Do the hairs on my neck tingle as I enter the Elizabeth line? They certainly do

I’m on the platform, and there’s a train coming, and the safety doors are opening and oh my god I’m actually on the train, then, to be brutally honest, I’m feeling like a nine-year-old boy on Christmas Eve

<p>The new Tube line is a thing of wonder and far far better late than never</p>

The new Tube line is a thing of wonder and far far better late than never

Five full years have passed since I moved back to nowheresville in Essex, lured in significant part by the promise of an imminent glam new ride to the office.

So it is hard to pretend that there is not a touch of frustration to go with the excitement that here I am, about to take that glam new ride for the first time in the Year of Our Lord 2022.

It’s also hard to ignore, as I circumnavigate the carnival dancers at Woolwich station, around whom a queue for the brand new train has formed – consisting entirely of people who haven’t worked out there is not actually a queue but rather just a crowd of people watching the dancers – that I am taking this glam new ride neither from home nor to work.

I live in Gidea Park, where the “cross” part of crossrail – ie the bit that goes straight across central London – does not connect until the autumn. I also work in Westminster, from where I will, one day, change from Elizabeth line to Jubilee, but Bond Street station is also not opening (my wife, whose desire to move to Essex, where I grew up and she did not, was arguably even less pronounced than my own, was also very much depending on the high speed link to Paddington, but in the half decade that has passed, has now moved jobs and so has virtually no need for her brand new £18bn rail line at all).

No, instead I have commuted into Stratford and then back out again on the DLR to Woolwich Arsenal, purely for the sheer bloody-minded thrill of riding this mother-of-all-delayed services on its opening day.

Do I feel the hairs on my neck tingle as I enter a lift with a sign on the door pointing to the Elizabeth line? I most certainly do. Do I feel them again, once I’ve found my way down the high street from Woolwich Arsenal station to actual Woolwich station? Oh yes.

And by the time I’ve sussed out that the crowd of people watching the Rio Carnival tribute act (of which there are fully two dancers) are not actually the queue, and I’m on the platform, the actual platform, and there’s a train coming, and the safety doors are opening and oh my God I’m actually on the train, then, to be brutally honest, I’m feeling like a nine-year-old boy on Christmas Eve.

The thrill of seeing the new Elizabeth line train itself is somewhat muted, as they have been in service on the line from Shenfield to Liverpool Street, where I have been riding them, for more than four years. On this, Elizabeth line Day, there really were TV crews riding up and down the Essex-based leg of the railway, vox popping commuters about how they felt to be on this “brand new train line”; which – until it actually connects with the rest of the line in autumn (in theory) – is 100 per cent exactly the same as it has been since early 2018.

But that this very large and very purple commuter train is about to head under central London in its own massive tunnel – and with me inside it? Even as we pull out of Woolwich station I’m not 100 per cent convinced it’s really going to happen. But it does happen. But not before something else extraordinary happens first.

Between Woolwich and Canary Wharf there’s a discernible woosh. A burst of acceleration that takes the train far beyond the top speed of all the other Tube lines, of which this is not one. That discombobulating squeezing on of speed can also be experienced on what, in 2012, was briefly known as the Olympic Javelin; the preposterously fast link from St Pancras to Stratford which takes just seven minutes, before heading out into Kent.

Amid the decade long discussions of High Speed Two, it is routinely forgotten in the popular imagination that High Speed One already exists – and it is very fast indeed. Then we’re in Canary Wharf, then Whitechapel, then Liverpool Street, then Farringdon, then Tottenham Court Road then Bond Street; where the roundels currently read “Station Closed”, then Paddington and it is all, quite literally, a bit of a blur.

There’s not a huge amount that can be said about spending 11 minutes going through a dark tunnel at high speed, other than the still-mesmerising fact that 11 minutes ago you were at Liverpool Street – and now you’re at Paddington.

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The stations themselves are, has been well reported by now, magnificent. Metro stations are not works of art, Moscow notwithstanding, but the long sweep of the platforms at Tottenham Court Road are as perfect as this form can surely ever come.

One unignorable fact, though, is that just three hours into their working lives, these trains were near deserted. The Elizabeth line has, in effect, five stations in central London and one, Bond Street, isn’t open yet.

Over the last 20 years, I have lived at, I think, 18 different addresses in central(ish) London. I’ve commuted from and to every last bit of it, and I can’t fully work out what use the London Underground user will find themselves making of a train line that hardly stops in central London at all, and can only be boarded with some fairly serious leg work inside its stations.

Not that that matters. The Elizabeth line is a thing of wonder and far far better late than never.

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