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The Elizabeth Line: A review of the new direct service from Heathrow to central London


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Part of the Elizabeth Line (formerly known as Crossrail) has been open for a few months but it was only yesterday that passengers traveling from Heathrow into the heart of London were able to do so without the need for a change of trains. As I happened to be at Heathrow anyway, I decided to take a look at the new service to see what it has to offer.

The timetable

You’ll find the current timetable on this Transport For London website, but these are the key things to know:

  • There are 3 Heathrow stations that serve the Elizabeth Line
    • Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3
    • Heathrow Terminal 4
    • Heathrow Terminal 5
  • As things stand (per the timetable valid from 11 December 2022 to 23 May 2023)* the Elizabeth Line runs the following services from Heathrow to central London:
    • From Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 – 4x/hour*
    • From Heathrow Terminal 4 – 2x/hour*
    • From Heathrow Terminal 5 – 2x/hour
  • Passengers arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 and discovering that they have a long wait for the next train into central London should use the Heathrow Express to go one stop to Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 from where they can catch an earlier Elizabeth Line train (the HEX is free for travel between Heathrow T5 and Heathrow T2/T3).

*These frequencies are expected to increase next year

Getting tickets & to the trains

Note: I caught the Elizabeth Line from Heathrow T5 so anyone catching the train from one of the other terminals can ignore this part of the article.

When you exit international arrivals at Heathrow T5, turn right and follow the signs for “Trains to London”.

Partway through the arrivals hall, you’ll see the ticketing machines and a sign showing the way to the trains.

Note: If the ticket machines here aren’t busy, this place is as good as any to pay for your trip before you go in search of the trains. If, however, the ticket machines are blocked by lines of confused tourists (as they often are), you’ll probably be better off following the signs to the trains and purchasing your ticket at track level.

My ticket for travel between Heathrow and Canary Wharf (the financial center in East London) on a Sunday afternoon cost £12.80. I’m told that the cost of an off-peak fare into central London will be £10.70 and that a peak fare will cost £12.70 and that travelers with select UK railcards should be able to make savings.

Warning: When purchasing a ticket, make sure that you’re purchasing a ticket for the Elizabeth Line and not the Heathrow Express or the regular London Underground.

When you exit the arrivals hall through the doors indicating the way to the trains, you’ll find the elevators (lifts) to the trains directly ahead of you.

Use one of the elevators to get down to track level and should you still need to, pay for your fare at one of the ticket machines here.

The Elizabeth Line and the Heathrow Express depart from the same level so make sure that you get on the right train (both are clearly labeled!)

The trains

The Elizabeth Line trains are still very new so in comparison to a lot of the regular London Underground trains, these are in much better condition.

There are a variety of seating options on board…

…but despite trying them all out, I didn’t notice any difference in seat comfort.

Unlike the Heathrow Express and like the standard London Underground trains, the Elizabeth Line doesn’t appear to offer any shelves or dedicated spaces for a passenger’s luggage but because the carriages are pretty wide,…

…I suspect that most people should be able to keep their bags with them at their seats.

Wi-Fi

Complimentary wi-fi is offered on the Elizabeth Line…

…and as the mobile signal on the Elizabeth Line can be more than a little patchy…

…that’s good news.

What’s not good news is that on this particular journey, the mobile signal was non-existent from Paddington onwards and the train’s Wi-Fi stopped working too.

I have no idea if this is a systemic issue or just a one-off issue that occurred on my particular train – let’s hope it’s the latter.

Journey times

My final stop on this journey was Canary Wharf which is 14 stops away from Heathrow Terminal 5 and which is (probably) the furthest east most readers of this site are likely to go (in London). This is how long it took to get from the Heathrow T5 station to certain key stations on the Elizabeth Line:

  • Heathrow Terminals 2 & 3 – 3 minutes
  • Paddington – 29 minutes
  • Bond Street – 33 minutes
  • Tottenham Court Road – 38 minutes
  • Farringdon – 41 minutes
  • Liverpool Street – 44 minutes
  • Whitechapel – 47 minutes
  • Canary Wharf – 50 minutes

If you happen to be doing this trip, be aware that the maps on some Elizabeth Line trains may suggest that Bond Street station is closed.

It isn’t. It’s very open.

And that’s good news for Hyatt fans because that’s one of the nearest stations to London’s excellent Hyatt Regency – The Churchill.

Quick thoughts

The trains are clean (for now) and it’s very nice to be able to get from Heathrow T5 to the very heart of London in around half an hour…but that’s the time it takes from the moment the train moves and doesn’t include any hanging around time so unless you get incredibly lucky and arrive just as a train is about to depart, your journey time will be longer.

In fact, it has to be acknowledged that the Elizabeth Line trains aren’t as fast as we were once told they would be. No more than 16 months ago, the then-CEO of Crossrail (which became the Elizabeth Line) talked about journey times of just 38 minutes between Heathrow and Canary Wharf

..and if we assume he meant T2/3 to Canary Wharf, that journey is currently taking at least 47 minutes.

9 extra minutes may not seem like much but in percentage terms that makes the journey almost 24% longer than we were told it was going to be and that’s not particularly impressive…especially when you consider the vast (and bloated) cost of this project.

It’s very possible that at some point in the near future the journey times will be sped up but for now, they’re good but not as good as we were once led to believe that they would be, and that’s a shame.

Bottom line

The long-awaited direct service between London Heathrow and the heart of London is now operating and on the whole, it’s a pretty good experience. I’m a little disappointed that the journey times don’t appear to be as quick as we were promised and I hope that the issues with wi-fi were limited to my particular train and not an example of what we can expect going forward, but those two gripes aside, it’s good to finally have the Elizabeth Line as an option from Heathrow to the heart of London.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Why buying a ticket? Couldn’t you just use contact less pay with any CC?
    (Or apple pay etc)
    And i don’t remember it as that expensive, at least i didn’t see it on my CC bill as such.

  2. They are running a temporary timetable until May 2023 to make sure everything works. From May the full service will be 24 train an hour instead of the current 20-22. 4g should also be up and running by then on the fill line (regardless of whether or not the train is in a tunnel). Dwell times should reduce and the journey should be faster end to end from next year.

  3. The service is not non-stop.
    It is DIRECT in that you no longer need to change trains at Paddington to travel to or through central London. But it isn’t non-stop, as it stops at lots of stations en-route. A small but important point.
    The Heathrow Express continues to provide a NON-STOP service between Heathrow T2&3 and London Paddington.

  4. From what I gather although you can connect to the WiFi the actual system to get it working in tunnels has not been switched in yet. Seems stupid to have it available but there you go.

    • Sorry you’re so disappointed with the review. If you’d care to submit a review of your own (pictures as well please), I’d be happy to publish it.

      Update 21 Jan 2023: So, I’ve finally had another chance to try the Elizabeth line (I’ve just left the train) and after having walked through 3 carriages, I didn’t see a single dedicated space for luggage. This leads me to believe that either I was on a very special train or you’re talking nonsense.

      I may have the chance to be on the Elizabeth Line again in the next few days so I’ll check again and report back.

      Update 24 Jan 2023: I’ve just taken the Elizabeth Line again and this time I walked the entire length of the train (9 carriages) to check your assertion. Again, I didn’t see any sign of the dedicated storage spaces you claim the Elizabeth Line trains have.
      Sadly, I’m left to conclude that not only are you incapable of making a point politely, but that you’re also the one who is “uninformed”.

      Needless to say, if you can produce a picture of the storage spaces you claim these trains have, I will happily edit the article and these comments.

  5. Very nice and comfortable train but very slow. Took me 45 min to Paddington from T5.
    Also unclear directions from underground barrier.

  6. MTR Elizabeth line is a wholly owned subsidiary of Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation, which will run the line and manage 28 of its stations. It’s something passengers might not know, as the operator was barely mentioned in UK press reports including your review.

  7. We used the Elizabeth line from Maidenhead to Paddington and the the tube to Charing Cross – we did tap and go, no tickets and TFL determined the optimal ticket and price. No ticketing required – surprised you didn’t mention that option.

  8. What is rarely mentioned are the poor connections between the Elizabeth Line and other rail lines. For example, at Liverpool Street it is so far west of the other lines, you could have believed you were closer to Moorgate. Perhaps that’s why some maps for the first time are showing Liverpool Street being on the Northern Line! The long walks on the level could be relieved by travelators, as seen at major airports around the world, but not on the Elizabeth Line. (I can’t think of any on the London Underground.) Full marks though for getting the line adjacent to Brit Rail at Abbey Wood.

  9. Generally a good article – thanks. I think the limited 2 x hourly services to T4 and T5 have been downplayed in all the hype. These poor frequencies aren’t really adequate for what ought to be a major airport shuttle. I think 4 x hourly should be an absolute minimum for each LHR terminal. More publicity of the option to change at T2/T3 would help meanwhile.
    Travelled recently on the line between Paddington and T5 and the Lizzie line was quiet as a morgue. Given that I had to wait 25 minutes for a train, and the Lizzie line services aren’t that fast, I realised afterwards I’d have been quicker on the dear old Piccadilly Line. Hmm

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