Yesterday, I visited the westbound Crossrail tunnel 30 metres below Clerkenwell and said farewell to its unseen creator, Phyllis.
Crossrail’s Farringdon worksite is like no other I have ever seen. It is like the set of the film Alien, with a touch of Quatermass and the Pit. But at its centre is Phyllis, one of the two tunnel-boring machines that has been working its way to Farringdon at the rate of 100m a week, creating the westbound tunnel of the route.
Her companion, Ada, is still some way back but will arrive at Farringdon in mid-December. Both Ada and Phyllis will then be immured forever behind a wall, just behind the platforms of the new station, underneath the east end of Smithfield Market. Two other machines will then tunnel their way to Farringdon from the east, and will then be removed.
A time capsule was on show, ready to be immured with her. Among its many artefacts was last week’s Economist and Private Eye.
Phyllis and Ada may soon have finished their work, but the disruption needed to ease their path at ground level continues until next June in St John Street, where water mains and sewers are undergoing strengthening until June 2014.
Once the tunnels are complete, contractors will then widen the running tunnels into the platform spaces, while the running tracks, electrics and signalling systems are installed, and the Crossrail station itself takes shape, with all its lifts and escalators.
My main concern about the future of Crossrail is that it has been narrow-mindedly designed as a metro-style operation for commuters who know where they are going – but will attract tourists and others, laden with luggage, who don’t.
Farringdon Station has been cheapskated and shoe-horned into a tiny box, without any of the amenities of the major railway interchange it will be. In fact, its amenities will be barely more than those of a suburban overground station. Then add the fact there will be no toilets in its rolling stock, and that it will become very popular among returning clubbers “in high spirits” at weekends…
It is not premature to celebrate Farringdon, however, as a major engineering achievement. My only regret is that many more people, and notably school students contemplating their career plans, can’t get to see this before it all gets covered up ready for the 150,000 passengers a day who will pass through the station when it opens in 2018.