion in the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government’s comprehensive spending review. Its opening date is pushed back 12 months to December 2018.

January 2014: The National Audit Office says the scheme is ‘just behind schedule’, adding that Crossrail Ltd ‘remains confident’ it will open on time.

May 2015: Tunnel boring is completed as a tunnelling machine named Victoria arrives at Farringdon. Some 13 miles of new tunnels have been dug under London.

February 2016: The Queen visits Bond Street station and announces the railway will be named the Elizabeth line in her honour.

July 2018: Rail minister Jo Johnson announces that Crossrail’s budget has risen to £15.4billion as ‘cost pressures have increased across the project’.

August 2018: Crossrail Ltd announces it will miss its December 2018 opening date but the central section ‘will open in autumn 2019’. The project is suffering from construction delays and difficulties installing complex signalling systems.

December 2018: TfL says Crossrail may be delayed further and could require a £2billion funding boost, taking the cost up to £17.6billion. The Government, TfL and London Mayor Sadiq Khan agree a financial package.

December 2018: Sir Terry Morgan resigns as chairman of Crossrail Ltd and HS2, days after predicting he would be sacked. He is replaced at Crossrail by London Underground managing director Mark Wild.

April 2019: A ‘delivery window’ between October 2020 and March 2021 is announced for the central section of Crossrail.

November 2019: Crossrail Ltd announces that the railway will open ‘as soon as practically possible in 2021’. The cost has increased by up to £650 million to £18.25billion.

January 2020: The ‘latest assessment’ is that services will commence in summer 2021.

July 2020: Crossrail Ltd says the railway will not open in summer 2021 because of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic. It does not give an updated schedule.

August 2020: It is announced that the line will open in the first half of 2022.

July 2021: The National Audit Office says the estimated total cost of Crossrail is £18.9billion.

May 17, 2022: The Queen and Prime Minister Boris Johnson visit Paddington station to celebrate the completion of Crossrail.

May 24, 2022 : Elizabeth line services are launched in three sections. The line has services on Monday to Saturday from Paddington to Abbey Wood. Services from Reading and Heathrow to Paddington, and from Shenfield to Liverpool Street, are rebranded from ‘TfL Rail’ to the ‘Elizabeth line’.

November 6, 2022: The three sections are integrated. Services from Reading and Heathrow now operate through to Abbey Wood. Services from Shenfield go through to Paddington.

May 21, 2023: The full timetable of up to 24 trains per hour is introduced, with direct trains from Shenfield to Heathrow for the first time – but not from Shenfield to Reading.

‘Work to solve issues with overhead power lines and signalling equipment must be the absolute priority and I would expect to see the Mayor pushing Transport for London to deliver this as fast as possible.’

Green Assembly Member Siân Berry added: ‘Passengers deserve the luxury service they were promised. The frequency of the trains through central London was genuinely transformative, but many people living on the ends of the lines absolutely depend on these trains running – so there is real harm being done with this sudden spike in problems.

‘I want to know what the Mayor is doing to dig down into the source of this disruption, so that we don’t see a repeat of the failures of leadership while the Elizabeth line was being built.’

There was also criticism from Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate due to face Mr Khan in next year’s mayoral elections, who said on X: ‘Once again Sadiq Khan is failing to keep London moving.

‘Around four years late and four billion over budget, the Elizabeth line has faced constant disruptions since opening last May. It is simply not acceptable for a brand-new service to be this unreliable’.

Labour MP Rupa Huq said she still used the London Underground to commute from Ealing instead of the Elizabeth line because she has ‘all too often been disappointed’ by delays on the new line.

Ms Huq, who represents Ealing Central and Acton in West London, told MailOnline: ‘When it works it’s great, but I have to say I’ve stuck to good old London Underground for my daily commute as I’ve all too often been disappointed by Elizabeth line delays which constituents continually email me about.

‘Most annoying is the fact that trains tend to skip Acton Main Line which seems to be a forgotten station despite its refit, and the other day my staffer was late to work in Ealing Broadway as all trains were terminating at Paddington. I’m not sure if this is teething troubles as when I’ve raised it with them, TfL have said to bear with them, improvements are on the way – but they can’t come soon enough.’

Transport watchdog London TravelWatch has told MailOnline that it wants to meet senior TfL operations staff to discuss what can be done to improve services.

A spokesman said: ‘Passengers quite rightly expect a punctual and reliable service but there have been some really challenging incidents recently.

‘We’re seeking assurances from TfL that there are robust plans in place to address the issues at hand – including faulty train doors, signalling and disruptive emergency engineering work.’

Last week some passengers claimed they were stuck for 40 minutes underground due to broken train doors, while others ended up being more than an hour late into the office due to emergency engineering works that had to be carried out due to the track problem.

That compounded the misery at the end of a week littered with delays – leaving some commuters calling for a major investigation into what is going wrong.

MailOnline understands that about 90 per cent of Elizabeth line trains were on time yesterday despite the disruption, with only the Whitechapel broken down train causing severe delays – and the other three incidents since the start of yesterday only resulting in minor delays.

Before it even launched in May last year, the Crossrail project suffered numerous issues including construction difficulties and complications installing signalling systems which delayed the opening multiple times.

This was much to the frustration of many homeowners buying properties along the route during the construction period in the hope of having an easier commute.

In 2007, the line was given an opening date of December 2017, and set a budget of £14.8billion in 2010. 

But the estimated final cost was £18.9billion, including £5.1billion from the Government – making it more than £4billion over budget.

In 2010, the opening was pushed back by a year to take place in December 2018 – but just four months before this date, in August 2018, it was announced that the line would in fact not open on time.

Four years later the Elizabeth line did eventually open in May 2022 – but only in three sections, with services on the new part from Paddington to Abbey Wood. 

Existing services from Reading and Heathrow to Paddington, and from Shenfield to Liverpool Street, were also rebranded from ‘TfL Rail’ to the ‘Elizabeth line’ at this point.

The grand opening was long awaited, and its first service from Paddington saw international rail enthusiasts travelling to the capital and queueing for more than six hours to get on board – with Mr Khan pictured hugging TfL officials in delight.

Commuters pack Bond Street station’s platform during Elizabeth line disruption on October 9

Rail passengers wait for updates at Canary Wharf Elizabeth line station on October 12 

However the first day was also blighted by a fire alarm being activated which saw Paddington evacuated. The disruption was clearly a sign of things to come.

Cancellation rate since Elizabeth line opened 

Figures below are for the four weeks ending on the given date: 

  • 25.06.2022 1.50%
  • 23.07.2022 1.50%
  • 20.08.2022 1.70%
  • 17.09.2022 2.20%
  • 15.10.2022 2.50%
  • 12.11.2022 2.40%
  • 10.12.2022 3.90%
  • 07.01.2023 1.80%
  • 04.02.2023 2.00%
  • 04.03.2023 3.30%
  • 31.03.2023 4.30%
  • 29.04.2023 3.80%
  • 27.05.2023 3.10%
  • 24.06.2023 4.20%
  • 22.07.2023 3.40%
  • 19.08.2023 9.10%
  • 16.09.2023 4.30%

The line initially opened in three sections – from Reading/Heathrow to Paddington, Liverpool Street to Shenfield and the new Paddington to Abbey Wood part.

Then in November last year, the second stage began which saw through trains start running from Reading and Heathrow to Abbey Wood; and Shenfield to Paddington.

The final stage from May this year saw services start running from Shenfield to Heathrow, as well as the existing Reading and Heathrow to Abbey Wood offering.

But MailOnline revealed in March that there would no direct trains from Shenfield to Reading, despite TfL previously heralding the line as a ‘new east-west railway’ – with trains from Shenfield instead forking off after Hayes and Harlington to terminate at Heathrow.

It also emerged that at Acton Main Line and Hanwell, there would be almost no direct services to Shenfield or Reading – with these West London stations only served by trains between Abbey Wood and Heathrow every 15 minutes, as they previously were before the change.

Days before the timetable change on May 21 this year, there was major disruption on May 16 that saw rush-hour passengers trapped on a service for 75 minutes. 

The delay was so long that one passenger allegedly had to urinate on the carriage floor because there are no toilets on board the trains.

Since May 21, the line has been affected by further reliability issues and ongoing rail strikes, with one in six Elizabeth line trains either cancelled or delayed this summer.

Passengers on the Elizabeth line face disruption at Hayes and Harlington station on October 1

Huge queues at Woolwich station amid Elizabeth line disruption in London on September 11

Network Rail has recently apologised for the poor service, particularly out of Paddington, amid mounting fury. 

READ MORE HS2 bosses ‘covered-up ballooning costs of high-speed rail line by telling staff to lie in bid to keep billions flowing into the project’: Probe is launched into allegations

Major issues occurred on July 25 when the western section of the route was hit by a major Network Rail signalling system outage.

This severely impacted services for two days and meant trains were not able to easily get to and from the Old Oak Common depot, located in Acton near the proposed HS2 station.

Another major problem occurred on August 16 when a maintenance train leaked hydraulic fluid within the central tunnel section of the line. 

This fluid had to be cleaned from more than 1.2 miles (2km) of track before TfL could safely run again services.

The line was part suspended from Abbey Wood to Whitechapel for most of that day, which severely limited the number of trains that could run.

Just last month, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulator revealed Elizabeth line cancellations had hit 9.1 per cent in the four weeks to August 19 – the worst figure for any UK rail service over that period.

MailOnline can reveal that this cancellation rate has dropped to 4.3 per cent in the four weeks to September 16, but that is still the joint second highest figure since the Mayor opened the line to great fanfare in May 2022.

It was also still the sixth highest proportion of cancellations out of 24 rail operators over that latest period.

The line was beaten only by Grand Central (9.4 per cent), CrossCountry (6.2 per cent), Northern Trains 95.5 per cent), Heathrow Express (5 per cent) and Great Western Railway (4.4 per cent).

Passengers are packed onto an Elizabeth line train through London at 8pm on September 25

Passengers wait outside the ticket gates at Woolwich Elizabeth line station on October 16

The ORR data shows Great Western Railway and Heathrow Express both had a similar rate of cancellations to the Elizabeth line.

READ MORE UK infrastructure has worsened in the last 10 years, manufacturers say

This is notable because all three operators are often affected by the same issues on the Network Rail western route between Paddington and Reading or Heathrow. 

Going back to May 2022 when it started running, the Elizabeth line performed relatively well in its opening months, with a cancellation rate of 2.5 per cent or below for the first five months.

But it then had a poor four weeks up to December 10 last year when the rate hit 3.9 per cent. The next few months were mixed, with cancellation rates of 1.8 per cent, 2 per cent and 3.3 per cent.

Then, for the four weeks ending March 31, the rate hit 4.3 per cent – which is the joint second highest figure, matched only in the most recent data period.

Since that point it has stayed above 3 per cent, peaking at 9.1 per cent in the four weeks to August 19 – then falling to 4.3 per cent in the month to September 16.

The figures do not include P-coded cancellations, which means services that are axed up to 10pm before – such as those cancelled due to strike action. 

These effectively vanish from the overnight timetable and therefore do not feature in on-the-day cancellation data. 

The regular disruption has incensed commuters, with many taking to social media  to voice their frustration at how the line seems to be disrupted almost every day.

READ MORE Britain’s worst railway operators revealed: How nearly one in ten trains were cancelled on Grand Central line over one-month period making it the least reliable in the country… so how does your service compare?


Among those incensed by the delays last week was James Tybulewicz, who wrote on X: ‘My week so far on the Elizabeth line: Monday – 20 minutes delayed because of a faulty train ahead. 

‘Tuesday – Three trains in a row cancelled without reason so 15 mins late. Today – my train has a fault – held for 30 minutes + outside Paddington. All for £3.70 each way. Absolute joke.’

Another, Anson Wong, tweeted: ‘Fifth time commuting on the Elizabeth line this week, fifth time faced with severe delays/cancellations. That’s 5/5. 100 per cent.’

A third, Paul Parsnip, said last Thursday: ‘An investigation is needed into the Elizabeth line! Everyday there is severe disruption! Especially during the peak when we need to get to work or home! The incompetence of service recovery, it takes over six hours to recover to good service, unlike other lines!’

A fourth X user said on the same day: ‘I actually cannot believe the Elizabeth Line has had four separate severe delays today. My God the worst line. TfL needs to answer for why this has happened and why the service on this line is so bad.’

Another asked Mr Khan: ‘Can you have a conversation on how to make the Elizabeth line run? Yet another day of no service, never gets mentioned how bad it is. You absolute fraud.’ 

Earlier this month TfL warned that ‘significant challenges’ will continue on the line’s 41-station network until new rail infrastructure is installed – with work on new overhead power lines not expected to start until next year at the earliest.

Network Rail has spoken to industry experts and component manufacturers to work out what is going wrong as it tries to improve signalling equipment and operations.

They are particularly concerned about issues in the western section of the line – part of which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and constructed in the 1830s.

Officials are hoping to modernise overhead power cables between Paddington and Heathrow Airport, with work set to take place between 2024 and 2029.

READ MORE Years of chaos on the Elizabeth line as Network Rail announces engineering works on TfL route until 2029 

However, this still requires final funding approval from the ORR regulator. 

And, if it goes ahead, it will likely result in major closures due to the engineering works required to upgrade the system. 

Despite the poor reliability on the Elizabeth line, demand continues to surge, with the network carrying a record 738,000 passengers on Thursday, September 28 – and a total of 4.5million people using it across that week.

The line has been a big success for TfL in terms of usage, with it having carried more than 200 million passengers since launching in May 2022.

More than 150million passenger journeys were made in its first year, with 56 per cent of these at the peak times of 7am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm on weekdays.

TfL claimed in July that the Elizabeth line was responsible for 140,000 ‘new’ journeys in London each day, and said more than a third of those who have switched from the Underground preferring it over the Central line. 

Earlier this month, the Evening Standard reported on a TfL customer service and operational performance panel meeting at which it was discussed how ‘significant challenges’ are expected on the line until new rail infrastructure is installed.

People queue for the Elizabeth line at Paddington station before the first train on May 24, 2022

Elizabeth line director Mr Smith said at the time that renewing this ‘won’t be a quick fix’ and that work will continue ‘next year and the year beyond’.

READ MORE Revealed: TfL’s Elizabeth Line had more cancellations than any other railway line in July and August

Sophie Bancroft, operations director of Network Rail’s western routes, added: ‘It’s not a quick fix [but] it’s not going to be terrible for years.’

It comes as rail commuters across Britain have endured months of misery thanks to regular rail strikes – while those in London faced a 5.9 per cent average rise in transport fares in March. 

Tube and bus fares are also expected to rise by around 4 per cent next year.

A TfL report earlier this month pointed out that the ‘reliability of the trains has been below target’, although it said this has improved in recent weeks following software upgrades, despite still being below target.

In addition, the report claimed the biggest ongoing issues are likely to be in the western section between Paddington and Reading and Heathrow.

It said: ‘The most significant challenges are likely to remain with Network Rail’s Western infrastructure, despite all the work undertaken by Network Rail colleagues as the underlying infrastructure is not in a satisfactory state and a programme of renewals is planned.’ 

But the report also said demand was surging, with some stations that existed before being connected to the Elizabeth line now seeing double the number of passengers compared to pre-pandemic levels after connectivity improved. 

The first passengers for the Elizabeth line at Paddington go down an escalator on May 24, 2022

It cited entries and exits at West Ealing in West London which have increased from 22,000 in 2019 to 45,000 this month. 

READ MORE Furious commuters demand investigation into Elizabeth Line as passengers are held for 40 minutes due to faulty doors

Meanwhile, last month TfL named Bond Street, Tottenham Court Road, Farringdon and Liverpool Street as being the first Elizabeth line stations to get superfast 4G connectivity by the end of this year.

The operator said the line’s seven other subterranean stations and tunnels are set to get signal by the end of April, as transport bosses also ramp up the 4G rollout across the Underground network over the coming months.

It was also revealed last month that more than two out of five UK train services during the first half of the year were delayed.

Some 41 per cent of trains between January and July were at least one minute late, according to BBC analysis of industry data collated by website On Time Trains. 

Elizabeth line director Mr Smith told MailOnline: ‘The Elizabeth line has become one of the most popular and reliable railways in the country since opening with around 4.2million passenger journeys now taking place each week.

‘We sincerely apologise for the disruption that has affected some Elizabeth line services recently and we recognise that recent delays and cancellations have been frustrating for our customers.

Prince William and Kate travelled on the Elizabeth line from Acton Main Line on May 4

‘The causes have included problems with the signalling and power supply on Network Rail tracks in the west; trespassers on the line, where we have to stop services for safety reasons, and some track and train faults.

READ MORE Chaos at King’s Cross as police close station due to overcrowding and rail bosses blame Storm Babet and beg passengers to use different terminals

‘As well as urgently reviewing recent incidents, we are working hard with Network Rail and Alstom, who maintain the trains, to minimise the impact on our customers and provide a safe and reliable railway.’

Speaking earlier this month, a Network Rail spokeswoman told MailOnline: ‘Recently the train line out of Paddington hasn’t been as reliable as we expect and passengers deserve, and we’re sorry to anyone who has been disrupted.

‘We’ve brought in industry experts from the UK and the continent, as well as the manufacturers of some of our components, to understand precisely why some of our infrastructure isn’t performing how it should, and this forms the basis of our improvement plans.

‘Our current focus is on our signalling equipment and operations. We also have plans to modernise the overhead power cables between Paddington and Heathrow Airport between 2024 and 2029, subject to final funding approval from the Office of Rail and Road.’

While the Elizabeth line a TfL-branded service, the network is technically operated by a company called MTR Elizabeth line (MTREL), which is a 100 per cent subsidiary of a company based in Hong Kong called MTR (Mass Transit Railway) Corporation.

Despite the line’s issues, the firm won rail operator of the year at the UK National Transport Awards in London on October 5. MailOnline contacted MTR for comment. 

MailOnline has also contacted Mr Khan’s office for comment. 

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