Series charts the “final countdown” in Crossrail journey

More than 10,000 engineers and construction workers are racing to complete Crossrail, London’s new Underground and the biggest engineering project in Europe, in time for the first trains to start running.

Over two years, the BBC has had exclusive access to this incredible construction project and, in partnership with The Open University, the series returns to TV screens with The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway: The Final Countdown to give viewers another amazing insight into the design and engineering feats achieved. It will be shown on BBC Two on Monday 22 May at 9pm.

Extreme engineering

The series lays bare the extreme engineering challenges and milestones as The Elizabeth Line is tunnelled under some of the busiest parts of our capital. Professor Jeff Johnson was an academic consultant on the series and was impressed with how the series illustrates the massive complexity of this project.

“The series shows us the design and engineering interface and the careful calculations and checking that goes on.  There’s great tension at times because things could go wrong, and if they do get it wrong it could cost millions or more.  Clearly it’s not easy. But because it’s so precise and so amazingly planned, it is successful, which is a great lesson.”

“Crossrail is a technical challenge, a social challenge and an organisational challenge with thousands of people working together, each part achieving to make the whole come good. It is immensely complex – building through unstable earth with huge forces and buildings on top. What’s really amazing about it is that it’s successful. It’s a fantastic example of the combination of design and engineering.”

Two episodes reveal 26 miles of tunnels

Vast tunnels

26 miles of tunnels are being completed

The first episode in series two follows workers as they complete 26 miles of tunnels, install permanent track under the Barbican, construct the new ticket hall at Whitechapel and welcome Her Majesty the Queen to Bond Street. The episode also follows archaeologists as they uncover a Roman road at Liverpool Street.

Episode two looks at the construction of the new stations at Tottenham Court Road and Paddington, the design heritage of London’s transport network and visits Bombardier Transportation in Derby with Transport for London where the new state-of-the art Elizabeth line trains are being manufactured.

Senior lecturer in geography Dr Nick Bingham says urban infrastructures like Crossrail enables the circulations - of people, material, goods, energy and information – on which cities depend.

Reshaping of cities

“What the programmes in the new series show very well is the enormous amount of design, engineering, and coordination work that is required to fit new infrastructure into a city already patterned by a multitude of other networks of transportation, communication, supply, and data.

“As that has gradually happened the economic, social, and cultural landscape of London has already begun to be reshaped.  However, it will only be when Crossrail finds a place in people's lives and routines that what this new infrastructure means for the ever-changing fabric of the city will really start to become clear.”

He adds that for the insights the programmes offer into the making and remaking of cities and their environments, the programmes are particularly recommended for students currently (or considering studying) studying Geography, Environmental Studies, Design and Engineering qualifications and modules.

Take it Further

Open University poster

A City in the Making: Free poster from the OU

The Open University has produced a stunning poster to accompany the series, with additional information on the infrastructure of cities and how they are designed, which is freely available from OpenLearn.   

The OpenLearn site includes free materials on engineering, design and urban life which complement the topics covered in the programme

The series has particular relevance to Q99 BA (Honours) Environmental Studies and the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics with relevance to Q65 Bachelor of Engineering (Honours).





This series was commissioned by Broadcast and Partnerships in Open Media and Informal Learning and is supported by the Faculty of Arts and Social Science

The series was produced by Windfall Films in partnership with The Open University for the BBC.

  • Commissioned by Dr Caroline Ogilvie
  • Academic Consultants Dr Nick Bingham, Dr George Revill (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) and Prof. Jeffrey Johnson (Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
  • Media Fellows  Sue Hemmings and Dr Ian Johnston
  • Broadcast Project Manager Caroline Green
  • Online Project Producer Matthew Culnane
  • Lee Reading is the Series Producer & Director and Carlo Massarella is Executive Producer.


Images copyright CrossRail Ltd