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The tunnelled sections will be approximately 22 kilometres (14 mi) in length.
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.
The Central London Rail Study of 1989 proposed tunnels linking the existing rail network as the "East–West Crossrail", "City Crossrail", and "North–South Crossrail" schemes.
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.
It is expected to relieve pressure on existing east-west London Underground lines such as the Central and District lines, as well as the Jubilee line extension and the Heathrow branch of the Piccadilly line.
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.
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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.
The project that became Crossrail has origins in the 1943 County of London Plan and 1944 Greater London Plan by Patrick Abercrombie.
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.