Transport for London has admitted that the reliability of its Elizabeth Line trains is “below target” – but says the situation is beginning to improve thanks to software upgrades.

While passenger numbers are booming on the new rail link through Abbey Wood and Woolwich – the £18 billion line has picked up a reputation for delays and unreliability.

TfL puts many of these down to problems at the western end of the line between Paddington and Reading, where the service has been hit by problems with Network Rail equipment, particularly for three days at the end of June.

But while the trains themselves work fine, the reliability of the software that runs them will come under scrutiny next week at a meeting of TfL’s customer service and operational performance panel.

In a paper for next Wednesday’s meeting, Howard Smith, the director of the line, said: “While availability of trains has been good, with no service affected by lack of rolling stock, the reliability of the trains has been below target. There have been further software upgrades and in recent weeks reliability, while still below target, has shown steady improvement. 

View from Elizabeth Line train in Berkshire field
Problems on Network Rail lines to the west of London are also affecting services. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

“Alstom, the train manufacturer, has two further reliability-focused software releases this year as well as a hardware modification which will speed recovery from incidents.”

A leak of hydraulic fluid and damage to axle counters – which are used in signalling systems to detect whether trains are on sections of track – have also caused issues.

A major  software upgrade introduced after Easter also suffered from problems which were “relatively quickly addressed”. Another major upgrade planned for next year will include more time for testing.

“Looking forward, the signalling issues are not expected to recur,” Smith said. “The forthcoming software and wiring updates on the trains are key and can be expected to deliver further benefits. Reducing the effect of occasional infrastructure failures in the central operating section [between Paddington and Abbey Wood] is a key focus.”

But Smith warned that problems with lines west of London, which are out of TfL’s control, remained an issue. “Despite all the work undertaken by National Rail  colleagues … the underlying infrastructure is not in a satisfactory state and a programme of renewals is planned,” he said.

By contrast, the line’s eastern branch, through Stratford to Shenfield in Essex, which is also run by Network Rail, is performing ahead of targets.

Farringdon station lower concourse
Passenger numbers at Farringdon station have nearly trebled. Credit: The Greenwich Wire

The paper also revealed that Tuesdays to Thursdays are the busiest days on the line, with about 614,000 passengers using the line on Thursdays for work and leisure. About 470,000 passengers use the line on Saturdays, just six per cent below the Monday average.

Passenger numbers at Farringdon station nearly trebled in the line’s first year of operation, from 100,000 to 280,000, and stations on the western and eastern branches of Crossrail have more passengers than they did before the pandemic.

TfL is now studying the effects of the Elizabeth Line on Londoners’ travel, with “extensive passenger surveys” to be carried out later this year.

Sunday line closure: There will be no service on the Elizabeth Line between Abbey Wood and Paddington on Sunday October 8 because of engineering works. The closure will also coincide with a closure of National Rail tracks to Charing Cross, Cannon Street and Blackfriars, meaning trains will run no further than London Bridge that day.