The more we looked at rail freight in London the more we realised the significant challenges it poses, including to TfL’s aspirations for the Overground and its ‘strategic interchanges’. As the network in London reaches capacity it quickly becomes clear that choices will need to be made between providing paths for freight vs passenger, and that might actually require reductions in passenger services.

London’s growth has focused a burgeoning travel demand on same city core as in the 1860s, so it is to cross-city lines and the orbitals that we look to try and expand the core. But it is these orbital routes that are now in high demand for freight traffic. Something has got to give, but we are still not entirely convinced about the strategy for rail freight in London, and indeed who decides.

Our first article provided some context, looking at the various strategies, the national flows and the vexed issue of loading gauge. In this article we focus on intermodal (container) traffic, which is by far the largest freight growth sector and the most relevant to London. Then in our final article we will look at some of the options, and tease out some of the key issues around strategy and decision-making.

Given that most freight flows through London have distant origins and destinations, for the geographically-challenged reader there is no better than the marvellous Adlestrop atlas to help you trace the often tortuous freight routes – current, proposed and potential – beyond the London bounds. And within London, many of the routes and junctions are now included in the fabulous Carto Metro.

More and more boxes

The 2011 London & SE RUS crunched the numbers for 2030 projected intermodal demand and then analysed the route options.

Key Freight Growth Origin Points

Key Freight Growth Origin Points

In the tables above the estimates are given for 5-day and 6-day operation and for 640m intermodal trains. This is a step towards the aspirational 775m trains and a 7-day railway outlined in DfT’s Strategic Rail Freight Network: The Longer Term Vision (PDF), which we looked at in Part 1. Given this, the RUS has made the assumption that overall the railway needs to move to a 6-day pattern with 640m trains, and has used this as the basis to assess the train paths required. However, this has significant investment implications, funding for which is not currently committed. If this investment does not materialise then the routing options will have to be re-analysed based on the increased train paths required and, as we shall see, this is where the planners’ alchemical ambitions may come up against some physical limits.

The map below shows the preferred routes for the four main intermodal flows: Southampton, Essex Thameside ports (Tilbury and the new London Gateway at Shell Haven), the Haven Ports (Felixstowe and Harwich Bathside Bay) and Channel Tunnel.

Recommendations for Freight Routeings

Recommendations for Freight Routeings


Intermodal traffic from Southampton is projected to require 31 additional train paths by 2030, but only 10% of these trains are destined for London. The rest largely head north via Basingstoke, Reading and Oxford. This route is now cleared for W10 gauge, and further planned works cover the partial diversionary route to Basingstoke via Andover, i.e. avoiding Winchester.

Southampton Average Freight Trains 2030

Southampton Average Freight Trains 2030

The main bottleneck at Reading will be eased by the new underpass from the Newbury lines direct to the Didcot Slow GWML to the west of the station. This is part of Phase 2 of the Reading remodelling, but south of Oxford there are still significant capacity issues:

  • in the Eastleigh to Southampton area
  • at Basingstoke, where southbound freight services need to cross the entire layout on the flat to reach the South West Main Line (SWML) Down lines
  • on the 10-mile two-track Didcot to Oxford section, which is shared between freight and six passenger trains (four of which are fast) per hour

According to the RUS, none of these present insurmountable problems, but it does recommend the development of W10 diversionary routes, via Melksham or via Acton and the WCML. The map above gives an idea of the roundabout routes these imply, which understandably does not impress the freight TOCs. Also, going via Melksham only covers the southern section of the main N-S route, because freight will still need to travel on the crowded Didcot-Oxford section. Other than the Melksham route, the fallback diversionary route is via London, using the orbital lines such as the West London Line (WLL), which TfL covets for its Overground services.

All freight north of Oxford currently goes via Leamington Spa, where it hits bottlenecks which further limit the route capacity.

For example: the main freight route north from Leamington Spa runs via Coventry, joining the WCML at Nuneaton. This route is capacity constrained by single track sections between Coventry and Leamington Spa as well as a flat crossing move through Coventry station, so much so that the RUS states:

Capacity over the Nuneaton-Leamington Spa corridor therefore appears to be a potential barrier to future freight growth from Southampton 1

And herein lies the common problem: if the only alternatives are via the London orbitals then TfL clearly has a strong motive to resolve these pinch-point way beyond its turf.

One solution to the Coventry pinch-point may lie in the Kenilworth cut-off to Berkswell, offering a direct avoiding route towards Birmingham and beyond. This short section is intact, now a greenway, and a modest investment could provide a useful route option for freight. But sadly this will disappear under HS2 – rather than resolve a capacity problem, in this instance HS2 may be compounding it.

Closer to home but still well beyond the London boundaries, the newly-sanctioned East-West Rail route could take Southampton freight destined for Daventry, the East Midlands and the North-East. Indeed the 2011 London & SE RUS has already factored this in to its recommendations and should reduce Southampton freight movements through London. As we shall see in Part 3, perhaps this is the sort of regional orbital route that London rail planners need to be promoting.

The East - West Route (source: Wikipedia)

The East – West Route (source: Wikipedia)

Essex Thameside (Tilbury and London Gateway)

Mwmbwls was writing about the new London Gateway port at Shell Haven back in 2009, noting the haggling over the developer’s obligations to fund road links, before returning again in 2010 to raise the urgent issue of investing in the rail links and in particular the route north and west via GOBLIN. Alas, as the building work progresses apace and the December 2013 opening date looms, there’s been little progress on rail capacity through London.

The London Gateway

The London Gateway (courtesy London Gateway)

The estimated 50 freight trains per day from the Thameside ports in 2030 will have to travel west via Tilbury and Barking towards the GEML, where the flow combines with traffic from the Haven Ports.

Essex Thameside 2030 Freight Averages

Essex Thameside 2030 Freight Averages

The RUS puts on a brave face but the analysis underlines how meagre the options are, and the problems they present. The four least-bad routes are:

  • weaving across the Anglia mainline and Crossrail on the flat at Forest Gate/Stratford, onto the NLL and the ECML via the Canonbury Curve – however, as we note below, train paths are very limited
  • via GOBLIN to South Tottenham and then the West Anglia lines north to the ECML at Peterborough, though this involves significant extra distance and problematic interaction with passenger traffic north of Cheshunt
  • via GOBLIN to the MML, but this involves threading into the intensive Thameslink route through flat junctions west of Kentish Town
  • via GOBLIN to the WCML at Willesden

Given this, the preferred route is to the WCML via GOBLIN, which is all very reassuring until one remembers that the GOBLIN electrification still does not have the go-ahead. But Thameshaven trains bound for the ECML will still have to go via Forest Gate/Stratford and the NLL to Finsbury Park as there is no link from GOBLIN travelling west onto the ECML.

The paucity of viable options available prompted the RUS to look into some workarounds with timetable tweaks and new infrastructure, but found very limited potential to stretch time or space. For example, the 4-track alignment east of Stratford is hemmed in. Similarly on the MML the 4-track section from Carlton Road Junction through to Finchley Road is tunnelled or in deep cutting which rules out infrastructure options such as flying junctions. These bottlenecks effectively shift a more intensive freight pattern onto the 2-track GOBLIN through Gospel Oak, where it competes for space with existing freight services and TfL’s Overground.

On timetabling, the RUS identifies just 16 paths each day across the Anglia mainlines at Forest Gate. Of these, eleven each way are for the Haven Ports to London/the West/Daventry, which leaves five paths each way for the projected nine Thameside-ECML freights, therefore the remaining four will have to be at night. All other daytime Haven Ports freight traffic will head the other way on the ‘cross country’ route via Ely and Peterborough, and it is hoped that this will release the paths required for Thameside traffic. However, as we note below, there are limitations on the cross country route, and it is also not electrified. It is certainly cutting it fine, and arguably such a tight working timetable with relatively few route options will impact on network resilience.

The RUS also brushes aside concerns about the lack of capacity on the WCML:

…whilst it is recognised that freight paths on some parts of the WCML are currently scarce, construction of High Speed 2 (HS2) can be expected to alleviate this issue, with passenger demand from locations such as Northampton and Milton Keynes Central generally then being catered for on the fast lines, in turn freeing up slow line paths for freight traffic. (Sec 9.5.9 p172)

So the RUS is counting on HS2 and hoping that demand growth – freight and/or passenger – won’t push the orbitals to capacity for another 13 years. This is a concern because HS2 will not be completed until at least 2025, and has a few hoops to jump through yet. And as we’ve seen above, TfL are predicting severe overcrowding on the Overground by 2016, so there’s every chance we’ll need alternative infrastructure solutions in the near term.

Haven Ports (Felixstowe and Harwich Bathside Bay)

The Haven ports are projected to generate 58 intermodal freights per day in 2030, and the bulk of this traffic is expected to head on the cross-country route via Ely and Peterborough to terminals in the Midlands and the north. Indeed, as noted above, the RUS is counting on the Haven Ports cross-country route to free up sufficient freight paths to allow Thameside-ECML traffic to cross the ECML at Forest Gate. However the London route will still be needed for destinations not suited to the cross-country route as well as for diversionary purposes.

Felixstowe/Bathside Bay Freight Averages 2030

Felixstowe/Bathside Bay Freight Averages 2030

On-going schemes on the cross-country route include gauge clearance to W10 and the new Ipswich chord, and the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement confirmed investment to double track Ely-Soham. However there are still significant investment gaps, including:

  • the route is not electrified
  • capacity restrictions in the Leicester area, where passenger routes cross but where the MML has been shrunk to 2 or 3 tracks
  • capacity constraints at Ely
  • the single-lead junction at Haughley near Ipswich

Without this investment there are limits to the level of demand growth that the cross-country route can accommodate. Therefore the risk is that freight will still need to travel via the London orbitals through the same bottlenecks as with the Thameside traffic noted above, and this does not bode well for network resilience.

Channel Tunnel

Compared to the Haven Ports and Thameside, Channel Tunnel freight does not pose immediate problems. A minimum of 35 specified paths per day in each direction between the Channel Tunnel and Wembley Freight Operating Centre have been protected by Network Rail for the duration of the Channel Tunnel Railways Usage Contract up to 2052, although growth in traffic is expected to use all these by 2030. In addition the RUS expects significant growth from the Thames ports on the Kent side.

Channel Tunnel/Thames Gateway Average Freight 2030

Channel Tunnel/Thames Gateway Average Freight 2030

The main route for Channel Tunnel traffic is via Maidstone East and Catford, then the South London Line (SLL) through Denmark Hill onto WLL to join the WCML at Willesden. The other options are via Tonbridge and Redhill to the WLL, or using HS1 to the Dagenham area.

Channel Tunnel traffic via HS1 faces the same issues as with the Thameside traffic above: the lack of paths through to the mainlines north. Therefore HS1 is unlikely to become a direct replacement route, but rather will serve new markets such as time-sensitive goods or for the larger European gauge trains. HS1 was built to European GC loading gauge, but this traffic requires investment in new terminals in the London Riverside area. However, as we explore below, the success rate in creating new strategic rail freight interchanges in the London area has been very poor, despite this being a key TfL policy objective.

The HS1 route would become much more attractive if a new European gauge route was constructed north from London. Both of these are objectives of the Strategic Freight Network, but without the investment HS1 will remain on the sidelines for Channel Tunnel freight.

So, Channel Tunnel traffic will largely go via the SLL and WLL and north via the WCML. Along with other freight such as aggregates and the growing traffic from the southern Thames ports, this will clearly limit how TfL can expand its Overground services on the WLL in particular. The WLL is 2-track and few if any additional paths are available.

Channel Tunnel freight to the East Midlands and the Northeast via the ECML also fills paths on the NLL, i.e. it does most of the loop around London via the SLL, WLL and NLL – going north via GOBLIN and Haringey West Jn, and south via Finsbury Park and Maiden Lane. Channel Tunnel traffic to the MML does not use the WLL, but goes via Barnes and the Dudding Hill line, and so gets tangled up in the busy Windsor Lines. More intensive use of the Dudding Hill route is also limited because it is not electrified.

The RUS further points to the particular difficulty of freights awaiting paths onto the mainlines, and the lack of places where trains can be regulated:

there is only limited capability for southbound trains to be held whilst awaiting a path through Kent or northbound trains to be held whilst awaiting a path on the WCML. Freight trains must in general therefore be kept moving to avoid delaying the following passenger traffic (and vice versa). The planned commencement of London Overground services via the South London Line to Clapham Junction can be expected to increase this existing issue, given that these passenger trains will use sections of currently freight-only line

As passenger and freight traffic increases, this will significantly reduce operational resilience as delays rapidly knock-on. Clearly capacity needs to be provided, either as loops or 4-tracking key sections.

The RUS does not identify options, but perhaps this is an issue TfL should be more aware of, for instance in relation to the ongoing development plans around the WLL at Earls Court. This section of the route could be safeguarded for 4-tracking through West Brompton through to Kensington Olympia. However the proposed development is tight to the railway boundary and effectively limits future widening, and this will directly affect TfL’s ability to ramp up Overground services. When asked about this, TfL did not appear concerned:

TfL does not intend to safeguard a 4 track alignment in the Earls Court area, to provide freight passing loops on the West London Line. TfL considers that the predicted growth in passenger volumes on the route over the foreseeable future (the next 20 years) can be met by a combination of train lengthening and additional services that can be accommodated within the existing track layout on the WLL. Following these changes, the WLL will continue to be able to provide up to 35 freight paths to and from the Channel Tunnel per day, allowing for the predicted growth in Channel Tunnel freight traffic over the next 20 years. The route will also continue to be able to operate the current number of freight paths to and from the Kent Thameside ports. These are predicted to grow over the next 20 years but this growth is expected to be focused on the London area so it will not necessarily have to use the WLL.

It should also be noted that neither TfL nor Network Rail believes that the provision of freight loops is an effective way to deliver freight train services on the WLL. The use of such loops can have an adverse impact on the reliability of the intensive passenger service operating on the route because of the time freight trains take to accelerate from stand. Keeping freight trains moving over the length of the WLL is the preferred option because this poses less of a risk to the reliability of passenger services. Network Rail is investing in enhancements to Chelsea Bridge to enable the speed of freight trains to be increased on the route to ensure that they can operate reliably.

The comments made above are consistent with the findings of the London and South East Route Utilisation Strategy (LSE RUS), which sets out the rail industry’s view of the enhancements required to meet the predicted growth in freight and passenger demand up to 2031 on various routes including the WLL. The LSE RUS does not include in its recommendations any requirement for the provision of extra passing loops for freight.

Here at LR Towers we like to feel we are sufficiently au fait with the intricacies of rail operation to cogitate on how passenger and freight services might be efficiently interleaved on a 2-track line. But the more we look at freight on the crowded orbital lines the more uneasy we become. We’d be interested to hear back from the LR illuminati on this: do modern freight operations render freight loops a last resort, if not obsolete? And what is the practical limit in terms of freight and passenger trains per hour on a line like the WLL with stations along the length, modest line speeds and flat junctions at either end? Taking a step back, should we be looking at dedicated freight routes as the only practical solution?

Back to the story, and no doubt eagle-eyed readers will have spotted the diversionary Channel Tunnel route via Redhill and wondered why this doesn’t become a main route north, continuing west via the North Downs Line to Guildford, Reading and Oxford.

The North Downs Line

The North Downs Line

The major drawback with this route is that trains need to reverse at Redhill, as well as cross the Brighton lines. As we explored back in 2009, this could be resolved by building a flyover crossing the mainline south of Redhill station, which would allow this to become a key freight route avoiding London. However, apart from the expense, you’d then be up against that most mighty of retailing behemoths also vying for this space, in the shape of Tesco. No doubt a solution could be engineered that accommodated both uses, if there was the will, but the RUS declares that this is a track it does not wish to go down. It cites various reasons:

  • the longer distance – although a glance at the map shows the route to be very direct for freight to the West Midlands and the Northwest
  • the high cost of a Redhill flyover and new tunnels that would be required in the Guildford area
  • addressing level crossings, particularly the one at the west end of Reigate station
  • large sections of the route are not electrified
  • the lack of capacity beyond Reading, which is also the main freight route north from Southampton

So the RUS settles for Tonbridge-Redhill-Croydon as a diversionary route only, and a new freight route using the North Downs Line remains firmly locked in the ‘too hard’ box.

We are still puzzling over this and, given the recent decision by Reigate and Banstead Council to reject Tesco’s planning application, there may yet be an opportunity to secure this alignment as part of a strategic freight route west. But alas it appears that Network Rail and TfL are quietly walking away, which means that Channel Tunnel trains will continue to use the WLL and increasingly occupy the paths that TfL might consider it prudent to covet for it’s Overground services. Watch this space for Mwmbwls’ follow-up…

The rest, and the Strategic Rail Freight Interchanges (SRFI)

We have not gone into detail on the other freight flows in London as their projected growth is much less than intermodal. Some of these flows are significant nonetheless, including:

  • Aggregates and construction materials, with major flows to the aggregates hub at Acton and to depots such as Purley, St. Pancras, Marks Tey and Bow
  • Municipal waste, 29% of which left London by rail in 2005
  • Domestic intermodal to depots in London

The latter provides a fascinating story which shines a light on the practical difficulties in delivering strategic aspirations for rail freight. The 2011 London and SE lists the London freight terminals, mostly those in the pipeline, and confirms that

…most of the growth in domestic traffic is expected to be in trains to and from strategic rail freight interchanges – that is, terminals with modern intermodal rail facilities serving significant concentrations of distribution and logistics industries.

Buried in the archives is the SRA’s 2004 Strategic Rail Freight Interchange Policy (PDF), and this was only updated in a policy guidance note in November 2011 (PDF). The SRFIs are a key part of the plan outlined in the Strategic Freight Network (SFN) 2009 vision document (see Annex D p23). They are also embedded in the London Freight Plan, which is itself a component in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, and TfL offers toolkits to help local planners and other stakeholders to establish such rail freight facilities. TfL wants to see a SRFI on the fringes of each of London’s quadrants, and a clear path through for developers to create smaller facilities throughout the capital.

Given this unusual policy alignment and government support for rail freight interchanges, surely we should see most if not all of the thirteen terminals on the RUS list up and running within a few years. Not so: the problem is that the SRFIs are proving very hard to get off the ground. Nevertheless TfL is bullish about the prospects, claiming that:

Network Rail forecasts that the rail freight market could grow by up to 800 per cent by 2015 if the planning system continues to support schemes for rail-linked distribution parks like Howbury Park

We’ll skirt over the minor issue that Network Rail is very unlikely to be able to provide the train paths for such a step change in rail freight, but what of Howbury Park? This SRFI near Slade Green has been granted planning permission and two freight paths per hour have been built into the new Thamelink timetable.

Howbury Park

Howbury Park

However there was considerable local opposition as, perhaps unsurprisingly, local people and their elected members raised concerns about issues such as noise, HGV traffic and loss of amenity on green field sites. The key problem is that it is hard to identify significant local benefits for a SRFI, but the disbenefits are tangible and proximate, and this appears to be a common problem facing new rail freight infrastructure in London.

Mwmbwls has covered this already in his posts on the proposed South Radlett SRFI near St Albans. But here the knock-out blow was not to be: developer Helioslough reread the fine print in the various strategies and the inspector’s report, and pushed on up the line. As a result in June 2011 a Judicial Review of the Secretary of State’s refusal to grant planning consent found in favour of the developer, and so the legal planning process is ongoing.

South Radlett

South Radlett

Given the experience with Howbury Park and South Radlett, what then of SIFE Colnbrook by the M4/M25 interchange, or TfL and the SFN’s aspiration for a European gauge terminal in the Barking area? Perhaps the protracted battles and inability to secure suitable sites for SRFIs should prompt a fundamental re-evaluation of the whole concept, and perhaps consider a network of smaller terminals?

More broadly, does the case of the SRFIs in the London area provide a litmus test of the ability for rail planners to deliver on strategic freight objectives overall?

We shall be exploring the issue of the SRFIs in more detail in a future post, but bringing the issue back to the nuts and bolts of timetabling and business planning, the uncertainties around planning decisions make it very hard to make robust projections of future rail freight demand, and then to plan rail paths for freight traffic that may not materialise. From this you may question the freight projections in the RUS: are they too optimistic, or do they underestimate demand based on a pessimistic view of growth starting from a low base point? More specifically this also creates a chicken-egg situation for the planners: do you create timetable paths to strengthen case for planning, or await planning decision before making timetable changes, and risk losing the train paths?

Next steps: from strategy to reality

In Part 3 we will explore some of the options and draw some uneasy conclusions that, while the RUS process has helped identify some of the problems, the investment strategy is far from clear. Clearly the London rail network faces significant challenges as a result of rail freight. Yet despite the careful alignment of strategies, it is not clear how these will allow the aspirations of TfL and the Strategic Freight Network to become a reality. And the clock is ticking…

1 London & SE RUS 2011 p165

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There are 44 comments on this article
  1. Ian Sergeant says:

    I’m having difficulty reading this on IE8. Works fine on my Galaxy Tablet. Suspect a missing </sup> tab after ‘growth from Southampton’.

  2. John Bull says:

    well spotted – thanks

  3. swirlythingy says:

    Why is NR so concerned about lines not being electrified? The WLL is 3rd rail for most of its length, and the SLL in its entirety, rendering both off-limits to most electric locomotives. Therefore I don’t see why not having wires is any kind of obstacle to running more freight through Dudding Hill or the theoretical Redhill flyover.

    Are those Channel Tunnel trains to the WCML via both SLL and WLL running over that piece of track which is legally obliged to carry one passenger train in each direction every day? That can’t be helping the paths situation…

  4. Anonymous says:

    North Downs Line rather than North Kent Line!

    And, swirlyingy, why does third rail make lines off limits to electric locos? It’s what the class 92s were designed for!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh yes, please bring back Verney Junction, Although unlike in your East-West Route Map there’s nothing left for it to junct.

  6. Mike P says:

    I wouldn’t describe myself as an LR illuminatus, but if freight loops are a last resort or obsolete, why were they somewhat belatedly added to HS1 ?? Inquiring minds want to to know……

  7. Mike P says:

    Your comments about more, smaller depots are well-made. But the economics of freight distribution (allegedly) push in the opposite direction. Just look at all those small corner shops serviced by full-size articulated lorries. Causing total chaos.

    I long ago had the thought that the solution to rail-delivered freight (especially “containerised” as it was once known) was self-powered automated single wagons traversing the network. Then you can have a network of small terminals that you can cost-effectively deliver to. Pipe dream until the network is utterly different. But with a sufficiently advanced signalling system (thoroughly debugged 🙂 ) you could slip them in between passenger trains. But I guess the whole logistics network is geared now to huge hubs, so it just ain’t going to happen.

  8. Fandroid says:

    I wonder why the HS1 London tunnels do not seem to be an option (at least in the short to medium term) for Essex Riverside freight heading to the West Midlands and to the North West (around 16 to 18 paths per day by 2030). I’m not sure how many paths could be made available overnight, but that would at least reduce the pressure on the NLL, which must be the only alternative route for this traffic. Track modifications would be needed in the vicinity of Dagenham Dock station, but if the only usage was at night, grade separation would probably not be necessary. At the other end, the same considerations may apply at Camden Road, but I thought that there were plans to continue the NLL four-tracking right to the junction there anyway.

    For Southampton traffic, the Leamington-Coventry bottleneck has been argued about for years. While they are extending passing loops and other fiddling, they might as well restore double-track throughout, build a station at Kenilworth and add local trains to the CrossCountry and freights that use it already.

    I often look at the intended ‘freight bypass’ at Basingstoke. Passive provision was made when the signalling was redone a few years ago. But it does require demolition of the bike-shed ! (among other more substantial works to maintain passenger access to the north side).

  9. Anonymous says:

    self-powered automated single wagons…

    There is a British Rail film of its experiment of exactly this concept, probably from the 1970s.

    Cannot trace it though, as yet.

  10. Windsorian says:

    The Franroid suggestion of making use of the HS1 tunnels for freight North of the Thames only touches on the potential use of new 25kVA infrastructure capable of accepting traffic to the UIC GB+ gauge.

    My real sadness is the decision not to proceed with the Arup proposal for a Heathrow Hub on the GWML between Iver & West Drayton. Phase 1 would have seen the construction of a hub station linking Heathrow to the GWML, making the new WRAtH proposals unnecessary.

    Phase 2 was the extension of HS1 (in tunnel) to the new hub allowing Eurostar / other operators to syphon off near continent passengers and freeing up much needed slots at Heathrow. Not only that but the Kent Hitachi Javelins would have linked areas East of London directly with areas West of London. Finally it would have allowed overnight freight trains using one of the HS tunnels access via the existing West Drayton / Colnbrook spur to a new Slough international Freight Exchange (SIFE) depot.

    Phase 3 was the construction of HS2 to Birmingham and the North and there was nothing in this plan to prevent a Crossrail station at OOC paid for by the property speculators / developers or for the eventual re-building of Euston station.

  11. Greg Tingey says:

    Given that Tesco have lost their planning application, I find NR’s refusal to re-consider the N Downs route, err peculiar, even given x-ing problems at Guildford (rail) & Wokingham (road)
    The real bastard is the already-full NLL
    Agreed electrifying GOBLIN (I live in Walthamstow) would be a brilliant idea, but …
    when one looks at the existing paths, the total (and completely inexplicable – real rabbit-in-the-headlights job) inaction/apathy/idleness/sleep over the Thames Haven traffic, which WILL cause the whol;e thing to seize up – I really do wonder what planet some of these people are livng on..
    Diverting freight AWAY from London, if only by building shock horror NEW lines is proabaly the only way.
    Yet again, looking at the map, March-Spalding
    4 tracks Copper Mills jn – Broxbourne?
    ( Not too much demolition actiually required, and that mostky sheds ….
    But that does not deal with getting freight ON to the Strstford – Cambridge line from Barking, does it.

    I begin to wonder if the pervious article proposals for Pitsea – GEML then Braintree – Stansted would be the cheapest and simplest option.

    It ain’t easy, that’s for sure

  12. Anonymous says:

    Re: freight loops

    As with Mike P, I’m guessing they aren’t completely outdated now – part of the Felixstowe to Nuneaton upgrade is the provision of two freight loops near Ely (designed for 775m long trains, so clearly planning for the future to some extent)

  13. ngh says:

    “Anonymous 12:11PM, 29th February 2012

    Re: freight loops

    As with Mike P, I’m guessing they aren’t completely outdated now ”

    Their main purpose now seems to be near major junctions as the timing of a path on 1 line won’t match with 1 on the other line and is more likely to become so as overall path utilisation increases (or provide the ability to create more paths). One of their traditional purposes of letting an express train pass is less relevant as the speed of the freight train is faster, many seems to suffer from slow entry / exit speeds and being in the wrong place compared with what was need 50+ years ago.

  14. Fandroid says:

    Network Rail has not been idle in pursuing sensible and fairly clever ways of keeping freight trains from blocking passenger trains. At the aforementioned Basingstoke, southbound freights off the original ‘Hants’ bit of the Hants and Berks have to wait for a path to come clear over all four tracks of the main line. These can block the path of the local half-hourly FGW passenger shuttles coming up behind them from Reading. I used to commute on this line, and was very surprised one evening to find us overtaking one of these stationary freights, (on a two track line) by going wrong way on the adjacent track. That was before the whole Basingstoke-Reading line was resignalled for bi-directional use. Such cheap tricks may be usable elsewhere on the network, especially where there just isn’t room for a loop.

  15. JP says:

    Regards capacity on the NLL
    Crossrail will free up the two slows from Stratford to Bethnal Green.
    From Bethnal Green to the broadgate viaduct is practically all network rail land with space enough to put in an additional two tracks, Broadgate viaduct (i.e. ELL northern extension) was built 4 track EEL only requires 2 and the abolition of Haggaston and Hoxton stations and a grade separated crossing with a new station at the apex would avoid flat junction conflicts. From Dalston Junction to Camden Road is again 4 track with 2 tracks poorly used and from Camden Road to WCML is already a freight only route.

    There is from a land aquisition perspective no reason you can’t now remove all freight trains from the NLL and give them their own dedicated line Stratford to Willesden.

    It would of course be very expensive due to the way the northern ELL extension was built. ELL northern extenstion was 1.6B so 2B minimum. The irony being if they’d done a cheaper job on the ELL (by not replacing every bridge) it would have cost peanuts.

    You could argue that the capacity problems are on the feeder lines i.e. anglia mainline so such an investment although it would ease Capacity problems on the NLL it would do little to improve the cross london freight situation.

  16. JP says:

    My perspective on rail freight going forward is that they are taking the current growth and extrapolating out, and I think they have not taken account of rising fuel costs and the feedbacks that will have.
    At some time in the not so distant future fuel costs will do for the road haulage industry; as it is currently operating.
    This has upsides for rail freight (virtual monopoly on intercity freight) but means that in the long term we are probably moving back to a more 1930’s freight model (without coal trade), which requires goods yards close to where people live and work, not out in the countryside somewhere.

    In short build these SRFIs if they can make their money back in 10-15 years beyond that they will probably serve no purpose. (or they will form the nucleus of new towns probably particularly slumy ones. on the principle that if the freight does not move to the people then the people will move to the freight).

    The 1930s model has implications for central london where practically all the goods yards have been built over.

    Is anyone suggesting rebuilding the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway to avoid Reading and Basingstoke?

  17. Lemmo says:

    @JP, thanks for raising this, it’s very interesting to consider what the future model for freight will look like, and I hinted at this in the piece by asking whether the whole concept behind SRFIs needed a complete rethink. There was too much to cover without getting into peak oil and how this may affect future demand patterns, but this is perhaps an area we should cover in a future piece. Aside from the reliability of the demand projections, which I touch upon, it does require a discussion of what infrastructure we might need for more localised freight provision. That may be a return to smaller goods yards, or equally it could use self-powered automated single wagons, as Mike P talks about above. It may even be possible to design a system that uses mini-containers that fit directly onto electric flatbed vans for local delivery.

    On the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton Railway, perhaps someday it will rise again in part, although it will have to renegotiate space with the A34. But this doesn’t solve the short 2-track section from Didcot to Oxford, which is the real bottleneck.

    @Fandroid, we explore better use of the HS1 tunnels in Part 3, including how this may be integrated with development of a W12 gauge network north, which points to a new link from HS1 to the Midland Mainline around West Hampstead. Some canny design of this new link may allow connection to other routes, which will help relieve the 2-track pinchpoint at Camden Road-Primrose Hill, which may then allow a metro Overground service.

    @Windsorian, why did the Arup Hub proposal not progress? Aside from the design and routes, it may shed some light on the decision-making process and what the implications are for infrastructure investment. I’ll refer to this in Part 3.

    @ngh you echo the words on the Strategic Freight Network documents that the network has not been designed for modern freight operation. The investment needs to be in junctions to improve line speeds, perhaps flying junctions, but also loops for freights awaiting paths. And I argue that routes such as the WLL need these and that the alignments should be safeguarded.

  18. Greg Tingey says:

    “Abolition of Haggerston & Hoxton stations”

    [Mod: Removed unnecessary ad hominem. Don’t do it. – JB]

    It was shown as long ago as the early 1900’s that local freight yards should be no closer than 5 miles apart, and 10 is better ……for local onward delivery (Source – “Aspinall Era” by H A V Bullied)
    As for local frieght trains, the MPV was trailled and dropped – JUST Before the pendulum swung. Perhaps time for a re-trial?

    In the end, long-distance freight should NOT be going through London AT ALL.
    Which means re-openings and new lines
    It will be cheaper in the long run

  19. anonymouse says:

    There are two kinds of frieght loops: the first is used to let freight trains move out of the way and let faster trains overtake. These are useful on long lines with a wide range of speeds and service that is not too frequent. The WLL is the opposite of this: it’s fairly short, has quite frequent service, and a freight train running at a nice even speed of 40 mph would be able to match the average speed of the passenger service, and wouldn’t have trouble fitting in between the passenger services as long as the frieght train keeps moving. A freight train slowly pulling out of a pssing loop and then accelerating to line speed, however, may well take up more line capacity than is available between passenger trains. So TfL is right and passing loops aren’t really needed on the WLL, and less needed with faster freight trains.
    The other kind of freight loop is the kind at a junction, where a train can wait for an available slot on the line it’s about to join. This kind is still very useful, because it allows a decoupling of the timetables of the two lines, so that the freight slots on them don’t have to line up precisely. It also provides a schedule recovery buffer that can keep small delays from propagating from one line to the other. And freight, unlike passengers, doesn’t mind sitting in a loop for 5 or 10 or 15 minutes every once in a while on its journey across the country. This kind of loop might be useful for a line like the WLL, but the ideal location for these is near the end of the line, and not somewhere in the middle, and while I’m not thoroughly familiar with WLL operations, I think it already has enough facilities of this sort.

  20. Lemmo says:

    @anonymouse, thanks for this, very helpful… although my quote above from the RUS indicates that the WLL does not have enough facilities to regulate trains at the north or south end. I’d be interested to know the options to provide this capacity, especially south of the river.

    And it would also be good to explore how they make the business case for capacity which essentially provides a buffer to improve resilience. For instance, do they build in probabilities of service disruption or delays, and is this based on the tolerances in the working timetable or actual performance? And then how to they attribute costs and benefits between TOCs, as a freight regulating loop will equally benefit the performance of passenger services?

  21. Fandroid says:

    It’s conceivable that the Basingstoke trick I described (passenger trains overtaking freights wrong side at a junction) could work on the CJ end of the WLL. Most southbound WLL passenger trains run into a dedicated bay platform on the extreme northwest side of the station, thereby not needing to do any delicate manoeuvres across the multiple tracks & platforms. All that’s needed is a crossover just to the south of the river bridge (plus signalling). Even Southern trains coming south from the WCML could do the same trick, returning to the right track at Latchmere No 1 junction or just before their platform at CJ.

  22. ngh says:

    anonymouse 09:06PM, 1st March 2012

    You more eloquently put what I was getting at in my rather rushed post, the former is generally less relevant now and there aren’t enough of the later.

  23. anonymouse says:

    Specifically in the WLL case, it helps that most of the service is Overground trains going to Platforms 1 and 2 at Clapham Junction, so aside from the hourly Southern service, it’s possible train on the tracks leading from Latchmere Junction to Platforms 16/17 while it waits to get on the line to Balham. There’s also only a token service toward Wandworth Road, and those tracks can be used to hold a train waiting to go in that direction, though doing so may require some reconfiguration of Longhedge Junction. Making the tracks bidirectional might even allow a single freight to be parked without interfering with the normal passenger service.

    In general, the notion of “capacity” on a mixed-traffic railway is a somewhat nebulous one. It’s measured in paths, but those are a property of the working timetable (WTT), which, while obviously constrained by the infrastructure, can be written in different ways to give priority to different kinds of traffic. Having planning and infrastructure separated from operations adds an extra layer of politics to the whole process too, so that the final WTT, and thus capacity, is at least partly the result of negotiations between the various operators and the planners over which kind of trains are more important, how much recovery time is really needed to operate things reliably, and so on. I suspect that the case for such holding loops at junctions is made by mandating some amount of recovery time in the middle of freight timetables and then claiming the paths that will be allowed after the loops are built as new “freight capacity”. Sometimes, it’s even more straightforward, when there are spare paths on two lines that can be linked, but only if a freight train coming from one line has somewhere to wait for the path on the other line. In this case, I imagine the new combined freight paths are also claimed as “new capacity”.

  24. Fandroid says:

    @ JP. I fear the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line is a lost hope. As Lemmo mentions, it has disappeared under fairly significant lengths of the A34 dual carriageway trunk road between Newbury and Winchester. It has been built over in Winchester and I suspect the same applies in Newbury and Didcot. Added to that, the old Thames Conservancy used the trackbed as handy pipeline routes for its Berkshire Downs Groundwater scheme.

  25. Anonymous says:

    There are a lot of unused rail sidings just North of Cricklewood which would be very useful for future growth of freight capacity in London, and taking lorries off the congested roads. However, an idiotic redevelopment scheme Brent Cross Cricklewood, is going to build all over it with yet more flats.

    What’s more, the economics of this stupid scheme are only propped up by opening a new thameslink station, a few hundred metres away from the existing Cricklewood station and stealing capacity from there.

  26. Greg Tingey says:

    Talking of stupid schemes, someone proposed closing Hoxton & Haggerston, shortly after they have been re-opened.
    Have you seen the patronage?
    Well, that’s a complete non-starter, for sure ….

    Personalities aside, can I ask for people to THINK, before proposing such supposed ideas?

    On a more general note, and being boring and repetitive, in the long-term, the Freight will have to be diverted away from London.
    As fo freight terminals, new sites will also have to be found – not an easy task.
    Anyone got any practical ideas – apart from demolishing the whole vile “olympics” complex, of course?
    [ A personal fantasy – Stratford Shed was under where “Eastfield” is now N-7’s, J-69’s, B-17, B-12, B-1, D-16, O-2 & 4, J 15/17/19/20, Y-4, L-1, and, of course, Britannias ……]

  27. Anonymous says:

    The over-paid and over-weight Mayfair developers of Brent Cross have included a small freight depot at Brent Cross, on the land between the triangular Dudden Hill line junctions.

    However, this is too small for anything much.

    There is no room for trains to fill up large warehouses, then for picking of orders, and for trailers to deliver to shops. Also, the existing railway cottage residents, and any new flat-owners, would also not take kindly to a new gantry crane on the nearby new sidings, no doubt working through the night.

    The “need” for such small freight depots was in the the first London Plan, I believe.

    Maybe they could be sites for direct transfer of train loads of picked orders on pallets, to be fork-lifted on to trucks for deliveries in London. But the tiny proposed Brent Cross site seems badly situated even for that.

    I am forever amazed at the low quality of the Brent Cross Cricklewood plan, but the local authority has given it all planning permission. God help us.

  28. Ian Sergeant says:


    I can see the case for the Redhill chord, but I can’t work out the cost benefit analysis. To do so I reckon we would have to answer these questions and possibly more:

    1) How many trains a day could be diverted off the WLL, with and without electrification on the diversinary route?

    2) What is the cost of level crossing replacement between Redhill and Reading? (We could do without another Airtrack.)

    3) What is the cost of tunneling at Guildford? [I could do with understanding why this is necessary]

    4) How do we mix freight trains and fast trains between Oxford and Didcot?

  29. Lemmo says:

    Ian Sergeant, good questions, thanks. Yes these are the sort of questions we’d expect to be asked in a more detailed analysis, hence why we’ve been seeking more information on the two Network Rail freight routing studies: ‘Routes to the North’ on the preferred routes between London and the South-East, the Midlands and North of England, and the enhancements necessary to accommodate rail freight activity forecast to 2030; and an optimal cross-London freight strategy. We have no idea whether these studies have been undertaken, or what the outcomes and recommendations are. Indeed we don’t even know if they’ve been integrated into the 2011 update of the the London & SE RUS.

  30. Fandroid says:

    Ian S.

    I cannot answer your questions with any figures, but:

    The level crossings at Reigate and Wokingham are both in urban situations, so replacement with bridges/underpasses would be very difficult & expensive.

    I guess the tunnels problem at Guildford is a gauging issue. NR would at minimum want to see W10 gauge. If you can dig out any figures for what they did at Southampton and Ipswich, then those should provide a ball park figure.

    The Didcot – Oxford problem is potentially compounded by the desire to have a Milton Keynes to Reading passenger service once the East-West Route becomes reality. The current Oxford-Didcot passenger services in each direction offpeak seem to be 4 fast (2 each FGW & CC) and 2 slow (FGW). In contrast, the similar Basingstoke-Reading two-track line on the route from Southampton has 3 fast every 2 hours and 2 slow every hour, (58% of the traffic compared with Oxford-Didcot)

  31. Fandroid says:

    Come to think of it, construction of a third track from Didcot to Oxford should not be too difficult a problem. There are no big towns or villages on the route. The path through Oxford’s southern suburbs is clear on the east side until it reaches the Cowley freight branch where the trackbed width seems to expand anyway, all the way to Oxford station. Out in the countryside there are eight road overbridges (five are minor) and a bridge over the Thames. There are road overbridges in south Oxford, but these are probably wide enough already, as would the Thames bridge be in Oxford. There are three 2-platform stations en-route. They would possibly provide the biggest headache.

  32. Anonymous says:

    I really can’t see how you would put in a bridge at Reigate. It is quite a restricted site, although there is a steep hill to the north so that could be in corporated. Also, it is the main route from the M 25 to Reigate and Redhill and the last set of roadworks neccesitated a very lengthy diversion up to Banstead, across to Purley and back down to Redhill ang across, probably getting on for 20 miles. How would you schedule the work?

  33. JP says:

    @Greg Tingey

    Regards my foolish idea of getting rid of Haggeston and Hoxton stations here is my thinking

    You cannot keep the stations as existing because the platforms occupy the space required to 4 track the viaduct, which you are doing to segregate the freight from the NLL.
    In addition you need a crossing.
    This is because at Dalston you need the east pair of tracks to be ELL so that freight doesn’t run into NLL and at shoreditch you need the the ELL to be on the west so it can dive toward whitechapel.
    This crossing can either be on the flat or grade separated.

    If on the flat, you could have the northbound cross north of haggeston and the southbound cross south of hoxton and then build platforms as I believe they orginally were over the edges of the viaduct (like kentish town west).
    The up side of the flat is you can keep both stations and all you need to do is replace the bridges, the down side is with the conflicts with the freight line you are unlikely to run a tube frequency service and perhaps not a particularly good freight service either.

    If you go for a grade separated crossing then as it is a viaduct the whole grade separation must be made by one pair of tracks going the full height over the other, therefore you need a long stretch.
    The longest stretch for doing this is from the bridge that crosses the Kingsland road to just north of Haggeston station.

    You could still keep the stations where they are but you have to build a new viaduct for one track so you can put in island platforms. One of these viaducts would be over a park and some private buildings, the other over a road. In addition assuming you don’t want the platforms to be on a gradient you have reduced the length for your grade separation by 100m minimum (1 5car train length), I wouldn’t be surprised if it were double that.

    Alternatively as I suggested you can get rid of the two stations and have a new station at the apex of the grade crossing lets call it Hoxton & Haggeston station (energy saving potential as well stations on hills).
    This way you avoid all the headaches of trying to build viaducts over public parks and roads and you gain an extra 100m+ for your grade separation and you make a use of the section of level track where the lines cross. This station would be sited approx 300 metres from the existing stations so the area would continue to be served. I do not consider a 300m walk much although perhaps I am odd in that regard. ( you would have a faster service since 1 fewer stop.)

    lets bare in mind that Haggeston station is a mere 3 bus stops from Dalston Junction and that includes the one you leave from so its not like this 300m is on top of an already great distance.(this point isn’t explained very well basically saying that for some people waking an additional 300m would make Dalston Jn closer for others no worse than people who currently use Haggeston)

    I don’t think the patronage would alter that much people trying to get to Whitechapel etc. would be prepared to walk the additional 300m. (they probably wouldn’t like it though; but what’s the alternative).

    Obviously doing all this would entail one hell of a lot of disruption the northern ELL would have to be shut down for a period, and you may be right in saying it is just too much disruption.
    My point is that it is an option for providing much greater cross london (stratford – willesden) freight capacity which is relatively direct, frees up the NLL and doesn’t require the acquisition of land. It will be very expensive but compared to what?

    Regards your other points, Freight not being moved via london. I half agree if its felixstowe to the midlands yes but barking(either via the channel tunnel or shell haven) to the midlands er no, i think that railways should connect two places by the shortest distance and in the latter case that is across (or very close to) london, not via ipswich. If the capacity does not exist it should be built. I bet at some point the rail freight companies start saying we want to go via crossrail (gradients permitting)

    regards stratford er I agree.

  34. Slugabed says:

    As I understand it,the “new-build” section of the ELL (over the GE mainline,curving round to join the old NLR alignment) was built with gradients too sharp to accomodate modern freight trains (this has been discussed elsewhere,perhaps on this forum).
    A proposal has been mooted (I don’t know by whom) which caught my interest.
    As you leave Whitechapel ELL Northbound,there are traces of a line curving to the right which served one of the complex of goods stations which used to dot this area.The proposal was,for a freight line to branch off at this point,curve round and gently rise to join the GE mainline,Eastbound,in the vicinity of Bethnal Green station.
    That might be useful?
    For the same reason (gradients) the New Cross Gate flyover may also be unsuitable,but re-instatement of another of the pre-1966 freight lines (between NXG and a junction with the re-instated ELLX2) would sort that out….
    Always the problem.

  35. JP says:

    Yes I’d read that the ELL across the GE Mainline was too steep somewhere too. But that is not what I am proposing. I am proposing a freight line which comes off the GE mainline using the old Bishopsgate goods yard ramp. This would require building a new shoreditch high street To the south of the existing one with shorter platforms building a new bridge over the GE mainline with a new curve down to whitechapel. Then replacing the existing ELL bridge with the old one they removed to put that one in. ALL of which would cost a Fortune, and would derail network rails retail/residential/commercial plans for the Bishopsgate goods yard site(at least to the south of the existing station).

    Regards using the ELL for freight I would be against it on the grounds that you end up recreating the problems of the NLL. However if you wanted to do it I’d be tempted to build a whole bunch of new St Mary’s curves(going east and west) onto crossrail instead of the district line. but as I said in my previous post I’m not sure if the gradients on Crossrail are freight train passable also it does assume electric locos. Come to think of it you could use LT subsurface lines and you wouldn’t need electric locos either but then you’d have Loading gauge, signalling and axle load problems in addition to the major capacity aneurysm(we can go beyond headaches) you’ll get from using Crossrail, ELL or Subsurface lines for freight (maybe at night?)

  36. Anonymous says:

    In terms freight through London there are no easy or cheap solutions but some major infrastructure improvements should be looked at in conjunction with other developments, especially in regard to NLL/GOBLIN.

    Redevelop the Dalston-Stratford and Camden Road-Primrose Hill corridors the railway passes through and putting in 4 tracks in the process. Obviously some problems around Camden, Dalston-Hackney Central and east into the Olympic site (especially since redevelopment…). Redevelopment of Kingsland shopping centre could provide 4 tracks through there.

    Costing more money is diverting the LO services into new sections to allow the freight to continue along the existing route, and allow for interchanges on the new passenger sections, i.e. a diversion between Graham curve and Mildmay Park interchanging with Dalston Junction and between York Way and Primrose Hill with a new station at Camden town (together with redeveloped NL station). This last might need to leave the existing NLL east of Caledonian Road and Barnsbury.

    GOBLIN could possibly have 4 tracks all the way between South Tottenham and the ECML and maybe even to the Hornsey Road, leaving only this section to Junction Road. With corridor redevelopment that could be just the section between Hornsey and Holloway Roads – maybe a tunnel could do it. This would be worthwhile if Tottenham-Gospel Oak were to be part of Crossrail 2 or at least as a Victoria line relief heading somewhere west/south of Gospel Oak. even the ECML east-facing connection could be provided by Seven Sisters-Alexandra Palace if that gets signed off as part of Crossrail 2 (unlikely I know).

    Of course Gospel Oak-Willesden Junction and Camden Road-Gospel Oak can only be 2 tracks but that’s fine for freight and lower levels of passenger services if the main NLL passenger services go via Primrose Hill and take over the slows to west of Queens Park, then into tunnel to west of Kensal Green (relieving Euston). This way all the main passenger needs can be kept away from freight between Stratford and Willesden Junction, via Primrose Hill and with improved interchanges. No need to funnel passenger services through Kentish town West-Gospel Oak-Willesden Junction and conflict with freight.

    Similar could apply to WLL but the freight aspect is less significant. Then again it could be more significant if it were to be looked on as a route for it. The main problem with extra tracks on the WLL is across the Thames. A new tunnelled passenger route between Stamford Bridge and Wandsworth Road via Clapham Junction (east-west through the station) is going to be costly. The SLL would need extra tracks too – there is some potential along the route as far east as Peckham Rye.

  37. Greg Tingey says:

    The cost-benefit of proposed curves / additional tracks / closing RECENTLY OPENED stations & building new one(s) all in a heavily built-up area would be ridiculously expensive, for the supposed benefit achieved, whist STILL mixing long-length, slow-moving, but continuously-moving freights with start-stop, but high acceleration-&-braking frequent passenger trains.
    Please try to think these things through. (?)

    This is why a longer completely new route(s) somewhere, outside the London area is/are going to be preferred.
    Actual cost will be lower, and the benefits will be at least as great.

    And why there is such a big question-mark over the Redhill – Guildford – Reading possible route.
    I must admit I had not thought of the W10 costs at Guildford, though I was only too aware of the LC problem – having been in Wokingham ‘box upon occasion ……

  38. MiaM says:

    This may be a silly question that everyone else knows the answer to, but anyway:

    Why are there so many interconnections between the large number of routes in southern London and so few interconnections and alternative routes in northern London? Is it perhaps because there used to be “only” three companies south of the Thames but far more competing companies to the north of the Thames? Or is the the far better underground networh to the north than to the south the real answer, i.e. local services were not that important on the railways to the north than on the railways to the south?

    Regarding the idea to change the Haggerton and Hoxton stations, would it really be that expensive to rebuild new platforms as “balconys” hanging out of the existing viaducts to make room for four or atleast three tracks? (The freight tracks could be in the middle and the passenger tracks could be on the outside). N.B: I’m not taking a stand for or against this idea, I’m just discussion a possible solution to a specific problem with this idea.

    Generally I think it would be a great idea to make up some kind of “master plan” for a few long term alternatives for bigger investments like “if we build 4711 short stretches of tunnels, flyovers, chorts e.t.c. then we gain more throughput improvement than a new crossrail route would do, but it would still cost more than the ordinary investment budget can account for”. I’m not sure exactly how such a plan would look like, but with a fair amount of simulations and computations it could very well be something almost noone has expected. The human mind has it’s limitations and rethinking the whole rail infrastructure in and around London is probably a task that’s a bit to big to do in one step in your head, thus everey “human-invented idea” will only take some parts in account and miss a possible mega-reshape that might be the best idea.

    Regarding peak oil e.t.c. we don’t know how far alternative fuel and electric/battery technology will have developed in a few years. Also if no technical developement developement will happend compared to today it would still be possible to build a combined trolley bus and trolley freight network. I know that trolley freight wechicles is and was something really rare but atleast they have existed in the past. In Stockholm, Sweden, there were a few kilometers long freight trolley linefrom the southern railway station to a factory area. In the beginning it used freight lorrys but they were converted to tractor units when freight handling changed. It was buildt in the early 40’s during WW2 fuel shortage and was dismantled in the 60’s.

    P.S. I really like these kind of posts that combines details with a bigger picture.

  39. Ian Sergeant says:


    A few metrics and some possibilities.

    The Southampton tunnels are 486m long ( The Southampton to Nuneaton project saved £11.5m largely by running in one possession rather than two ( So the cost can be assumed to be at least two thirds of that, say £8m. The Guildford tunnels 845 yards, so 60% longer than Southampton. Say £13m as a ballpark.

    Swindon to Kemble doubling for a 12.5 mile stretch is projected at £41.7m ( So for the 10 miles Didcot to Oxford to have a third track about £32m, assuming no major civils, and remembering land acquisition would probably be required. I would look at partial quadrupling (possibly outside of the three interim stations) as a future proofing strategy. Say £45m with the fourth track. I believe that this removes any capacity concerns regarding East-West traffic being extended to Reading.

    Hitchin viaduct is predicted at £60m ( Redhill looks simpler so should be cheaper. Say £40m.

    As for level crossings (descoping these would presumably be unpalatable), looking at pictures of Reigate and Wokingham it looks very challenging. I’m not a civil engineer, but I was wondering about the possibility of dropping the height of the railway using cut and cover. This would mean that there should be far less disruption to the road but a potential protracted possession to the railway. But changing the gradient of a freight railway would mean a substantial cutting. I’d be interested to know whether this is viable, and whether there are any reference schemes. Say £60m.

    So total cost of supporting a Redhill diversionary route (based upon a couple of hours on the Internet rather than a GRIP study) might be £158m with lots of (possibly invalid) assumptions. I still think that this would be money well spent, but obviously there is a dependency on the East-West Link having been completed to the WCML for it to work. But the total cost of Southanpton to Nuneaton was £59.5m ( so I can understand any reluctance to commit to this.

  40. Anonymous Widower says:

    During Open House, I visited TUCA, London’s University of Hole Digging. It was impressive, but speaking to the Crossrail people there, I am now quite convinced that actually building tunnels will get easier over the next few years and if TUCA does its job, we’ll have the men to work underground. So when people suggest a a short tunnel to cross a main line, as at Redhill, the cost may be too high now, but it might not be so in 2020. So some ideas that are on the face of it are crazy now, will be those that even politicians can understand and support.

  41. Lemmo says:

    TUCA combined with the experience gained with Crossrail will probably help make future projects easier to plan and execute, but I don’t know whether will have a significant effect on costs. But it may be enough to tip the balance on projects that might previously have been regarded as too challenging.

    @ Ian Sargeant, thanks for the ballpark figures, and the Redhill option should now be more attractive given the N-S Electric Spine in the recent HLOS. But TfL will still need to drive this, with the aim that it will release paths for Overground on the London orbitals, particularly the WLL.

  42. Greg Tingey says:

    Planning authorities are about to give permission to the development of the Howbury Park rail freight interchange in Dartford
    Note that this is right next to Slade Green depot & sidings & there has been discussion elsewhere about siding capacity in relation to hoped-for improvements to SE passenger services. Will joined-up thinking prevail, I wonder?

    [Text clarified. LBM]

  43. ngh says:

    Re Greg,

    If any trains ever call at Howbury Park many of us would be amazed. (Same with other similar potential schemes around London where the rail is there for planning approval purposes only). Slade Green may not be the most useful location overall either.

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