In our previous posts on the shape of London’s rail network, we looked at how our infrastructure legacy gives rise to the pattern of services which concentrates demand onto the city core and its ring of termini. While London’s population and travel to work area have grown enormously, the core has largely remained the same as it was in the 1860s. The challenge is to reshape the network to expand the city core and break free from this legacy.

New cross-city lines such as Crossrail and Thameslink will clearly help. Not only do they provide increased capacity and new journey opportunities, but they are inherently more efficient as they avoid complex and time-consuming turnarounds at the termini. They reduce the dominance of the termini, and this will help encourage the expansion of the core into areas that hitherto had been relatively inaccessible despite their proximity to the city.

In our follow-up that took a peek into the future, we looked at TfL’s aspiration for a pattern of “strategic interchanges”, linked by orbital services that will build on TfL’s highly successful Overground model.

Examples of Strategic Interchanges

Examples of Strategic Interchanges (From the MTS)

However we saw trouble ahead, partly because it wasn’t entirely clear what a strategic interchange was, but also because the orbital routes connecting them are getting close to capacity. It is also clear that even with the investment proposed for the next control period (CP5, 2014-2019), as summarised in TfL’s July 2011 recommendations for HLOS2, by 2020 the projected overcrowding on the orbital routes will still be among the worst on the capital’s network. Then just a few short months later, in November TfL reported on their London Overground Impacts Study, which contained the infographic below showing revised projections for overcrowding, which were more severe and will come by 2016 rather than 2020.

Forecast Crowding in 2016

Forecast Crowding in 2016

It’s clear that TfL does not have much time on its side to come up with some solutions, but as the Rail Utilisation Strategies have shown, these are not likely to come easily.

The orbital routes and their strategic interchanges will be explored in more detail in later posts looking at London north, east, south and west. But a key theme emerging from these is the difficulty in providing capacity for freight alongside passenger services. The West London Line (WLL), North London Line (NLL) and Gospel Oak-Barking line (GOBLIN) are important strategic freight routes on which metro services have to be interleaved, but these two traffic patterns have very different characteristics and do not mix well.

TfL’s aspirations for a network of strategic interchanges linked by its Overground services will depend on its success in balancing freight flows alongside passenger, and this is becoming a challenge as both markets are growing rapidly. And given that most freight flows in London are destined for other places, surely the obvious solution is to relocate cross-London freight to new routes outside London?

So it is to freight we now turn, and casting the net a long way beyond London’s boundaries, and TfL’s purlieu, and indeed London Reconnections’ realm and comfort zone. We occasionally embark upon distant explorations, for instance on how a new chord at Nuneaton will help ease pressure on the NLL. Mwmbwls’ coverage of the Haven ports and the new London Gateway terminal suggests that London is ill-prepared for the container loads that will soon be churning forth. Perhaps of greatest concern is the inability for DfT and TfL to come to agreement over that most low-hanging of investment fruit: the electrification of the GOBLIN route from Barking to Gospel Oak. If this is a sign of decision-making to come then London has major freight problems ahead ? both road and rail ? and TfL may find its aspirations for the Overground and its strategic interchanges getting stuck in the jam.

But as ever we leap ahead of ourselves, so first a look at the various strategies and what they can tell us about freight in and through London.

No shortage of strategies

Sadly for this author, this is no idle flick through a Rail Utilisation Strategy (RUS) and a swift write-up: freight is covered in pretty much every RUS, plus it has one all of its own. Plus there is also DfT’s 2009 report which sets out its vision for the Strategic Freight Network (SFN) and the investment priorities for CP5 (2014/15 to 2018/19) and beyond.

The Rail Freight Strategy

The Rail Freight Strategy

On top of this TfL produced a Rail Freight Strategy in 2007, which has been built into the 2010 Mayor’s Transport Strategy. The Mayor also produces Supplementary Planning Guidance (SPG) documents to provide further detail on particular policies in the London Plan, including the 2007 SPG on land for transport (PDF), which we will draw upon in future posts.

It would seem rather unfair if we didn’t flag up the ill-fated Strategic Rail Authority’s own 2001 Freight Strategy (PDF). In these heady pre-RUS days, it is interesting that the SRA took such a keen interest in freight, and indeed introduced many of the proposals that were developed in subsequent strategies.

But before immersing ourselves in routes and destinations, the obvious question that arises from all of these worthy documents is: who is in charge, where does the buck stop? Or alternatively, what is TfL’s role in rail freight in London, and how does it relate to DfT, Network Rail, the Train Operating Companies (TOCs), the London boroughs, distribution companies, developers and others?

Perhaps it is all a bit of a team effort. For instance, the SFN investment program is developed by the Strategic Freight Network Steering Group. This was set up by Network Rail in 2007 and brings together stakeholders including the freight operating companies and freight users, the Association of Train Operating Companies (representing passenger operators), DfT, Wales Assembly Government and Transport Scotland. From the TfL February 2011 ‘Rail and Underground Panel, Managing Director’s report, Agenda item 6’: (PDF):

7.22 The Strategic Freight Network Steering Group, of which London Rail is a member, is continuing to optimise spending of the available funding in control period 4 (2009-14) and is looking at investment priorities for control period 5 (2014-19).

7.23 The London and South East RUS draft for consultation looks at long term freight routing options, with the strategy being to avoid freight passing through the London area unless there is no realistic alternative. This approach and the individual routings is wholly consistent with the Mayor’s Transport Strategy

The stakeholder groups for the SFN and the 2007 Freight RUS are very similar. Given that the Freight RUS feeds into all the regional RUSs, including the 2011 London & South East RUS, it is no surprise that they all appear to sing off the same song sheet.

However what happens when investment options run out and the stakeholders find themselves fighting for precious rail space? There is a hint of this tucked away in the London & South East RUS (Sec 9.2.6 p161):

In some instances where capacity is severely constrained, consideration may need to be given to whether the allocation of capacity to freight services should be weighed against the use of that capacity by lightly-loaded passenger services.

At first glance this is eminently sensible: cut lightly used passenger services to release extra freight paths. But this may not be so straightforward in practice given the positions that the TOCs, passenger groups and the regulator might take.

More to the point, the issue that TfL faces is the need to create capacity for additional passenger services and freight paths. And as we shall see, for TfL to create more paths for Overground services on the orbital lines, it needs to persuade someone to invest in improvements in places like Leicester, Kenilworth, Ely and Basingstoke. This must provide TfL with an interesting challenge.

But it still takes us back to the original question: when it comes to the crunch, who decides? This of course appears to be in a state of flux with the recent announcement of the Mayor’s Rail Vision. Although the prime focus is on passenger services, it represents a fundamental shift in terms of strategic decision-making for inner London rail services, and inevitably this will include freight. As this saga unfolds, we’ll explore this further in Part 3.

Things come, things go

The first thing to know about rail freight in London is that most of it goes through, even if some of it goes up to distribution centres in the Midlands and comes back in lorries. TfL’s 2007 Rail Freight Strategy sums it up nicely:

3.14 This situation reflects London’s position as the hub of the UK rail network. The railways were built as a series of radial routes serving the main London termini. The ‘orbital’ routes (North, West, South London Lines, Gospel Oak to Barking route, etc) allow freight to pass between these radial routes. This arrangement has worked well historically, but competing needs have emerged more recently due to the significant growth in both passenger and freight services.

3.15 TfL wishes to introduce step change improvements in the quality of orbital passenger rail services in the next few years. At the same time the volumes of freight transiting London – but not serving the city – are expected to continue growing at a faster rate than rail freight in general, mainly due to major port developments. Strategic solutions are required which recognise the orbital routes’ new role as intensively used mixed railways. In this light a major task of this strategy is to set out TfL’s view of which routes should be developed

Perhaps we should argue that these “competing needs” have emerged because London has grown beyond its historic core, i.e. it is a spatial growth towards the hitherto safe realms of the orbitals. Therefore we have a systemic problem, and this is unlikely to involve a choice of what route should be developed, but rather what the new system should look like.

The 2007 Freight RUS provides some useful context before we zoom into to London and 2011. The maps below show the national base case at 2005, showing the freight services that ran and relating this to the freight train paths available. This is the second thing to know about rail freight: more freight paths are booked in the Working Timetable than are actually used, in order to provide operational flexibility, to adapt to customer requirements and market-driven fluctuations and for operational flexibility. On mixed-use routes with competing demands for limited spare capacity, such as the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML) and the southern end of the East Coast Main Line (WCML), utilisation of freight paths tends to be higher than average. This is also where creating additional paths in the timetable is likely to be problematic.

2004/2005 Average Daily Freight Trains (One Direction)

2004/2005 Average Daily Freight Trains (One Direction)

Actual Freight Path Utilisation on Key Sections

Actual Freight Path Utilisation on Key Sections

Around London it is clear that the East Coast Mainline (ECML) uses most of its freight paths, and traffic on the GEML is relatively intensive. In contrast the Channel Tunnel routes from the south east do not pose a problem: a minimum of 35 specified paths/day in each direction between the Channel Tunnel and Wembley Freight Operating Centre were protected by Network Rail for the duration of the Channel Tunnel/Railways Usage Contract up to 2052, and at present most of these paths are unused.

The 2007 Freight RUS estimated demand for 2014-15 and then factored in the impacts of the new London Gateway port at Shell Haven and its effect on traffic from the Haven Ports (Felixstowe and Harwich Bathside Bay), and of W10 gauge enhancement between Southampton and the WCML. These are Sensitivities 2 and 3 on the map below, which shows the traffic growth in London in more detail. Clearly the orbitals are going to take the strain.

Additional Trains by 2014/2015

Additional Trains by 2014/2015

What the map does not show is the effect on specific points such as key junctions, or the route options and their limitations. For this we need to look in more detail at the London area and at the specific freight flows, which we explore in Part 2.

Before that a little more context, on the Strategic Freight Network and what this might mean for London, and more specifically on the vexed issue of loading gauge.

Strategic Freight Network (SFN)

The concept of a Strategic Freight Network was outlined in the government’s 2007 White Paper:

9.29. The Government envisages that the SFN would both complement, and be integrated with, the existing rail network. It would provide an enhanced core trunk network capable of accommodating more and longer freight trains, with a selective ability to handle wagons with higher axle loads and greater loading gauge.

9.30. With the provision of appropriate diversionary routes, such a network would deliver not only greater capacity and reliability, but also improved seven-day and year-round availability. It would also allow the network to accommodate disruption more easily.

The SFN is not is a separate network of dedicated freight-only routes, but rather a program of enhancements to the existing network. This program is developed by a stakeholder group led by Network Rail, the membership of which includes TfL, and which appears to be broadly the same group which developed the 2007 Freight RUS.

In September 2009 DfT published its Strategic Rail Freight Network: The Longer Term Vision (PDF), which clarifies the SFN’s purpose and the challenges:

Conflicts occur between passenger and freight requirements (and between different types of passenger services) at numerous points on the railway, eroding network capacity and reliability. At present the network is almost nowhere optimised for freight, which reduces the efficiency of the UK’s rail distribution logistics…

The SFN is intended to provide a framework for targeting investment and network management better to meet freight requirements and to resolve such conflicts. This should both improve the logistical efficiency of the railway and secure network capacity and reliability gains to the benefit of all users.

That gives us a little more information on the decision-making process behind freight investment, but it also raises the interesting issue of attributing benefits and costs to different rail operators. We have seen how the enthusiasm to take the investment lead can be dulled if agreement cannot be found on sharing the costs and the rewards, for instance with GOBLIN electrification. Perhaps the SFN will provide a better framework to identify and prioritise investments, with Network Rail undertaking the investment and claiming the costs back from the various rail operators. Indeed NR is required by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) to publish SFN proposals in its Strategic Business Plan, so one assumes this is the route through to investment.

The 2009 vision document outlines the investments committed in the current CP4 to 2014 and the more ambitious aspirations for CP5 and beyond. To flavour the more detailed discussions our following posts, these include:

  • Upgrading for longer 775m and heavier trains on key intermodal routes, which should become the design standard for new terminal developments and enhancements
  • Moving to a 7-day/24-hour capability which requires new approaches to engineering possessions and the development of diversionary routes with appropriate capability for each strategic freight route
  • More efficient operations with the aim of through running of freight trains in preference to layovers in passing loops

Each of these has major implications for London’s rail network in terms of timetabling and route infrastructure. For instance, timetabling regular paths and signalling for 750m freight trains on lines shared with metro passenger services is likely to be challenging, and indeed may not always be possible.

But to put this SFN vision in context, the 2011 London & South East RUS includes demand projections and train path requirements for each of the intermodal routes, which we will explore in Part 2. These are based on a 6-day railway and 640m trains, and note that there is yet no investment funding committed for this. So the SFN vision is a considerable way ahead of the investment reality..

On specific routes, aspirations include:

  • East-West Line (Oxford-Bedford with upgraded links to the West Coast Main Line (WCML) and MML
  • 4-tracking the Midland Mainline (MML)
  • electrification of freight routes, including the MML (see below), GOBLIN and routes outside London that could take cross-London freight, e.g. Ipswich to Nuneaton

According to the 2009 vision document, DfT has also asked Network Rail to undertake two freight routeing studies to recommend:

the preferred routes between London and the South-East, and the Midlands and North of England, and the enhancements necessary to accommodate rail freight activity forecast to 2030 (the ‘Routes to the North’ (RTN) study); and an optimal cross-London freight strategy (CLFS)

We’re interested to know more about these studies. Will they be published, and have the conclusions already fed through into the 2011 London & South East RUS?

Before we look at loading gauge, perhaps it’s worth reiterating the question above: who decides? The SFN is being developed by a stakeholder group, led by Network Rail, but presumably with DfT (one of the stakeholders) ultimately providing the investment funding. This approach may be reaping rewards in providing a comprehensive overview of the challenges and at least a vision to work towards but, given that the network is close to capacity in the London area, is it closing the gap between aspiration and investment reality?

How big is a train?

So finally to the conundrum of loading gauge. Your LR writing team, also being of varied shape and size, have collectively discovered a peculiar fascination with the topic, so much so that you can expect a post on this alone in the near future.

Loading Gauge Envelopes and Container Sizes

Loading Gauge Envelopes and Container Sizes

In the London area, loading gauges range from W6 to W8, but are predominantly W7 or W8. W10 gauge allows 9’6″ high containers to be conveyed on standard-height wagons and this is important to maintain rail’s attractiveness in the intermodal market. But in London only the NLL and more recently GOBLIN have been cleared for W10. Equally, the mix of loading gauges means that diversionary routes can often be long and circuitous, or trains have to be cancelled when the main route is unavailable.

The 2009 SFN Vision document maps out the aspirations for loading gauge:

  • Combining MML electrification with infrastructure enhancements to provide a UIC GB+ loading gauge route to the north
  • W12 to be implemented as the standard loading gauge for all strategic container routes including diversionary routes, with small in-fill gauge clearance schemes being progressed as opportunity and funding allows
  • Extending a European UIC GB+ gauge freight link from HS1 to the MML which, along with electrification, provides the opportunity to create a UIC GB+ gauge cleared route to the Midlands

We’ll return to this potential new European gauge route through London in Part 3, but the diagram above shows why such a GA or GB gauge route requires segregation due to its extra width and the need to set back platform faces. HS1 was built to European gauge and in theory GB+ freights could run through to the NLL at Camden Road East Jn, but because there are no facilities there to tranship or unload cargo these trains terminate at Ripple Lane where the HS1 route runs along side the LT&SR Tilbury Loop. Therefore creating a European GB+ gauge route to the Midlands clearly requires some thinking through and a robust strategy, rather than a piecemeal in-fill approach.

The London & SE RUS takes the pragmatic approach:

Currently only the CTRL is cleared to GB+ and its further application may remain restricted to new lines…

Whilst a business case does not exist at this stage for specific enhancement projects to deliver W12 on the routes highlighted… it is recommended that W12 gauge is considered as a starting point whenever structures are renewed across the network, or new structures built on the routes highlighted as W12 aspirations… In some cases it may not be practical to renew a structure to W12, but for all those routes… structure rebuilds/new builds should not deliver less than W10 clearance.

So, that’s enough context. In the following article we focus on intermodal (container) traffic, which is by far the largest freight growth sector and the most relevant to London. We’ll explore the four main traffic flows: from Southampton, Essex Thameside (Tilbury and the new London Gateway at Shell Haven), the Haven Ports (Felixstowe and Harwich Bathside Bay) and the Channel Tunnel. Then in our final part we’ll explore some of the options and the implications, including what it might mean for TfL, the Overground and its strategic interchanges.

jump to the end
There are 58 comments on this article
  1. Stephen C says:

    With the current growth in rail, the Government is really going to need to turn the investment tap on, or we’re looking at some really difficult choices in a few years.

    Joined up thinking would be pushing for a dedicated route around the east of London, which could take European and Thames freight to the north (probably via Cambridge). Possible routes would seem to be as far as northern Harlow next to the M25/M11 from Rainham or A406/M11 from Barking. Funnily enough, the Thames Hub proposal is as much about new railway lines for freight as the headline airport, and proposes a broad M25 routing.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It seems nuts there are not serious plans for a new segerated freight network around the Eastern and Northern fringes of London, bar Rogers’ Thames hub which remains fiction at this stage. This is not only because of projected growth, but also due to releasing some supply of routes on the passenger network . AFAIK the cost of building a freight rail network is cheaper than for passengers (No expensive stations and termini for a start) whilst it also actual generates a profit rather than requiring a subsidy. Ploughing some money into this would also mean growing our logistics sector and contributing towards the much talked about ‘balancing’ of the economy

  3. John Bull says:

    The underlying problem there, of course, is that Freight isn’t “sexy.” So from a political perspective its just not worth the effort.

    Rail is a hard enough sell anyway – because as a Minister you’ll almost certainly never get the credit for anything you do at the DfT as it generally takes more than 5 years for any benefits to be noticeable (by which point you’ve probably been moved on or out).

    On top of that, it’s hard enough trying to push something like HS2 – which has passenger benefits and wizzy, pretty, trains – past the local cries of horror at the thought of some overhead lines going into a meadow somewhere. At least you can placate those people (sometimes) with the promise of a station of their own (Ebbsfleet I’m looking at you).

    Try to sell those same people on the idea of some big, smelly, noisy* freight trains passing within two miles of their house/village/summer home and they’ll be shouting “PROPERTY PRICES!” and writing to the Telegraph before you’ve finished the first sentence.

    So basically unless you’ve got a Transport Minister (and probably a Prime Minister) who either everybody hates already or who are so popular they can take the PR hit, but who also genuinely understand and care about the long term future of Britain’s infrastructure then you’re screwed.

    Good luck finding that particular political combination in the near future. When was the last time we had that? Attlee in ’45?

    *which may not be true in reality, of course, but that’s what they’ll think.

  4. Kit Green says:

    It seems that Cambridge – Bedford (and on to Oxford as already approved) , March – Spalding, Sudbury – Shelford(!) all need to be reopened as electrified freight lines.

  5. Snowy says:

    Anyone remember the central railway proposal from 2000’s, dedicated freight only route from channel tunnel around M25 to north? Didn’t get very far so can’t imagine a decade later anyone will relook. Upgrading quieter crosscountry routes probably as much as can be expected for forseeable future!

  6. Lemmo says:

    According to the Wikipedia page for the Central Railway the proposed route was around the south and west side of London, following the M25 and then onto the old Great Central alignment north. It would be interesting to explore in more detail why this proposal was rejected by DfT in March 2004. This decision scuppered the project, although the death in November 2004 of the chairman Andrew Gritten also eroded the impetus. We weren’t planning to cover this proposal in Parts 2 or 3, but perhaps in a future piece…?

    The old Central Railway website no longer exists but I have several documents such as the 2003 proposal and 2004/5 DfT response which we could upload if this was of interest.

  7. Rational Plan says:

    I think Central trains suffered from not invented here syndrome. But there were other problems. It relied on freight and was to be lorry shuttle line to the channel tunnel(i think). What with the financial problems of the Chunnel you can see why they would be wary.

    Another problem was the route chosen. While the West and South of London are the shorter route to the West Coast mainline, it is also on the expensive and heavily built up side of London. A North and East route would have been less contentious and would have linked all the Eastern Ports.

    The channel tunnel has proved to be a failure as far freight trains go, until the problems are sorted out on the continent, 30 years later we still don’t have many freight trains through there. I’m not sure of the business case of a line to the tunnel.

    In the future a line linking the main radial lines around london in the East and North, with a tunnel under the Thames linking the Kent Coast. Freight will not get new radial lines, they will get capacity released when new high speed lines are built.

  8. Malcolm says:

    A couple of widespread assumptions could do with a bit of reconsideration here.

    1) Improvement of orbital rail is desirable, and requires diverting freight trains further from London. Why is this? The best use of the orbital rail routes, particulary the NLL, might be to enable freight to have an all-electric, shorter journey from (say) Thames Haven to Daventry, rather than trundling through Bury St Edmunds behind a big diesel . This might do the country and the world far more good than giving some residents of Willesden slighty better access to some parts of Hackney without going through zone 1.

    2) 9’6 containers must be carried on flat wagons, involving lots of digging and poking of bridges and tunnels, rather than putting them in well wagons, in which they would already fit very nicely thank you under every bridge we’ve already got.

    Or am I wrong?

  9. Fandroid says:

    Network Rail has steadily invested in freight in the last few years. The Southampton-West Midlands route was cleared for W10 gauge recently*, and they are continuing at this very time with investment in the diversionary route via Salisbury. A new chord is going in at Ipswich to avoid reversals for the Felixstowe to Nuneaton route and a new chord at Nuneaton is being equipped with rails as I write. That will allow freight to join the WCML from the Leicester direction without clashing with the bearded one’s flashy tilting aeroplanes on wheels.

    * (a naughty freight train loaded with 9′ 6″ containers on flat wagons did the job early at Basingstoke by shredding the platform canopy edge as it went by!)

    The East-West Rail gang are now looking seriously at a route from Cambridge to Bedford to replace the closed and built-over line. Provision of GB+ gauge there might help justify the line as a part of the link from HS1 east of London to the MML (as well, of course, for transporting brainy people from Oxford to Cambridge).

    Freight line investment has some momentum now and is showing results. Be optimistic!

    Rational Plan – I think the main reason for the failure of the Tunnel freightwise is that its track-access charges are so high. SNCF no longer has a monopoly of freight in France and independent freight operators have grown rapidly over there, happily providing freight services across many borders

  10. Fandroid says:

    I write so slowly that Malcolm got in between me and Rational Plan. Living where I do, I see a lot of container trains close-up. It’s true that 9’6″ containers can fit on ‘normal’ gauge lines if they are loaded on well-wagons. However, those well-wagons have a huge amount of wasted length as the containers have to fit between their bogies rather than over them. That shortens the available carrying length of a standard length train by a significant amount, and they are less economical to run. With freight operators having to cover their own costs, and show a profit, they want to maximise train use and use less expensive wagons.

  11. Stephen C says:

    Interestingly, the impression I have is that the majority of politicians really like freight services, presumably due to some combination of greenness and removing lorries. Thus I don’t think its nearly as bad as John suggetss. As commented above, there are investments going in which are freight only now, so a line on the eastern side of London isn’t as crazy as it once may have seemed, especially if next to a big road to mask the noise issue.

    Harwich & Felixstowe are relatively well catered for with current plans (Ipswitch – Peterborough – Nuneaton). So is Southampton (Reading upgrade and East-West line) Its the new Thames port and any HS1 freight that are the hassle – a Harlow to Thames link is the missing piece, freeing the ECML, NLL and GOBLIN.

    Finally, last night at an event I was at, Theresa Villiers confirmed that the Treasury asked for a longer list of infrastructure projects to invest in than the DfT initially put forward in the last spending round (where Croxley and East West were approved). There is a huge opportunity for Government spending on rail right now, and I’m afraid that the industry isn’t grabbing that as best it might.

  12. Stephen C says:

    This quote might also be relevant: ” I was with Transport for London yesterday and they told me that they needed to get 70% more capacity for London’s transport network by 2031. 70% more!!! If you consider that when Crossrail opens in 2018 that alone brings 10% – that shows the scale of the issue” Alex Burrows, web:

  13. David says:

    We’re not paying for the mistakes of the 1860s so much as the mistakes of the 1960s. The Great Central main line, being the last of the main lines to be built, was built to a larger gauge. Beeching closed it. The Oxford to Cambridge line would have been perfect for moving much of the Felixstowe freight away from the GOBLIN. Beeching closed it.

    Had they stayed open there’s a fairly strong chance we’d be having a different conversation now.

  14. Ben says:

    Beeching didn’t close the varsity line; wasn’t listed in the report for closure.

    How the whole thing was done in the 60s/70s was seemingly in retrospect highly corrupt, but the true culprits were Marples and Dame Barbra Castle, the former for being a crook and shyster, the latter for being a let down and at worst a lier.

    Looking at the New Adlestrop rail atlas (sadly it seems now without updates) is an exercise in grinding ones teeth:

  15. John Bull says:

    Fair point – I’m probably being overly pessimistic.

    Marples was a real piece of work – wasn’t he the man we have to thank for the West Way as well? Or am I getting confused?

  16. Malcolm says:

    Fandroid refers to the naughty freight train which took out Basingstoke canopy. If I remember rightly, the biggest culprit there was some plonker in an office at the place where the train was made up, who had decided that he could get fewer false alarms from the overheight warning gadget on the way out of the yard by switching it off!

  17. Timmy! says:

    I’m wondering if the freight issue is also part of the HS2 issue …

    I presume future high speed lines, such as HS2, would be built with freight paths available in each direction. On this article,, comments on February 14 suggest HS2 should avoid the Euston terminus and continue south. Is this a good solution to the problem or do the freight routes need to loop around London? Selfishly, I don’t want my south London train stuck behind a freight train. And apologies if I used incorrect jargon here.

  18. 1956 says:

    In non rail developments, the developer often has to provide some funding for social use (eg affordable housing). Why can’t the developers of facilities like the new London Gateway at Shell Haven be asked to donate some money to be used on upgrading (or providing new) rail infrastructure? After all, their developments will increase rail traffic.

  19. Greg Tingey says:

    Kit Green beat me to it.
    Among the dozen or so REALLY TERMINALLY STUPID closures, 1965-80 (Thank you slimy crook Marples, and Beeching hatchetman) was Spalding-March.
    Rebuild that, and revivify signalling along the GN/GE joint, and you have solved the freight problem for anywhere North of Nottingham

    The other real problem is linking HS1 AND the new Thamesport to face North up the GE main line to get on to the St Edmundsbury – Ely – March etc lines.
    It is going to need shock horror COMPLETELY NEW ALIGNMENTS – not jut new curves and cut-offs.
    1] E->N facing curve at W end of Thames Haven branch (easy)
    2] Completely new alignment (w of Basildon? E of Basildon?) to join up with GE main …
    looking at map, E of Basildon, on to Southminster branch, which is doubled where freight routr runs, over long-abandoned Woodham Ferrers – Maldon route, round Maldon on W side, rejoin GE main by Witham
    Side-benefit of re-opened Maldon Passenger service.
    3] Capacity Witham – Haughley Jn? Or at least Witham – Colchester?
    Does one then just go on North, or is there a case for re-openeing Braintree-Stansted (as well)? Which puts (some of) your freights on to the busy Cambridge line. Um.

  20. Malcolm says:

    Timmy! asks about freight paths on HS2. My understanding is that the planners, at least at this stage, are not anticipating any freight use of HS2, because freight trains cannot currently go fast enough, so many paths for passenger trains would be lost. Although freight train equipment could in theory be designed for the high speeds, there is less incentive to do so, and it would be very expensive. Instead the plan is for freight to use paths on conventional lines which have been made available by passenger traffic transferring to HS2.

    All of which makes no difference in South London, of course. Delays caused by freight trains there (if any) is another question entirely.

    Actually I think there was some mention of possible freight use of HS2 if other lines are completely blocked (say by engineering works). This would presumably be quite exceptional, and presumably only at night.

  21. Malcolm says:

    Greg eloquently describes the work which would be necessary to enable trains from Shell Haven to completely avoid London. All great fun and so on, but it comes back to my question of how badly do Londoners covet those NLL paths? Of course it would be good to improve the Overground service, but I suspect that if there are really the sort of gazillions of pounds available which all that Essex rebuilding for freight would cost, there might be better ways of spending them, within London, like a downpayment on the next Crossrail or whatever.

  22. Rational Plan says:

    Well it all depends on the cost. A new freight line from WCML to Swanley, roughly following the M25 would be 42 miles. At least half of that would need to be in tunnel, not only for the river but several towns, but mostly because the M25 races up and down some quite big hills.

    At a ludacrously low, £100 million a mile thats £4.2 billion. I can see it easily see it costing £10 billion. A new freight line would need to hug London to catch all the traffic from the tunnel and the thamesports.

    Alternatively we could abandon our investment in the overground and build a brand new tube line from stratford to wellesdon and down to Clapham. It would be 17 miles long. A conventional tube line would not be any cheaper and you still left with the congestion of freight trains still needing to enter London. If the line was built as in DLR style the stations would be much smaller and more frequent.

    What would a politician prefer fighting the nimbys in the country or those in the city. But at least those in the city would be getting a brand new metro line, those in the country would just be getting more noise and blight.

  23. Anonymous says:

    @Rational Plan

    I wouldn’t call freight through the Channel Tunnel a failure (anymore). DB Schenker has just announced their weekly Poland – Barking service is so successful they are going to twice-weekly this year and expect five-weekly by next year.

  24. Anonymous says:

    The connection between Basildon and wickford has been mentioned in various multimodal studies. However the old Maldon – S Woodham Ferrers line has been built on at both ends with the new town and the a414 Maldon bypass so would be expensive. A cheaper option that would also enable a Southend – airport – Chelmsford passenger service would be a chord between west of billericay and west of ingatestone. Some 4 tracking on the GEML would also help.

  25. Anonymous says:

    @ Stephen C.

    Re Tess de Ville short of a project list I note that Northern Hub is still not sanctioned!

    ?speaks with forked tongue…

  26. Stephen C says:

    My gut feeling is that there will be some more transport announcements in the budget (23rd March), perhaps more of the Northern Hub. We will see.

  27. fat_boy_pete says:

    To support the Anonymous comment at 9.31 and as a Maldonian, reversing the 1959 closure of the Maldon – Woodham Ferrers line is a non starter for the reasons stated, plus it’s a very roundabout route north. A simpler solution for East to North Freight bypass from Thameside is dual-ling from Tilbury to South Ockendon and then building an electrified line approximately 7 miles alongside the M25 from there to the Brentwood Bank on the GEML. No built up areas/houses/industry to demolish and not much Nimbyism alongside an existing 8 lane motorway.

    Add electrification Ipswich – Peterborough – Nuneaton and possibly additional freight loops in the Ingatestone/Mountnessing area to go with the new loops already planned at the new Beaulieu Park station and existing loops at Witham, then you could simply take the existing freight paths currently on the GEML via the NLL and ‘reverse’ them Brentwood to Ipswich. You thus remove most freight paths from GEML/NLL rail lines within the Greater London area and thus create passenger capacity.

    Add a short 2 Km tunnelled chord under Lakeside Shopping centre from HS1 North Thames Tunnel portal to Chafford Hundred station and you have a complete bypass of London from the Channel Tunnel to the North, as well as a path from Thameside ports

  28. swirlythingy says:

    I’m not sure how it happened, but the URLs of all your local (not external) links seem to have been doubly escaped (% signs replaced with ‘%25’), rendering them invalid. This affects the ‘peek into the past’ and ‘new chord at Nuneaton’ links.

    New cross-city lines such as Crossrail and Thameslink will clearly help. Not only do they provide increased capacity and new journey opportunities, but they are inherently more efficient as they avoid complex and time-consuming turnarounds at the termini.

    If I follow your logic correctly, the advantage of Crossrail is that it goes through central London but does not terminate there, with the implication being that terminating is a bad, time-consuming thing. If this is the case, then surely the most optimal service pattern possible for central London is one which never terminates, like, I don’t know, some sort of ‘Circle Line’… oh, wait…

  29. Malcolm says:

    I like it. (I like the Circle line too).

    It’s not so much that terminating is a bad thing. Done in suitable moderation, it gives a chance to catch up (whereas on the Circle Line, trains were sort of catching up with themselves, which is not helpful). But terminating is best done in moderation, and preferably at a place where land is cheap (like Cockfosters) rather than on a gold-plated pavement.

  30. Lemmo says:

    Thanks swirlythingy, we’ll correct the links. On your comments about the capacity of a through line vs two terminating lines, my understanding is that it is inherently more efficient running trains through an intensive core, pushing the time-consuming turnarounds to the fringes. This is not the same as your ‘circle line’ model, but we’d be interested in a broader discussion around how through-city lines can improve capacity, as well as create new travel patterns.

    Malcolm, you are absolutely correct: the problem is weighing up investment in new freight orbitals which may free up capacity on the existing orbitals (NLL etc.) vs. investment in, say, new cross-city lines. But JB’s point is that it is very hard persuading people that a new freight line through their backyard is what they want, and this is equally applicable to the freight intensification on existing lines such as GOBLIN. More importantly, who weighs this up, who decides?

    Fandroid, is it really the high access charges on HS1 that are limiting its use for freight, or are there other factors at play? If this is indeed the key issue, what is the role of government to ensure more efficient use of HS1 as part of an integrated strategic rail policy?

    Stephen C, TfL say we need “70% more capacity for London’s transport network by 2031”? Wow! That clearly does not mean 70% more rail lines, but it does imply a grand plan involving a number of infill schemes that makes the best use of the network we have. The trouble is, I haven’t seen anything approaching such an integrated strategic plan, hence transport planners are just grabbing the best they can for each individual scheme. Such a sporadic, fragmented investment pattern is unlikely to reap long-term rewards for London, or UK plc.

    On the options for a new route north, perhaps weaving around the eastern reaches of the M25, we’re very interested to hear what is being proposed by the various authorities. Perhaps we should look at this in more detail following Part 2…

  31. Snowy says:

    Of course going along with recent RUS suggestions, I suspect the planners in their wisdom will suggest that the easiest way of sorting out who gets the appropriate train paths on london orbitals would be an appropriate pricing strategy to encourage the use of shoulder & off peak paths for freight. Encouraging freight (or even passenger services) at cheaper times of day avoids anyone having to make tough/expensive decisions & passes the problem on to the next guy sitting in the desk right?

  32. Mwmbwls says:

    1956 @02.37

    We covered the point you raise about s106 contributions in our earlier article.
    Hope this helps.

  33. timbeau says:

    Running a through service like Crossrail rather than a terminating one also helps in distribution and dwell times, as not everyone will be getting off at the same place – passengers arriving in London from the GWML and GEML will have a choice of half a dozen central London stations, instead of just one

  34. Greg Tingey says:

    We are all forgetting a much cheaper and practical option for London-orbital freight
    Third side @ Redhill + electrify Reigate – Wokingham + Oxford – Brum
    Does have capacity problems at Guildford (?)
    Would also require a reverse crossing of Thames for stuff from Thameshaven + some curves – where?
    Connect up to ex LCDR Gravesend branch – which is still there & electric
    N -> E curve nr Fawkham + new connection LCDR line to S-bound Medway valley …
    Long way round, but, apart from Thames tunnel relatively cheap and easy

    Take previous posters point about the Maldon area – pity – but a closely-parallel line to the A12 would work ….

  35. Anonymous says:

    For those wondering about how badly Londoners covet the North London Line, it is now a core part of the transport infrastructure here and is badly needed. Capacity has been doubled in recent years, thanks to massive investment, and overcrowding is already becoming a serious problem at peak times. Projected passenger growth is enormous. There are no reasonable alternative routes for many of these radial journeys. Devoting it primarily to freight, given the huge potential number of alternative freight routes, would be ridiculous.

  36. Chris says:

    Hopefully both East-West rail and the North Downs route will be electrified and sufficiently upgraded and gauge enhanced to form an orbital AC/DC freight avoiding line for London. With a flyover at Redhill and a suitable Bedford-ECML link it would be ideal.


  37. Chris says:

    Hopefully both East-West rail and the North Downs route will be electrified and sufficiently upgraded and gauge enhanced to form an orbital AC/DC freight avoiding line for London. With a flyover at Redhill and a suitable Bedford-ECML link it would be ideal.


  38. Anonymous says:

    Malcolm – “a place where land is cheap (like Cockfosters)”

    Where a 3 bed semi costs £450,000.

    Are you sure you’ve got the right Cockfosters? Of course in 1933 it was just a field in Middlesex.

  39. fat_boy_pete says:


    the closely-parallel line to the A12 is the GEML. As I said, there are existing plans (and available locations) for additional freight loops/four tracking between Shenfield and Witham, plus the new Bacon Factory Curve at Ipswich, all of which will maximise Freight capacity to the Peterborough route. What’s missing is a closely parallel line to the M25 from HS1 and Thameside to the GEML, to remove the freight traffic in Greater London from both of those, to points North.

  40. Fandroid says:

    With amazing timing, (obviously they knew what was gestating on Lemmo’s computer) Modern Railways March edition has a comprehensive article on the growth spurt that railfreight, especially intermodal (aka containers) has experienced in the last eight years. The recent gauge enhancement work to W10 for 9’6″ containers has accelerated the underlying trend.

    Apparently there is a plan for Control Period 5 for gauge enhancement from Leicester via Uttoxeter to Stoke. That would mean that all Haven ports trains bound for the north-west could avoid London altogether and stay off the southern and midlands parts of the WCML too. I guess it’s possible that freights ex-London Gateway could be enveigled to head off for the northwest via Ipswich too.

    I suspect that the real crunch for London will be Channel Tunnel freight using HS1. Enhanced gauge seems to be the key to freight growth. Remember that double-stack containers are now the thing in the USA, and the Betuweroute from Rotterdam to Germany was built for that traffic too. Any long route around London like Greg’s eminently sensible Tonbridge-Redhill-Reading route suffers due to it not offering any realistic chance of full gauge enhancement even to GB+ (continental gauge). Network Rail seem to be looking at taking that gauge onwards by the shortest route from the London end of HS1.

    I mentioned the high track-access costs for cross channel traffic earlier. My understanding is that it’s Eurotunnel’s charges that are the main problem, although I suspect HS1 charges are not cheap either.

  41. Mwmbwls says:

    With regard to Tonbridge Redhill Reigate Wokingham – Might I suggest you hold that thought as Lemmo will be covering this in a later section of this article.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Tonbridge Reigate will need a flyover and a tunnel rebore. Previously the flyover alone has been deemed too expensive, but times change.

  43. Stephen C says:

    FWIW, I think fat_boy_pete’s route from South Ockenden to Brentwood is very reasonable, however the section from Brentwood to Shenfield is pretty full (with Crossrail as well), so would also need to be widened, which may be tricky. Plus Shenfield north would also benefit from 4 tracks in general (travel it once every 2 weeks at the moment), something which looks pretty feasible apart from Chelmsford. That said, routing Thames traffic via Ipswich is a long way round. Once again I mention my outline Anglia option – – one scheme, many problems tackled = good BCR.

    Lemmo, I think that TfL also indicated publicly a 43% growth figure at the transport committee GLA meeting, which I think was for rail (keep meaning to check the webcast – Crossrail is 10 units of the 43, Thameslink probably another 5 units. But it suggests that the equivalent of 2 or 3 crossrails will be needed in the next 20 years (one reason why I keep plugging Swanlink or some variation of it

    And Tonbridge-Redhill-Guildford isn’t easy. All three are busy junctions, and the idea that freight could cross Redhill on the flat seems unlikely, while a flyover would be equally unpalatable in the middle of a town. That said, I’m sure it will play some part in the overall solution.

  44. Lemmo says:

    We’ll no doubt continue the discussion on route options after Parts 2 and 3, including some of the options above, but the main question I wanted to raise at this stage was the decision-making process. Who makes the infrastructure investment decisions? And how might this be affected by TfL’s new push for rail devolution?

    Also does anyone know any more about the ‘Routes to the North’ study and an optimal cross-London freight strategy?

    Perhaps we shall explore in a future discussion how London will deliver capacity for 43% growth but, although additional cross-city routes will help, I can’t see this being possible without expanding the core, which means the growth will partly be delivered through the orbitals, which also deliver cross-London services… and freight.

  45. Fandroid says:

    Going back to Lemmo’s request to look at the strategy, it seems to be obvious that it’s a combination of DfT and Network Rail who have to create the strategies and make the decisions. The Strategic Freight Network plan seems to have spawned a fair amount of infrastructure investment already. TfL would also have to be at the table to vigorously put the case for passenger services on the lines that would be effected within their area of influence, but surely their freight remit really only extends to freight traffic starting and ending in London.

    With the great danger of releasing a hare onto the field:

    There is a massive great twin-bore tunnel from Dagenham to the centre of London. Lemmo points out how Network Rail has already reserved 35 paths each way per day on HS1 and onto Wembley (until 2052!), with few taken up so far. Does that traffic have to have passed through France to qualify? It would look to be an obvious way of getting at least some of the London Gateway trains onto the WCML. Twin tunnels also have the advantage that HS1 can be safely maintained overnight, one track at a time, while the other track is in use, taking advantage of its bi-directional signalling .

    Others will know what infrastructure mangling would be needed just north of St Pancras.

    Perhaps this subject rightly belongs to Pt 2 and Pt 3

  46. timbeau says:

    @Stephen C – “….. the idea that freight could cross Redhill on….. a flyover would be equally unpalatable in the middle of a town”

    Looking at it on Google Street View, the alignment would be largely over railway land (sidings) and some light inustrial units of no great architectural merit.

  47. Greg Tingey says:

    The Redhill flyover would (I think) not require ANY demolition, apart from a couple of sheds.
    It will require Tesco to leave a tunnel-shaped hole underneath their new store – if they build it

  48. Mwmbwls says:

    The hole in any store will need to be similar to that at Shoreditch High Street – an insulated off the ground tunnel box around which a store or whatever can be built. Tesco did not get permission for their store this time round but someday someone will be back. As I said wait the next sections of this report.

  49. timbeau says:

    Greg: “It will require Tesco to leave a tunnel-shaped hole underneath their new store”

    Oh no! Look what happened last time they tried to do that!

  50. T33 says:

    I look forward to seeing the TESCO tunnel shaped hole in Redhill – other than the fact their planning application was refused due to Network Rail wanting the alignment protected and since then Sainsbury’s have had a major new store approved and ASDA are about to get one too as it has council backing. I think TESCO picked the wrong spot!

    In respect of using the North Downs as freight route, it’s not just a simple flyover in Redhill needed but also bridges at many level crossings, upgrading the signalling and a new tunnel at Guildford. A key example of level crossing problems is the one in central Reigate – at peak times the queues from this at 4 trains an hour already go back up the hill onto the M25 and also the town centre gets gridlocked.

  51. Paul Z. Temperton says:

    Picking up on a general point further up this page, investment in railfreight, though “unsexy”, might be more popular than people think. My (subjective and anecdotal) impression is that your average Middle-England Daily-Mail-reading petrolhead is ill-disposed towards spending tax money on passenger trains he isn’t going to use, but quite keen on getting lorries off the roads (i.e. getting them out of the way of his car).

  52. Mwmbwls says:

    Your point about crossings in Reigate is well made – it is a generic problem that is to be found across London especially on those pre-grouping railways who were built on the basis of passenger rather than freight flows – The Great Eastern,the South Eastern, the LC&DR. The LSWR saw this problem coming and to some extent addressed it with flying junctions off the LSWR main line ( Thinks – ahem – yet another worthwhile topic to write about). The best solution would be a dedicated route round or under London – reinforcing Lemmo’s basic tenet about the need for investment outside of London to protect London. The current controversy about the shires objecting to the Mayor “taking over” their passenger trains is over shadowing the more potent threat to the whole ROSELAND region – road congestion. ( ROSE = Rest of the South East)

    Tesco’s Redhill application was not finally refused on the basis of a Network Rail objection but because of Redbridge’s concern to defend their town centre. We shall be furnishing the full story shortly.

  53. Anonymous says:


    Practically all pre-grouping railways in London were built on the basis of passenger rather than freight flows, except for the few freight-only branches (eg Angerstein Wharf).

    The Reigate problem is a road/rail level crossing one: the LSWR flying junctions were built to eliminate flat rail/rail crossings, a rather different issue. As the Airtrack promoters know, level crossing problems on the former LSWR are by no means insignificant!

  54. Drew says:

    Hi all,

    To unintentionally steal some thunder from pt2…as well as Redhill flyover, Guildford tunnel, the third pinchpoint is Wokingham.

    Wokingham has 4tph in each direction (2 to/from Waterloo, 2 to/from Redhill/Gatwick), but crucially has a level crossing immediately next to the station. During peak hours, this rises to approx 6tph due to extra London services. The level crossing is immediately flanked by road junctions on either side of the crossing, so conversion of this to a bridge is likely to be difficult and costly. The level crossing also is close to the town centre, and is part of a major route into Wokingham from the south, so even at present, the level crossing is viewed with frustation during rush hours as it forms a major obstacle to a smooth traffic flow (and I say this as a former resident of Wokingham).

    Although Egham was the town that hogged the media headlines during the Airtrack planning phases, Wokingham was an equal objector to the scheme due to the increased trains across Wokingham station level crossing (there are 2 other level crossings in Wokingham, but they are between Wokingham and Bracknell and thus affected by Airtrack, but not by this freight route). There were local groups formed against Airtrack despite the obvious Airtrack benefits of quick and easy links to Heathrow due to the frustrations of the station level crossing, and the cancellation of Airtrack was viewed not without some pleasure.

    Therefore, any scheme to divert freight round London will need to address Wokingham station & level crossing, or Wokingham unitary authority will be up in arms about a scheme that has all of the drawbacks and none of the advantages of Airtrack.

  55. Fandroid says:

    We can blame Wokingham’s level crossing on the SER rather than LSWR, although it’s now SWT’s trains that provide the majority of the traffic. Also, just to be helpful, Guildford has two tunnels (in series, not in parallel), not just one.

  56. Fandroid says:

    One mildly amusing piece of history, is that the Redhill-Tonbridge line was electrified for cross-channel freight. That is a business case that has yet to see reality catch up with aspirations!

  57. Mwmbwls says:

    Anonymous @09.23
    I take your point that Reigate is a level crossing problem and that the LSWR tended to sort out conflicting junctions. Underlying that my poit was those railways with healthy balance sheets bolstered by freight – mainly coal – the Midland, The LNWR, The Great Western tended to go for overbridges,multiple tracks and grade separeted junctions whereas the hard up companies the GER,the SER, the LC&DR did not. We are arguing a somewhat academic poit as Network Rail no longer support this route as an orbital freight reading at least in the south west quadrant.

  58. Anonymous says:


    Agreed that the MR & GNR were strong on coal, but I don’t think that the level of infrastructure is a simple passenger v freight thing. After all, the LSWR’s flying junctions were for passenger trains, and the LBSCR’s Victorian spaghetti junction at Windmill Bridge/Gloucester Rd north of East/West Croydon and its Quarry line junction-free bypass of Redhill – both pretty advanced and expensive pieces of infrastructure – were driven by the need to handle more passenger trains (coupled with a bit of inter-company railway politics in the latter case).

Leave a Comment

In order to make LR a pleasant place for discussion, please try to keep comments polite and, importantly, on topic! Comments that we feel do not meet these criteria, or that contain language that could cause some people trouble at work, may be moderated or deleted.

acceptable tags

* (This won't be shown, but you can link it to an avatar if you like)

Recent Articles

Friday Reading List – 24 March


As anyone looking to properly understand London’s transport needs and network knows, context, background and best-practice are important. As readers might imagine, behind the scenes here at LR Towers we thus spend a lot of time sharing links and reading

Read more ›

Friday Reading List – 17 March


As anyone looking to properly understand London’s transport needs and network knows, context, background and best-practice are important. As readers might imagine, behind the scenes here at LR Towers we thus spend a lot of time sharing links and reading

Read more ›

LR Magazine Issue Five: Overgrounded


With print copies now being prepped for dispatch to subscribers at LR Towers, London Reconnections Magazine Issue 5: Overgrounded is now available to purchase in our online store. Transport is politics, politics is transport You don’t get transport without politics.

Read more ›