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In the east, the line splits at Whitechapel, with one branch running over the existing Great Eastern Main Line via Stratford to Shenfield, and the other branch running through Canary Wharf and emerging from the tunnel at Custom House on a disused part of the North London Line, continuing under the River Thames to Abbey Wood.In the west the route connects with the Great Western Main Line at Paddington and runs to Hayes and Harlington, where it splits.One branch runs to Heathrow Central (for Terminals 2 and 3), Heathrow Terminal 4 and Heathrow Terminal 5, The main western section runs on the surface from Reading to Acton Main Line.Upgrades are being made to stations at Maidenhead, Taplow, Burnham, Slough, Langley, Iver, West Drayton, Hayes & Harlington, Southall, Hanwell, West Ealing, Ealing Broadway and Acton Main Line.The east–west scheme was for a line from Liverpool Street to Paddington/Marylebone with two connections at its western end linking the tunnel to the Great Western Main Line and the Metropolitan line on the Underground.The City route was shown as a new connection across the City of London linking the Great Northern Route with London Bridge.

Both the Labour and Conservative parties made commitments in their manifestos for the 2010 election to deliver the railway, and the coalition government formed after the election also committed to the project.

Crossrail's central core section will use new east–west twin tunnels under central London, splitting into two branches at either end.

The tunnelled sections will be approximately 22 kilometres (14 mi) in length.

The need for extra capacity along this corridor is such that the former head of Tf L, Sir Peter Hendy, predicted that the Crossrail lines will be "immediately full" as soon as they open.

The concept of large-diameter tunnels crossing central London to connect Paddington in the west and Liverpool Street in the east was first proposed by railwayman George Dow in The Star newspaper in June 1941.

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