The multi-billion pound Crossrail railway project is well on the way to completion and transforming transport for commuters into the capital.
Reporter MICHAEL OWENS and photographer NICK PARFORD visited Royal Oak and Paddington in West London on Thursday, May 1, to see how construction is progressing.
Work on Europe's largest constriction project has just passed the half-way point.
More than 10,000 contractors are working across 40 sites to ensure Crossrail is up and running in five years.
The scheme is set to bring an extra 1.5 million people within 45 minutes of central London with new electric trains using a combination of existing and new railway lines.
Watch a video from the visit to Royal Oak and Paddington including an interview with Crossrail surface director Matthew White here.
Crossrail surface director Matthew White explained the service would offer greater choice and comfort to commuters.
"Crossrail will give people a choice about how they want to travel and where they want to travel to," he said.
"People will be able to stay on the same train and travel straight through into central London for any other further connections."
At more than £14.8bn, Crossrail will cost about £5bn more than the London 2012 Olympic Games.
One of the key construction sites for the new lines is at Royal Oak.
The Crossrail line will branch off from the Great Western Main Line into tunnels built there in west London to a new purpose-built station in Paddington.
Two 1,000 tonne machines burrowed under the existing Brunel railway station at Paddington and thorough Bond Street and Tottenham Court Road.
They emerged at the new Farringdon station in November and January.
It will be through this route that passengers from Berkshire will be able to travel past the existing end of the Great Western Main Line.
From there they will be able to go on through the city to Canary Wharf, Stratford and beyond.
There will be four services running at peak times from Maidenhead into the city along the existing lines - with the addition of some existing First Great Western fast-train services.
Mr White added new services will maximise capacity on the railway with new 200m-long trains carrying up to 1,500 people.
Furthermore, while there are no projects on the scale of Royal Oak or the new Paddington Station in Berkshire there will be significant investment.
He added there will also be a series of upgrades to stations along the route as well - including extended platforms to fit the longer trains and overhead power lines to power them.
There will also be £2bn of improvements to the railway infrastructure by Crossrail would upgrade the ageing line to create a 'more reliable railway'.
This may sound like there will be far more disruption for already frustrated commuters during the next couple of years.
However, plans are in place to carry out the majority of works at night and on bank holidays to keep disruption to a minimum.
He said any regeneration outside the stations - including extra car parks, taxi ranks or retail space - would be the responsibility of other organisations.
"We work very closely with the boroughs in Berkshire and we have jointly developed a masterplan [which] the local authority will take forward to try and find funding routes to that a reality."
"That’s for councils and transport bodies to set up and change."
Crossrail is on schedule to open in 2019 and is expected carry an estimated 200 million passengers a year.
Mr White also spoke about Crossrail plans at Maidenhead railway station.
Although services will now be extended to Reading, the town is still 'crucial' to Crossrail's plans.
The station will still be the terminus for two of the four services every hour and the starting point for early-morning services.
Enabling works started around the station about six months ago and are set to continue for two to three years.
"We [will] make modifications to the station to increase the capacity of the platforms, create new platforms and of course put up the new electric wires the new trains will rely on," said Crossrail surface director Matthew White.
"We have also got to take down the existing canopies at Maidenhead to allow us to put up those wires."
New sidings will also be installed between Maidenhead and Taplow for Crossrail to stable its trains overnight ahead of each following day's first services.
Crossrail has said it will provide a 'masterplan' containing suggestions for development around the station to the Royal Borough within the next month or so.
Any work in the public realm outside the station would be the authority's responsibility to deliver.
Crossrail has outlined the following schedule at Maidenhead station:
2014 - Work has started on site including the re-alignment of platform 5
Early 2015 - Main station works to start, including platform extensions and work to lifts.
Spring 2016 - Further work to tracks around the station.
Winter 2016-early 2017 - Main works to create the new stabling sidings to be installed next to Maidenhead station.
2019 - The first Crossrail trains serve Maidenhead. Up to four trains an hour allowing passengers to travel through London without changing trains.
Overall Crossrail timetable:
Early 2015 - Tunnelling across the project ends and the fit out of the tunnels begins with tracks.
2016 - Fit out of new stations and construction of new trains continues.
2017 - The first new Crossrail trains will be introduced between Liverpool Street and Shenfield in Essex.
2018 - Crossrail trains begin running through central London tunnels, terminating in the west at Paddington.
2019 - Crossrail services begin in Maidenhead.
The new Paddington Crossrail station is under construction below ground underneath Eastbourne Terrace.
It is being built next to Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Grade I-listed Paddington mainline station.
Those stations - and the London Underground stations at Paddington - will be fully integreated so passengers can interchange between the services.
When completed, rail users will catch trains in and out of the capital from two storeys below street level.
Excavation is currently down to 15m - where commuters will find the main concourse.
Work will continue to shift earth another 15m further underground, where the concrete tunnels from Royal Oak will be revealed.
Once that has been done, the tunnels will be taken apart to reveal the new Crossrail line for the station - the first underneath the city for passengers commuting from Berkshire and South Bucks.
More than 100,000 tonnes of concrete has already been used in the construction of the new underground station.
By 2026, more than 22,000 people are expected to use the station every day during morning peak times between 7am and 10am.
To accommodate the Paddington project, the taxi rank has been upgraded and relocated next to the Hammersmith and City line London Underground station.
That in turn has been given an overhaul with a new entrance and ticket hall to cope with and excess number of daily passengers.
Donning dashing orange overalls and steel-toe-capped boots we went underground to have a look at how two key Crossrail sites are progressing, writes Michael Owens.
First we met with construction manager of Crossrail western tunnels, Zac Bastin to venture into the tunnels at Royal Oak.
Mr Bastin led us into twin, 6.2m-diameter tunnels which provide a route into the capital for trains branching off from the Great Western Main Line.
They were created by two huge 140m tunnel boring machines (TBMs) that ground their way into the dirt and carried it back to the surface
The machines - named Phyllis and Ada - powered through the city at an average of 100m a week, fixing 1.6m wide concrete slabs in place along the way.
Their journeys were completed earlier this year after reaching Farringdon.
Despite weighing in at close to 1,000 tonnes these monstrous machines were at the cutting edge of precision technology - sometimes passing less than a metre from existing sewers and Underground tunnels.
The second site we visited was the cacophonous hive of activity at Paddington.
Commuters may have noticed the ongoing construction and it was striking to see just what had been going on behind those blue boards.
A vast 250m-long cavern called 'The Box' has opened up to 15m below street level to make way for the new rail network's first subterranean station on the way into London.
The site is dominated by a series of giant yellow support cylinders that span its width, charged with about 400 tonnes of pressure to keep an avalanche of London clay from collapsing into the pit.
There was an overwhelming amount of manpower and work going into these projects and they are just two of 40 sites that make up this mammoth project.
Food for thought when we are all zipping through to east London in one journey by 2019.
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