This is the final part of our look at how freight may become the Achilles’ heel for rail planners in London.

The first article provided some context, looking at the various strategies, the national flows and the issue of loading gauge. Then we explored the main intermodal (container) traffic flows through London in more detail. Here we explore some of the options and draw some uneasy conclusions – that whilst the RUS process has helped identify some of the problems, the investment strategy is far from clear. Given the near-term demand projections for both freight and passenger, and the opaque nature of strategic decision-making, what will this mean for London’s rail network in 2020 and beyond?

It is clear that a fundamental rethink is required if London’s orbitals are to provide capacity for the projected freight and passenger demand growth, and this has major implications for TfL’s aspirations for Overground and its strategic interchanges.

Furthermore, it is to cross-city lines and the orbitals that we now look to reshape the network and expand the city core. Yet it is these orbital routes that are now in high demand for freight traffic, most of which goes straight through London to destinations north and west.

The process of tweaking capacity out of over-stretched infrastructure has found a new name: “optioneering” and indeed it is a vexed process, because each investment (or lack of it) has ramifications across the whole network.

Another way of viewing these knock-on effects is that London rail planners need to persuade someone to invest in improvements in places like Leicester, Kenilworth, Ely and Basingstoke in order to create more paths for Overground services on the orbital lines. This must provide TfL with an interesting challenge in terms of tactics and strategy.

As in Part 2, we heartily recommend the marvellous Adlestrop atlas to help you trace the often tortuous freight routes beyond the London bounds, and Carto Metro for many of the routes and junctions within the London area.

Class 59 'Village of Chantry' approaches the SLL at Wandsworth Road

Class 59 ‘Village of Chantry’ approaches the SLL at Wandsworth Road with an aggregates train having threaded the maze of lines through Longhedge Jn. This is a busy freight route on which 35 Channel Tunnel paths per day (by 2030) will soon be shared with the Overground. Photo courtesy looper23

The bottlenecks

There are several sections of 2-track with flat junctions which share intensive freight and passenger services, including the North London Line (NLL) east of Dalston, the West London Line (WLL), GOBLIN and South London Line (SLL). And although the NLL could return to 4-track from Camden Road to Dalston, the route has multiple flat junctions, long signalling headways and still converges to a 2-track junction at Camden Road Jn.

Between Stratford and Forest Gate on the GEML, freight trains from Thameside must cross the mainline on the flat to reach the NLL. The timetable has been tweaked to the limit and infrastructure options are very limited where feasible at all. The obvious alternative is to send freight via GOBLIN, however this route is still not electrified and, although it has been cleared to W10 gauge, some of the structures still pose significant speed and weight restrictions.

As traffic intensifies the flat junction at Gospel Oak becomes a pinch-point for westbound traffic from GOBLIN, and beyond that at Kensal Green Jn before Willesden. Routing traffic onto the Midland Main Line (MML) at Carlton Road Junction is limited by the 4-track section through to Finchley Road, which is 4-track and tunnelled or in deep cutting which rules out infrastructure options such as flying junctions. Freight has to share this with the intensive Thameslink service, and west of Finchley Road the freight lines are on the other (south) side of the mainlines, which freight then has to cross.

The Dudding Hill route off the MML at Brent is also not electrified and is lightly used, and its potential is limited by the need to interleave with the busy Windsor Lines. Westbound freight also needs to cross the Down Fast and both Up Windsor Lines at the east end of Clapham Junction.

Channel Tunnel freight for the East Coast Main Line (ECML) almost does a complete circle around London using the SLL and WLL and while northbound traffic can travel via GOBLIN and Haringey, southbound goes via Maiden Lane and the NLL back up to Gospel Oak.

The WLL is well-connected to routes at either end and although there are sufficient Channel Tunnel freight paths until 2030, there is limited potential to expand passenger services. The WLL is already projected to have severe overcrowding by 2016, and this will only be exacerbated as the momentum to develop Old Oak Common gathers pace.

Freightliner Class 66 diesel running under electrified lines

Freightliner Class 66 diesel running under electrified lines threading its way onto the WCML past Willesden Junc low-level platforms. Courtesy BowroadUK

HS1 freight currently uses the Barking route, which has the same traffic limitations as Thameside above. The development of European gauge traffic is limited by the lack of depot facilities in the Barking area or at the London end of HS1 at Maiden Lane, and as yet there no clear investment strategy on creating a W12 network or a UIC GB+ gauge route beyond London via, say, the MML.

This isn’t a particularly positive analysis, but major capacity gaps also lie outside London with the result that traffic is forced onto the congested cross-London routes. For instance, Haven Ports freight can only avoid London if the alternative route is gauge and weight-cleared and has route, junction and layover capacity. Similarly, accommodating the growth in intermodal container traffic from Southampton via Reading West is dependent on investment in places like Melksham, Coventry and Kenilworth.

Of greater concern is the West Coast Main Line (WCML), which the 2011 London & South East RUS identifies as the main route north for the additional freights projected from the Haven ports and Thameshaven. This depends, however, on HS2 freeing up those paths, and no fallback option is identified.

For LR readers interested in digging deeper into the capacity and demand at specific points in London, the 2006 Cross London RUS breaks the data down into short route sections showing the paths planned and used, and the projections for 2014 and 2023. This calculation of the paths required in 2023 assumed a proportion of the Haven Ports traffic would head north via the cross-country route, but it still gives an idea of the number of freight trains per day in each section. Even with a significant investment in capacity such as resignalling and loops, it gives a sense of how intensively used each section is and how many additional paths might be available, including paths for TfL Overground services.

Freight path requirements in 2014 and 2023

Freight path requirements in 2014 and 2023

Another way of illustrating this can be seen in the graph below. This focuses on the NLL and appeared in TfL’s 2007 Rail Freight Strategy, with the data taken from the table above. It neatly illustrates the scale of demand growth that rail planners have to accommodate, and also how that increased demand is almost entirely intermodal. Note that this is the data for 2014, not 2023 or 2030.

Forecast of NLL freight requirements

Forecast of NLL freight requirements

We’d be interested in seeing a detailed breakdown of more recent data/projections, and we’d also appreciate more information on the two Network Rail studies we mentioned in Part 1: the ‘Routes to the North’ (RTN) study looking at 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 (CLFS).

Some options

Within London there are few options on existing alignments.

The NLL can be 4-tracked to Camden Road, and resignalling will improve headways. Capacity on the NLL will always be limited, however, by the shared passenger-freight traffic, multiple connections and flat junctions.

The proposed HS1-HS2 connection will rise at Primrose Hill and therefore add to the congestion on the 2-track viaduct and junction at Camden Road. Indeed TfL objected to the link because of the impacts on Overground and freight services on the NLL. Interestingly the revised HS1-HS2 plans show substantial rebuilding at Camden Road (PDF), including new bridges, reusing the northern platforms and cutting back the southernmost platform to achieve GC gauge. It’s not immediately clear, but it seems possible that “Remodelling of Camden West Junction may be required”, perhaps refers to 4-tracking the bridge.

Remodelling Camden

Remodelling Camden

As we have already reported, when container lorries start trundling away from Thameside in 2013, eyes will again focus on GOBLIN and the upgrades required to take freight alongside an improved metro service. Alongside electrification, improvements are still necessary to improve speed and headways. As with most of the other orbitals however, this is a 2-track route with shared freight and metro services and with multiple flat junctions, so there will be a limit to the additional freight it can handle.

Similarly with the WLL, it is difficult to ignore the need to ramp up capacity to keep freight moving around an intensifying metro service. The WLL is 2-track throughout with a passing loop at Kensington Olympia. The alignment through to West Brompton allows for extended loops but this will disappear under the proposed Earls Court redevelopment and, as we reported in Part 2, TfL does not consider this alignment worth safeguarding. TfL is counting on train lengthening to 8-cars to resolve its WLL overcrowding problems, but beyond that few options are presented.

The WLL is a key artery through London and passenger growth has been rapid in response to the modest service that has been introduced – which indicates a considerable latent demand. It requires more investment foresight in terms of a strategic route, and at the very least safeguarding alignments for future options.

Even with a blue-sky scenario of 4-tracking the WLL from the Great Western Main Line (GWML) south, however, there is still the 2-track speed-restricted Thames bridge at Chelsea, along with the flat junctions the other side of the Thames at Latchmere Jn. Indeed the junctions around Clapham and Battersea pose operational problems if freights are awaiting paths onto the main lines – again, an argument for loops if only to provide network resilience.

Further west the Dudding Hill line could provide relief, but requires significant investment, not least in electrification. Some rethinking of the Windsor Line services is required for this route to become used more intensively. Various solutions are being cogitated upon and perhaps the Windsor Lines will benefit from a solution which involves a mix of Crossrail/Chelney, a putative Northern Line extension beyond Battersea, and new express lines from the South West Main Line (SWML) to the northern side of the SWML alignment at Battersea and into the empty ex-Eurostar platforms at Waterloo. If, for instance, a new SWML express tunnel included a branch for Windsor Line expresses, aside from boosting capacity on the Windsor Lines and resolving issues with some of the level crossings, it would free up capacity for freight onto the Dudding Hill line.

It is difficult though to see this working without grade-separated junctions from the SLL route onto the Windsor Lines at Clapham Junction, and perhaps also at Chiswick Jn east of Kew Bridge. At Clapham Junction there may be an option to create a Down underpass from the ‘Ludgate’ lines at Pouparts Jn rising directly onto the Down Windsor lines in the area now used by the carriage cleaning facility. This may also facilitate an extension of ELL services to Putney Bridge, although it will be a challenging project to undertake.

As an aside, the comments following Part 2 raised some interesting points on the purpose of loops in smoothing freight flows at key junctions (thank you ‘Anonymouse’ and others). Traditionally freight loops have been used to allow faster trains to overtake, but while this is useful on a long line with a wide range of speeds and services that are not too frequent, it is not that useful on short sections with intensive services. A heavy freight slowly lumbering out of a passing loop is likely to take up more paths than a continuously-moving freight slotted into the passenger pattern. Therefore the aim is to provide non-stop freight paths between the mainlines via the orbitals.

Inevitably there will be knock-on effects from delays on one line which result in paths onto the next line being lost, so the freight has to layover and await the next path. Hence the need for another kind of freight loop: close to junctions where trains can wait for an available slot onto the next line. These loops are important as they allow a decoupling of the timetables of the two lines, therefore the freight paths on each don’t have to line up precisely. It also improves network resilience by providing a schedule recovery buffer so that can small delays do not propagate from one line to the other.

As we noted in Part 1, the London & SE RUS acknowledges that there are few points on the London rail network where such layover capacity exists, and this could be regarded as a priority for future infrastructure investment. A scan over the network, however, reveals few places where such loops can be provided, which further emphasises the proposition that is misguided to relinquish space on alignments where such capacity could be put in place, such as on the WLL.

In fact, the more you look at the difficulties posed by London’s orbitals, the more important it becomes to explore investment options outside London. This fits with TfL’s aim to keep freight away from London, and perhaps then be able to use the orbitals for improved Overground services. Indeed, given the knock-on effects in the London area, the increasing passenger demand on the London orbitals will improve the business case for infrastructure improvements beyond London.

Looking further afield

As we noted in Part 2, the cross-country route north from the Haven Ports could be improved by addressing constraints such as the single-lead junction at Haughley near Ipswich and the busy Leicester area where the MML has shrunk to 2 or 3 tracks. The route also needs to be electrified. This is a classic example where investment in distant places has a direct benefit on London rail.

In that sense it is very heartening to see the Oxford to Bedford section of East-West Rail get the investment thumbs-up in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement, despite being omitted from the Industry Initial Plan in November 2011. The 2011 London & South East RUS has already factored this in to its recommendations, as it will provide a valuable route from Southampton through to the Midlands and the North while avoiding bottlenecks such as Coventry.

Oxford - Bedford on the East-West

Oxford – Bedford on the East-West. Courtesy Wikipedia

By a strange quirk of foresight the double-track ‘white elephant’ Bletchley flyover onto the WCML has been in place since the 1960s. Encouragingly the route through to Bedford may improve the business case to quadruple the MML north through to Leicester… which will then improve capacity on the cross-country Haven Ports route north from Ipswich, and this will release more paths on the London orbitals.

The Bletchley Flyover

The Bletchley Flyover. Courtesy

The opportunities that East-West Rail provides will focus attention on the other bottlenecks on the route north from Southampton, including in the Eastleigh area, at Basingstoke and the 2-track section between Didcot and Oxford. It also raises the on-going issue of the Leamington-Coventry section which still needs to be doubled, and questions the wisdom of routing HS2 over the Kenilworth cut-off to Berkswell which could otherwise offer a direct route towards Birmingham and beyond but which avoids Coventry.

A new east-west strategic orbital route

In a sense what London needs is a mirror east-west rail that takes traffic from the GEML across to the ECML, MML and WCML. Although the cross-country route north from the Haven Ports achieves this, it requires further investment as noted above, and is of little direct benefit to Thameshaven or Channel Tunnel traffic.

A number of our commentators following Parts 1 and 2 agreed that it is highly likely that new freight routes will need to be considered, and various potential alignments to the east of London were proposed. Indeed the need for new strategic freight routes around London has recently been thrust centre stage by the grandest scheme of them all: the proposed Fosters + Partners Thames Hub. This mega-project includes a new high-speed orbital rail route outside London for freight and passenger services, with new stations at parkway locations on the London periphery. Although this is competing with the ‘Boris Island’ airport scheme the other side of the river, a new line like this appears to solve many of London’s rail freight problems and perhaps gives an indication of the scale of options that need to be considered. It would be interesting to study these plans in more detail to see how they a line can be engineered for combined freight and passenger services.

A new London orbital

A new London orbital. Courtesy Halcrow.

Perhaps there are more modest options that utilise sections of existing route. For example, there is potential to dust off the plans for the eastern section of East-West Rail, which we explored some time back. One of the options (PDF) was to head from Bedford to the ECML and onto the Hertford Loop then across to the West Anglia Mainline (WAML), before resuming the passage north to Stansted Airport. Along with the route options below the consultants’ study mentioned the potential to reuse the Hitchin-Bedford line. The financial case was relatively good but there were local objections to the new link between Hertford East station and Hertford North stations and at Rye House north of Broxbourne. Perchance an alternative design would alleviate local concerns, especially if the route tunnelled north-west to the Hertford Loop.

Linking the Lines

Linking the Lines, Davies and Gleave 2009

The existing Hertford East line south onto the WAML could provide the bones of a strategic freight route from Thameside and the Haven Ports to the Midlands and the Northwest, and also a useful route for traffic to the West of England down East-West Rail. It would also provide a new passenger route from Stevenage and the ECML through Hertford to London, which could simply be an extension of the existing Hertford East services or new services via Stratford with its connections to Canary Wharf. This would necessitate the oft-mooted quadrupling to Broxbourne, which is being considered anyway as an option in the 2011 London & SE RUS. At Stratford the 4-track bottleneck through Forest Gate would be alleviated with a tunnel direct to Woodgrange Park, on which more below.

There may be other options, for instance continuing on GOBLIN to South Tottenham and then via Seven Sisters back up to the WAML. A further option could be to tunnel beyond Enfield Town to join the ECML Hertford Loop north of Gordon Hill, where the four platforms provide the opportunity to turn back metro services. Such a link would provide new passenger travel opportunities as well as a strategic freight route, and a diversionary route for engineering works or network disruptions. Overall the choice between these options may well be influenced by which route is easier to convert to W10 gauge.

This would be a major investment in a new strategic freight route that used sections of existing line, and also offers the potential for improved passenger services. This is important because a common theme emerging from new freight proposals is the strength of local opposition – the perceived benefits are negligible compared to the increased noise and disturbance from heavy freight trains, loss of amenity and the potential reduction in passenger services.

Rail planners may want to bear this in mind for routes like GOBLIN, much of it on viaduct through residential suburbs. A significant increase in heavy freight traffic without a commensurate improvement in passenger services is likely to generate significant local opposition.

Returning to the prospect of tunnelling beneath the 4-track GEML section through Woodgrange Park as part of a new strategic freight route, it is perhaps surprising that this is a very similar alignment to the HS1 tunnel just east of Stratford. It seems a shame to duplicate a tunnel if there is potential to use the existing one, especially given that HS1 does not run to capacity. There are currently junctions from HS1 onto the Tilbury lines at Dagenham, but there is no corresponding junction from the Tilbury lines west onto HS1. Might there be potential to route Thameside freight onto HS1 at Dagenham and through to the NLL? And if so, might it also be possible to construct a short spur off HS1 at Stratford north up to Lea Bridge, and from there north to the WAML and ECML via Hertford?

Southeastern Class 395 unit at Dagenham Dock

Southeastern Class 395 unit at Dagenham Dock. The rusty line in the foreground is the Up connection from HS1 to the Tilbury lines. There is no corresponding connection which would allow Thameside freights to access HS1 from the Tilbury lines. Courtesy BowroadUK

HS1 and a new W12 gauge route north

HS1 is built to European gauge and will no doubt at some point take freight beyond Barking through to the connection with the NLL at Camden Road East Jn. A W12 gauge route north is also a core objective of the Strategic Freight Network, and the most likely contender is currently the MML.

It therefore seems sensible for a potential HS1-MML link to become a key component in a new strategy for rail freight in London, integrated with development of a W12 gauge network north and electrification of the MML. This would provide some certainty around which other infrastructure projects could be planned.

Future options should include the potential for a European GB+ gauge route from HS1 to the MML, for which the gauge clearance works would be undertaken at the same time as electrification and, presumably, 4-tracking north of Bedford. No doubt the business case for this has been improved by East-West Rail, as a route for Southampton traffic north, and also by W10 clearance for Syston to Stoke as a WCML diversionary route, also announced in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.

HS1 emerges at Maiden Lane and the freight route rises onto the NLL at Camden Road, where it has to negotiate the 2-track pinchpoint at Camden Road Jn. No provision has been made for am alignment to drop into tunnel for future extension to any of the mainlines west. This may become problematic, and is a shame given that in a commendable example of future-proofing the Kings Cross redevelopment has made provision for a Thameslink spur up onto the ECML.

What is required is a new direct route from HS1 to the freight lines on the south side of the MML at West Hampstead, beyond the Belsize tunnels. Some canny design may also allow connection to other routes. The current route from the east side of London through to the MML is via GOBLIN and Carlton Road Jn which, as noted above, is shared with Thameslink. Given the objections raised by TfL and others about the poor design of the proposed HS2-HS1 link rising at Primrose Hill, a new W12 tunnel north from HS1 will help relieve the NLL at Camden Road, which may then allow a metro Overground service.

Finally, amidst all the noise of HS2, we should spare a thought for a national mainline that was constructed to a more generous loading gauge and was laid out for express services but never quite seems to make it back into the limelight. The Great Central route from Marylebone, along with the joint GC-GW line from Paddington to Birmingham, also offers potential as a freight route north. Indeed it has been eyed up by Chiltern Trains, and prior to that might yet have become an express private freight line operated by Central Railway, before the proposal was rejected by the government in 2005. Could this become a European GB+ route north as an alternative to the MML? Is the route worth safeguarding as a future option, including the connection at the London end alongside the Central line through to the WLL at Shepherds Bush?

A route worth safeguarding?

A route worth safeguarding?

Channel Tunnel routes north: back to Redhill…

Enough of strategic routes north, what about a strategic route that skirts south of London? In Part 2 we looked at the opportunity to develop the Tonbridge-Redhill-Guildford route, allowing Channel Tunnel freight to travel west and north via Reading. This requires major infrastructure works including tunnelling around Guildford and a flyover at Redhill to cross the Brighton mainline. Alas, as Mwmbwls has reported, to bring this project to fruition Network Rail has a battle on its hands with Tesco, who have applied for planning permission to build a supermarket there. It is quite likely that an engineering solution can be found that allows for both uses, so we confidently expected Network Rail and TfL to be gunning for the route to be safeguarded, and that their submission would carry some weight in the planning decision. Oh how wrong we were: the application has recently been rejected by Reigate and Banstead Council, but because of the effect that a supermarket will have on the local high street, rather than on any objections by the rail planners. Quite the reverse, Network Rail and TfL appear to have quietly dropped their opposition, and it is only a matter of chance that the application has been rejected and therefore there is still some breathing space to safeguard this alignment as a strategic route.

The dropped opposition is hard to fathom, and while several of our commentators have explored options following Part 2 there is precious little published analysis and thus little idea about the business case or the strategy. Mwmbwls will soon follow up with a post that explores the planning decision, the position of Network Rail and TfL, and what might happen next. In the meantime, Channel Tunnel freight will continue to go via the WLL, and progressively fill the capacity that TfL so desperately needs to secure for its burgeoning Overground services.

Who decides?

Back in Part 1 we noted how the development of a Strategic Freight Network, and indeed the 2007 Freight RUS, was a collaborative effort by a group of stakeholders led by Network Rail. As the Rail Engineer argues:

The unified approach has been successful in garnering funding for the sector. The Government’s Control Period 4 settlement included £251 million for Strategic Freight Network improvements from 2009 to 2014. In addition, £152 million was sourced from the Transport Innovation Fund and enabled a further £72 million to be leveraged from other sources.

This collaborative approach has yielded a comprehensive analysis of the problem, spread across a number of documents that we have drawn upon in this series. Yet it is still difficult discerning the process of investment decision-making, and indeed what the strategy is for rail freight in London.

The February release of the Mayor’s Rail Vision focuses on passenger services, but it is hard to see how TfL can take hold of the levers in inner-suburban London without having some control over decision-making for freight services which share these lines. We covered this evolving shift in strategic decision-making last year and drew attention to the three options presented in the NERA report for TfL: ‘The Costs and Benefits of Devolving Responsibility for Rail Services in London‘ (PDF). The more radical of the three options presented in the report was for some devolution of responsibility for rail infrastructure investment, and this could include freight projects. Indeed it could position TfL very favourably if it took responsibility for an integrated investment approach, overseeing projects that had both freight and passenger benefits and acting as the broker to ensure costs and benefits were equitably shared.

It is likely that new infrastructure projects on the orbital routes will require a business case that presents freight and passenger costs-benefits. Could a new TfL leadership role help bring these to fruition, and help reduce the fragmentation between the many stakeholders?

The need for a more integrated systems-based approach also recognises that resolving individual bottlenecks only pushes the problem onto the next point in the system. Someone needs to have a clear handle on the system as a whole. This then questions the validity of an investment approach that assesses the benefit-cost of individual projects rather than the benefit-cost of alternative packages of investments. This would provide a way of managing the many ‘what ifs’ when considering investment options system-wide.

What is clear is that London’s orbital routes will not be able to deal with the growth in freight and passenger demand, which raises fundamental questions about TfL’s ability to grow its Overground services and develop a network of “strategic interchanges”.

This will then limit the ability to reshape the London rail network to expand the core using the orbital lines alongside new cross-city routes. Therefore, as London continues to grow, the increasing passenger demand will continue to get focused on the city core.

Overall this could backfire on TfL, not only because its Overground services will be among the most overcrowded in London and yet have little potential for expansion, but also because overcrowding and reliability issues may raise questions about TfL’s capability to deliver a robust strategy for rail.

Alongside this we have seen a number of examples where routes or alignments are not being safeguarded by Network Rail or TfL, despite safeguarding being a stated aim in TfLs strategy and in the RUSs.

The inability for TfL and DfT to come to agreement on what appears to be an investment no-brainer with GOBLIN electrification does not bode well for any of the other schemes we explore here. As eyes and funds are focused on HS2, will there be any space left in decision-makers minds or budgets to consider the complex problem of rail freight in London?

Sadly a recurring theme is the gulf between aspiration and current investment reality, and this is resulting in capacity limits being hit in the near-term. But as ever we are by nature optimistic souls and, with a penchant for tying the threads together, we’ll follow on later with a look at the issue of freight and passenger on the orbitals in each of London’s quadrants N, S, E, W, on which we look forward to drawing upon the rich and welcome feedback from our Commentators.

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There are 86 comments on this article
  1. T33 says:

    Excellent article as always.

    The Redhill route is viable but as previously said there is a lot of extra work that needs to be done, not least on the part of the line I know well the A217 level crossing in Reigate would have to be replaced with a bridge and a extra tunnel built under Guildford station for the traffic to pass – I don’t see an investment in a freight only tunnel in Guildford being high on anyone’s priority. I think there may be other level crossing issues such as Wokingham?

    As far as the Redhill planning issue – Tesco’s planning company (Hermes) took the Reigate and Banstead Council decision to planning appeal and also lost that, purely because the site is not in the town centre where the council is trying to create regeneration. The new Sainsbury store having been approved and a new store being proposed by Asda on the “Cromwell Road” which is closer to the Town Centre and already identified as a potential location of a Food Store in the Redhill local plan.

  2. Greg Tingey says:

    DfT are totally useless – agreed?
    As for routes, I repeat that the loop shown is still too close in.
    The minimum should be new connections from Thames Haven to the GEML, then a Braintree-Stansted link.
    re-opening March-Spalding
    electrifying GOBLIN
    You are quite correct.
    It CANNOT go through London.

  3. Paul says:

    Further to the WLL discussion, the White City area, North of Westfield and South of the A40 Westway, currently presents opportunities that are likely to crumble away if the relevant vision and safeguarding are not put in place. The area consists of a number of shabby industrial units and old office buildings; none of which is particularly well utilised. Additionally the recent fire at the former Unigate site presents an additional opportunity. This entire area is already earmarked for substantial redevelopment.

    Meanwhile both stations down at Shepherds Bush are feeling the pressure of the crowds. Whilst we’ve devoted a lot of discussion to line capacity, it’s completely inconceivable to me that the present LO station in particular could in future cope with the projected levels of traffic, and the site is constrained significantly so expansion opportunities are limited. Equally the LU station feels crowded at most times of the day. Most of the traffic is for Westfield, but a significant number of people are crossing the bus station to interchange with LO.

    The White City area presents the opportunity of creating a fully-fledged, fully accessible strategic interchange between the Central, H&C and Overground, whilst simultaneously creating freight loops to hold trains waiting for GWML or WCML slots. Having cleared the industrial units and the ‘ugli’ office blocks alongside White City station, LO services could leave the existing WLL with a dive-under just NE of the Westfield complex, curving at sub-surface level to loop underneath the H&C arches into new platforms alongside the central line, with the existing overbridge at White City being extended to serve them, and a new overbridge at the south end of the platforms to link both LO and the central to the H&C station at Wood Lane. Neatly we create a fully accessible and very useful interchange between the three lines without the expense of deep level work, and the stations at Shepherds Bush are relieved of interchange traffic.

    Leaving the new station, still at sub-surface level, the line could then simply re-join the existing WLL in the vicinity of the westway; this would probably just about squeeze 750m freight loops out of the existing WLL alignment. Another option would be, with a very small number of residential demolitions, to continue the sub-surface alignment below Wormwood scrubs, leaving the entire section of the WLL north for freight.

    Following construction of the new sub-surface railway, the entire area is ripe for the major development which then can be built above – providing a significant source of funding for the project, and potentially a large number of new homes with excellent transport links and local amenities.

  4. Mwmbwls says:

    Could I point out that the image of the 66 at Wandsworth Road in this article marks the debut of Looper 23 as one the roving camera men about town who form part of the London Reconnections team. Welcome aboard. His Flickr photostream can be found here.
    http:[email protected]/
    We do not have enough hands, feet and eyeballs to keep the appetite of that rapacious tiger element of our readership happy – we need more right people in the right place at the right time. As they used to say of the National Lottery -it could be you. If you would like to join our gallant band please do not hesitate to contact JB via the link on our Home Page

    P.S. The photographers on our team don’t seem to get biten as often the writers by our tiger readership, not that I am in any way bitter and twisted about this – you understand.

  5. Highland Chieftain says:

    A new freight line as least as far as Lutterworth is an absolute must in the long term, with a reinstated connection to the Chiltern Main Line. The only question is whether the re-use by HS2 of part of the route to Brackley would require a new alignment here.

    Re. the East-West route, the latest thinking for the central section seems to be for a new line to Cambridge that would avoid the ECML entirely.

  6. Euloroo says:

    The bridge over Kentish Town Road in Camden is in a poor state of repair and leaks like a sieve so its demise won’t be missed. Interestingly half of the adjacent structure over Camden Gardens stops short at Kentish Town Road, as you can see from the OS base in the graphic. With the purchase of the property marked No. 51 on the plan, it really wouldn’t be that difficult, space-wise, to four track through there.

  7. swirlythingy says:

    It seems perverse, after all the talk about how freight services get in the way and gradually squeeze out passenger capacity, and with all the bottlenecks on the ECML, to be recommending, rather than a new and completely segregated alignment to Cambridge, an expensive takeover of an existing passenger line to Hertford instead. If there’s been one common theme in these articles, it’s that we simply have too many trains and too little track.

    This also applies to the proposal to route freight trains through a hundred yards or so of HS1 tunnel – even if it isn’t being used to capacity, the time lost from joining the line at relatively low speed and then leaving it again would result in just about the least efficient solution possible.

  8. swirlythingy says:

    Argh! I didn’t mean to press submit yet…

    If the Thames Gateway development is ever going to be meaningfully successful for rail freight, we need to address the fact that, unlike Felixstowe (which is already receiving a lot of investment on its outward route), the only routes away from it (Tilbury, GOBLIN, ECML, NLL) simply can’t handle any extra traffic. Something imaginative is going to need to be done, and soon.

    My main problem with these articles, and many like them at LR, is that too often they are rambling, unstructured, and difficult to follow. I think posting a clear and concise summary of your recommendations at the bottom (perhaps accompanied by a map) would do much to further your cause, rather than the vague stream-of-consciousness approach seen above with which such issues tend to be treated.

  9. Greg Tingey says:

    Did I interpret you as saying you wanted more photographs?
    I am about London quite a lot, very often at railway syations for professional reasons (part-time retirement work), but although I have a “photobucket” page, I usually just keep my pictures.
    If you want more, or specific subjects, please let me know (you must have my e-mail somewhere, if only on your rerading of this one!).
    I’d be only too happy to oblige…

    THAT is really sensible – so it won’t happen, will it?

    I’ve already hammered this one.
    We know (but of course DafT doesn’t and won’t be told) that NEW track to the East & North of London is the only answer.
    East-to-North curve at end of branch.
    New line joining ex-LTS to Ex GER main line, somewhere in the Shenfield area (+ an extra two tracks, AT LEAST as far as Shenfield / Chelmsford N / Witham(?) see also second “option” below…..
    Then you get options ….
    re-open Braintree-Stanstead, double track whole way + Stansted N curve.
    Extra tracks / loops all the way to Haughley Jcn + re-open March-Spalding.

  10. Mwmbwls says:

    You could well be the right man in the right place at the right time for us. As I have said we are sensitive to the gaps in our coverage and welcome either budding writers or ripened photographers to join the ranks. Who knows after a spell getting used to it you might be tempted to join the writing team as well. Although this is unpaid work, I and all the others in the team find it very rewarding. Drop a message to JB through the link on the home page. We tend to use Flickr as our image exchange resource but no doubt once closet computer techophobes such as myself get the hang of it – Photobucket may prove equally effective.

    PS Apologies to Looper 23 and Lemmo – You, unlike me can tell a 59 from a 66, at more than twenty paces – (Note to self -Book appointment at opticians pdq).

  11. Alex says:

    I second the call for more maps.

    anyway. I think the big issue here is that London remains hugely core-centric to the railway network. However, because of decisions taken in the 1850s, the infrastructure is terminus-heavy – compare Berlin, for example. Over time, it’s changing, but there is so much earth to move…

    I think there is a need to decide whether being the navel of the universe is a good thing or a bad thing. Is it a national-level structural problem that so much freight has to squeeze through that very specific slice of north London, or is it a London-level economic advantage that it’s the railfreight centre in the same way it’s the air transport, telecoms, media, and finance centre (and soon will be the sea freight centre again when the new container terminals open)?

    If 1), we need to look at building out of town and optimising the rail network to keep freight out of London entirely. This is inevitably DfT Rail’s problem as it’s a UK federal, strategic question.

    If 2), we need to look at how London can make a virtue of the problem, accept that it’s between the North and the Channel and freight moving between the two will tend to go that way, and fix the problems through civil engineering. That implies things like tunnelling in the Thamesside/Tilbury-HS1 and the link across Camden Town, plus upgrading out west. Given how much major engineering inside London costs due to tunnelling and also the political cost of multi-year planning inquiries (the dominant factor in UK infrastructure politics), we will need to pick a route and drop the others. As the docks/Chunnel->northern main lines bit is unavoidable, the southern bit won’t happen and we’ll need to go northabout to reach the Great Western and South Western. And I’d like to see some thinking about how London benefits from this scenario – where can we put a “railway port” as a development area? (Well, there was that big goods yard…) Now, TfL and the mayor are much more important in this case.

    I can’t help but suspect that 2 is interesting but politically impossible. It’s going to be a huge pain getting HS2 into Euston past the gentrification/property lobby as it is. Nobody’s going to be allowed to build a railway in Primrose Hill. Much as I like the idea of a massive white concrete rail flyover hurtling over South End Green carrying the Manchester-Moscow TGV.

  12. DJB says:

    To me it seems that if it comes to a choice between more freight or more passenger services, then Northern freight is of no benefit to Londoners and TFL should have priority on track space.

    Perhaps a better question would be why are we unloading containers for the North, in the South East? Surely a South West port would be easier for the shipping companies to dock at. The other option is to move freight from Tilbury to Hull by boat and put it on a train there.

    The simplest solution might be to tax unloading ships in the SE and then let the market find a better place to unload.

  13. Greg Tingey says:

    I was thinking of an L_R archive of photos, actually, thus avoiding the vulnerability of any “online” resource managed by a 3rd party.
    Can I ask you to forward this idea to JB?

  14. John Bull says:

    Slightly off topic, but yes – that’s why you’ll notice all our photos these days are served from “” and we mirror all images (once we’ve got permission to use them) rather than hotlinking/embedding the original source.

    The CDN has been setup with multiple levels of redundancy/backup to make the chances of us suffering a fotopic-esque calamity as minimal as possible.

    And as we’re off topic already – we agree on the maps. The main problem is that none of us are particularly strong in the graphic arts. What we really need is some kind of “staff cartographer!”

  15. John says:

    A flyover at Werrington (just north of Peterborough) would be cheaper than March-Spalding reopening and release a smidgen of ECML capacity, too

  16. timbeau says:


    There is considerable resistance in Lincoln to any expansion of freight traffic over the “Joint Line” – understandable given the city’s abysmal passenger service and the way the railways bisect the city, with two of the only four crossings of the railway being by level crossing – on more than one occasion a stalled freight train has manged to block both of them at once!

    Time was, thirty years ago, there were three railways across the city, but in a singularly short-sighted move BR closed two of them (one of which had no level crossings) and routed everything through the one closest to the City Centre – and also closed the station on the west side of the High Street, trains that used to terminate from the newark direction (about 50%) now have to cross the High Street where previously they did not.

  17. ashbro says:

    Connecting Hertford East and Hertford North to offer an east-west link is frequently offered up as a potential development. After all there are few towns of this size (approx 25 000) with two train stations on different lines. Up until about 10 years ago this would have been feasible as the alignment was preserved across Hartham Common, under Port Vale bridge, along the bottom of Bengeo and across the North Road. However over the past decade large amounts of this alignment has (foolishly, IMOH) been built over with new residential developments. Tunnelling really doesn’t seem an option in a historic market town with large numbers of listed buildings (let alone the fabled tunnels of the Knights Templar and the supposed resting place of the Holy Grail!), and a high water table (the nearby Meads are designed to flood extensively as overspill for the New River and Lea Valley). So I don’t think it’s a case of public objection, just short-sightedness from the town/county planners and now total impracticality.

  18. swirlythingy says:

    @JB: As it happens, I am a bit of a map fan myself, and I’ve designed several purely for my own amusement. Promising any kind of geographic accuracy would probably be unwise, but as long as it’s kept strictly diagrammatic I should be able to knock something up for you. Drop me an email if you want to discuss this further.

  19. Mwmbwls says:

    JB – re swirlythingy’s kind offer – “Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero” – as Horace so pithily put it.

  20. Greg Tingey says:

    Maps – would a scanned image from “Cobb” – if wanted in a particular area, be of use?
    Ditto from the “Railway Junctin Diagrams”
    I have both, and scans can be sent on request ……

  21. Fandroid says:

    Several commenters have alluded to the need to tunnel to avoid Guildford station, as part of works needed for a Channel Tunnel to GWML route. I’m relying on memory, but my feeling is that it’s not the station that needs to be avoided. While there may not be running lines on the west side of the station, there’s plenty of ex goods yard (nowadays it’s car parking). There were, may even still be, some carriage sidings there. There are two 2-track tunnels on the Portsmouth side of the station, with a short length in the open between them. At the very least these would require track-lowering for W10 gauge. Capacity from the station through the tunnels to Peasmarsh Junction may also be issue, as all Portsmouth line trains share those tracks with North Downs line trains. To make matters worse, it’s been a recent practice to turn round the eastbound stopping North Downs trains at Shalford, presumably to free up platform space at Guildford. So they run through this section although the passenger traffic for Shalford is unlikely to merit it. Peasmarsh Junction may be a problem too, altough there is probably room for a flyover (it’s a bit wet for a dive-under, hence the name!). Extra tunnels on the west side may be feasible, but the short inter-tunnel gap is in the fairly posh Guildford fringes, so might be difficult to bridge (metaphorically speaking). At the north portal near the station, is where the loco depot used to be. It now contains a multi-storey car park. If cash were available in sufficient quantities, that (or just some of it) could go, and the remaining carpark nearer the station could have decks constructed to compensate for all spaces lost. Having done all that, the line for Reading heads off westwards just north of the station, so joining that with a freight line should not be too difficult.

    At the Reading end, the Reading Total Demolition (sorry – Enhancement) Project includes the revival of the ancient and long-abandoned dive-under connecting the lines on the north side with the old South Eastern route to Guildford. It looks quite steep and curvy, so may not be suitable for freights, or even big enough for W10.

    Having solved Guildford, all we need now is to crack Redhill, Reigate and Wokingham.

  22. Fandroid says:

    Not a continuation of my last comment.

    Paul makes some clever suggestions concerning the Westfields/White City area.

    Ever since the Old Oak Common HS2 station was proposed, along with a Crossrail station there, I’ve pondered on how it would be much more useful if it could house a WLL station too. Most proposals show a station for the NLL, but that doesn’t have the same usefulness as one on the main ‘orbirail’ route connecting to Clapham Junction.

    My Joe Brown London atlas shows that the Central Line route from north of White City to North Acton and beyond used to be 4-track. If that space still exists, then it would make sense to divert the WLL along it from White City to join the NLL just north of the GWML, and both could share an Old Oak Common station there. Then the whole of the remaining WLL from White City northwards, could be filled with parked (or moving) freight trains.

    DJB. The Port of Liverpool is building deep water berths for container ships right on the Mersey. (I assume that Seaforth Docks depend on dock gates) That should divert a fair number of ships with cargoes for NW England away from Southampton and the east coast ports. I suspect tho’ that individual ships carry containers bound for all over the UK, and they like to stop only once here, before tripping gaily off to Rotterdam with cargo for the rest of Europe. That would mean that Southampton and the east coast ports would remain attractive to them, as those ports are on their direct route through the Channel.

  23. Greg Tingey says:

    Indeed now that the spirit of Hatton (who nearly destroyed the city) is dead, Liverpool is reviving as a port.
    There’s another reason, of course.
    IF one can reliably trans-ship there, then the ships do not need to get to Rotterdam or anywhere else on the European mainland – they won’t need to navigate either around the top of the Orkneys, sincegoing through the Pentland Firth is NOT recommended, nor up one of the two most crowded waterways on the planet, the English Channel; the other is off Singapore.
    Plus it saves a couple of days’ sailing, at least.

    However, and again, this means reaching not “just” the UK, but the chunnel, and without going through London, at all, if it can be helped.

  24. NLL Man says:


    Re the four tracks north of White City. This would be the ideal route; unfortunately the two WR tracks which were north of the Cental Line tracks have been built over for a distance of half a mile west of the A40/ Wood Lane Junction. You can see a chain of long thin buildings on Google Earth. I’m pretty sure they are social housing, which would make relocation of tennants to new properties delivered through planning gain on the north White City site possible; otherwise its a non-starter.

    I do like Paul’s idea, though. It neatly solves several problems: connecting both the WLL and NLL to a new hub at Old Oak, providing long freight loops on the existing section, and providing a second WLL station serving Westfield, with long enough platforms for 8 car Southern trains to stop. And all potentially paid for by developers.

    Does anybody from TfL read this blog? If you do, please give this one some serious thought.

  25. Mark Ranger says:

    As a member of the team that objected to the infamous Cambridge Guided Busway, one of our points (and backed up by the Rail Freight Group) was that keeping the former Cambridge- St. Ives line as a railway allowed potential freight traffic. It was of little use in the state it was in, but it was the strategic route value that was important. If you look at the map in part 2 of this article, and you follow a more or less east west route from Felixstowe, you come to Daventry. That mirrors the route taken by the A14 road, which is the root cause of most of the traffic problems that the guided busway has done nothing to ease (okay, you have guessed, I am still bitter and twisted).

    My point is simple – it needs to be, I don’t have the technical expertise that many of your clearly possess. With a rail corridor that runs truly east to west from Felixstowe, not west, north, round a bit then over, or west, southwest round the houses and ends up in Oxford, you can remove a lot of the traffic that is currently routing via the NLL area, you move road traffic from the A14, and you would have had a rail based public transport system that would have made a really joined up difference to the locals (more information at

    But, and this was the big but in the Cambridge case – you needed political support to achieve this, and that was directed solely towards the busway, partly for political empire building, and partly to get government money, which was only available for a busway (so we were told)

    It doesn’t neatly join Oxford and Cambridge, but I’m not sure the current East West plans do that either.


  26. Fandroid says:

    Greg. Back in 2000, I witnessed the installation of a monster TBM for the second bore of the Botlekspoortunnel, a rail tunnel under one of Europoort’s (Rotterdam) feeder channels. That tunnel was due to connect to the Betuweroute, an electrified new exclusively freight railway from Rotterdam to the German border. The tunnel was gauged for double-stack containers. (What’s that in gauge codes anyone?).

    The Dutch take their mega-port very seriously, and were investing 12 years ago in facilities that we are not even dreaming about now. How long will it be before we get a route to the comparatively small GB+ gauge between Liverpool docks and HS1 ? Anyone care to make a prediction? The Channel is very crowded, but those dastardly continentals are used to stuffing zillions of tonnes of freight up even narrower waterways (the Rhine & the Danube). I suspect that

  27. Ian Sergeant says:

    @Greg gives some detail on the obstacles to a Spalding-March reopening. While I appreciate that it should never have closed, it looks to me to be extremely challenging to reopen. I appreciate that, if it were possible, the reopening would be a better long-term solution than grade separation at Werrington Junction as it would take traffic off the ECML, I really do think that the former is unlikely.


    Regarding Lincoln, couldn’t freight be diverted from the city by building a loop between the Sleaford line and the Grimsby line a couple of miles to the east of the city centre? This would be ideal for Humber ports traffic, and could keep traffic for north of Doncaster off the ECML by reversing east of Barnetby and use of the new improvement at Joan Croft Junction when it opens.

  28. Anonymous says:

    Several years ago various councils in the east of England got together to propose an extention of the M11 motorway northward from Cambridge to the Humber bridge. The rationale was based on the need to improve transport links in order to regenerate/ develop the economies of the region to the east of the A1 and, the route being sparsely populated and predominantly flat, construction should be relatively cheap. Needless to say nothig seems to have come of their proposal.

    It strikes me however that this would be an excellent corridor to develop an HS3 line, not least because I foresee the constraints of 2 track HS2 from London to Birmingham are rapidly going to lead to a filling of available paths. At the northern end of the line I would have it veer westwards relaive to the road route in order to serve Leeds and, with a northern spur, to joint ECML at York. East Midland destinations would be served by spurs from the line and extended loops used for stations along the route.

    This would lead to relief of ECML south of York allowing for development of freight services and improved passenger service frequencies along the route.

  29. Mark Ranger says:

    Re: Anonymous’ comments about an HS3, following the route of the M11. When we (we being pro-rail group CAST.IRON) tried to get rail favoured over the Cambridge Guided Bus, one of our arguments was that the overall traffic flows made this route well positioned – see for diagram that illustrates this.

    I know I am probably out of synch with many who post here, but I struggle with basic rationale for HS2 – although of course I accept the need for more capacity. But my point is that it simply doesn’t seem to join up with anything. Do we need to lob off 20 minutes or whatever the saving is betqween London and Birmingham, would the time and money be better spent really joining up our network, to be benefit of all concerned, passenger and freight traffic? And then using a far more uniform stock – eg Eurostar, ICE, TGV, Pendalino etc. In fact, isn’t that what the recent McNulty report said needed to happen?

    Freight comes in to Felixstowe, and via the Tunnel, as well as Southampton. So, isn’t the east side corridor more needed – in the overall scheme of things?

    Also, if Boris Island is a serious contender, then HS2 needs to be east of London, not west.

    I think HS2 has vanity project at its heart, hence the speed at which it has been pushed through. It’s funny how many hoops many of us need to go through to get our schemes anywhere near fruition, yet if government is onto what they believe to be a winner, then the progress is relatively breathtaking.

  30. Fandroid says:

    Mark Ranger

    You are right about vanity projects. However, nothing big and serious ever got built without someone with a bit of vision (however flawed) to push it through. HS2 may not the the best, but once it’s built ‘they will come’. I would rather have that than a bunch of bean-counters endlessly picking over titchy enhancements here and there. It will still connect with the East Midlands and Leeds on the east side whilst providing a route to where all the other northern folk live (on the west side!). Brum. in the West Midlands, is a serious destination too, so it would be daft to bypass it.

    Unfortunately for your freight ideas, just about all of the intermodal stuff heads for the North-West, so an extended M11 type route would still leave a gap to bridge across the Midlands or Pennines.

  31. Lemmo says:

    Thanks for these comments, some interesting discussions which we aim to pick up on in future posts.

    We’d still appreciate more information on the two Network Rail studies: ‘Routes to the North’ looking at 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 take on board the comments on the need for maps, and perhaps a precis on the longer articles.

    On the Redhill-Reading route, Mwmbwls will no doubt explore this in his forthcoming piece on the Redhill Tesco planning decisions.

    @swirlythingy, I am not recommending any particular new alignment, merely trying to present some options. Yes everything points to the need to create a new strategic freight rail route, but I am not convinced that there will be much appetite to promote or invest in this, given that HS2 is being proposed as the panacea for capacity problems. There is also likely to be substantial local opposition to a freight line without a sweetener such as new passenger services, and this may apply equally to intensification on existing lines such as GOBLIN. Perversely that may improve the case for new orbital links in London itself, where it may be easier to build a case for combined passenger and freight benefits.

    The suggestion of a route via the West Anglia Mainline is given as an option of what might be achieved using existing infrastructure, and as a shared investment project between passenger and rail. The key issue is not the route, it is the decision-making process, which is opaque. How easy is it for rail planners to develop integrated solutions?

    My understanding is that ECML capacity is limited largely by the Welwyn bottleneck, which is why a route using the Hertford Loop might have potential. If this used part of the Hertford East branch then it could help swing the investment decision to 4-track to Broxbourne. Whatever, @ashbro I bow to your local knowledge, and wonder why East-West Rail even bothered to look at this as an option.

    The use of HS1 for freight needs broader discussion, and we’ll no doubt return to this when we look further at a W12 route north. Agreed, the design of new links must allow freight to pass at speed, and we’d be interested to know how this might be possible at places like Dagenham, Stratford and Maiden Lane.

    @Paul, Fandroid and others, thank you and we will explore some of your ideas around White City in a forthcoming piece on Old Oak Common.

  32. Snowy says:

    Rather fun to reread this article in light of the Network Rail freight network study release.

    Confirms that growth is still expected, even if at a lower rate to that in the earlier studies which will continue to put pressure on overground routes. Fascinating statistic that 3,522 unused freight slots have been relinquished in the last 2 years but I can’t see many more in the London area being let go.

    Long term planning still involves routing a fair amount of Channel Tunnel & Essex port freight via the overground routes. Capacity improvement in the short term involves unspecifed/uncosted cross london enhancement works (which doesn’t include signalling headway reduction so I assume means timetable ‘massaging’ & removal of the odd speed restriction?) & electrifying the Thameside branch (finally).

    Long term options are considerably more costly & include forest gate grade separation, resignalling GOBLIN/Hampstead Heath tunnel & additional freight loop plus platform at Gospel Oak for both freight & a 6tph GOBLIN service! No last minute reprieve for four tracking in the Kensington Olympia area however.

    No routes along the Hertford East branch I’m afraid (although the West Anglia Mainline will be used as a diversonary route) but to facilitate avoiding London, options for a Pitsea to Ingatestone line will be investigated whilst work progresses on with the deferred Peterborough-Felixstowe enhancements.

    Finally, for those who like a railway reopening, Stourbridge-Walsall & Matlock-Buxton get an honourable mention (but no Lincoln or Leamside).

  33. Greg Tingey says:

    But, IIRC the GOBLIN electrification has been hamstrung-to-the-point-of-uselessness by DfT by removing/restricting/cancelling the few metres of connecting wire for the freight links to that line.
    Or am I out-of-date & the interconnections for through freight working actually be put in place?

  34. Graham H says:

    @Snowy -this also needs to be read in conjunction with a thoughtful piece from the former Head of Freight regulation at ORR in this month’s Modern Railways. It doesn’t make comfortable reading for freight operators: apart from deep sea boxes and aggregates, most other rail freight sectors either have no obvious future or are highly vulnerable to road competition. Classic rail freight traffics such as coal and steel continue to decline to vanishing point.

    If this forecast is true in the event, then there might be quite significant shifts in demand for freight capacity in the London area.

  35. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Greg – where is the evidence that DfT removed anything? If you read the report Snowy linked to you will see that there are three bits of GOBLIN related electrification that are for the future. One is to Tilbury Docks, one is in to Thamesside port and the final one is Junction Rd Jnc to Carlton Rd Jnc. If you go back a long way in the planning process the GOBLIN electrification works were *always* in two chunks. The first was the core passenger route and the second was the “twiddly” bits to link to other lines (ECML / MML and into the ports). What happened in the intervening period is that the DfT went bonkers and said “electrify everything in 10 minutes” and then didn’t like the bill for GWML nor NR’s efficiency. They then “sent in the Hendy” (to coin a phrase) to steady the ship and restore some sanity. This pushed back MML electrification so why on earth electrify a link to the MML when electric freight could get no further than Bedford? The curve to the ECML at Hornsey is being done now.

    The new report includes an estimate of £40m-50m for electrifying the GOBLIN / MML link which suggests to me that some pretty substantive work is needed to get clearances through the tunnel or some hefty structural work is needed. I don’t believe some cables, wires and mast / poles costs that sort of money. Given the public budget for the GOBLIN wiring is £125m I think it’s pretty clear that there was never funding to string wires to the MML – a third of the project budget for one tiny link? I think not. I’d argue getting wires into the ports is the more important thing otherwise we won’t be seeing a single electric freight train on the GOBLIN!

    I know you won’t agree because you want everything done *now* but I don’t see the point if MML electrification (a worthy and sensible project) has been pushed back for umpteen years. It’s also clear that to cater for more freight that other junction and track works are required elsewhere on the MML so surely more sensible to get your plans sorted, priorities assessed and then finalise a scope for the MML covering electrification and freight works in one overall programme and do that work properly?

  36. Alan Griffiths says:

    Walthamstow Writer 31 August 2016 at 11:06

    “electrification (a worthy and sensible project) has been pushed back” as follows:

    1) linespeed improvements, bridge raising: ongoing
    2) Derby station remodelling: December 2017
    3) electrification Bedford to Corby: December 2019
    4) electrification Kettering to Nottingham & Derby: December 2023
    5) electrification Derby to Sheffield: December 2023

    Last I heard.

  37. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Alan G – thanks. I’d venture to suggest that 2023 is therefore the time when the GOBLIN / MML link will need to be ready. I doubt there’s much to be gained from electric hauled freight to Corby. Further north is surely the objective?

  38. ngh says:

    Another tasty morsel from page 71:
    “The Kent Route Study is currently under development and will be published in draft in Autumn 2016. A potential choice for funders that is being considered is to add a third track between Peckham Rye and Nunhead.”

    Presumably on the section that was built for 4 track south east of where the Catford Loop crosses the SLL…

    The MML – Goblin link costs also includes rebuilding Gospel Oak station (non NLL part) to take 6tph without getting in the way of freight (4tph) on Goblin or any NLL services (overlaps…) hence the £££.

  39. timbeau says:

    Goblin already has an electrified connection at the Barking end – used by the occasional C2C services to/from Stratford as well as potentially by freight from the Tilbury line towards Stratford and the NLL. It will presumably be connected at the Gospel oak end to allow through running of electric trains between the Overground routes (e.g stock transfers of class 710s between the Goblin and Wat-Eus lines).

    I thought I had read that the connection to the MML was electrified to allow 319s an alternative route for stock transfer between north and south if the Thameslink core is blocked, but it seems that never happened.

    Although not as dodgy as third rail traction in old fashioned marshalling yards, (why is why classes 70 and 71 were also fitted with pantographs) electric traction all the way into a container port is tricky, because it precludes handling the containers by crane. Merry go round operation, which requires minerals to be loaded by hopper, has similar problems. The new electrodiesel class 88 currently being built is one answer.

  40. Greg Tingey says:

    Actually, I do agree – if the MML electrification is being postponed (& it is) then there’s no point in doing that link right now.
    I was under the mistaken impression that no links were going to be joined up – hence my question ….

  41. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Greg – fair enough! There is only the one “line to line” connection not in the GOBLIN electrification scope.

    @ Ngh – thanks for that extra detail behind the high costing number. Rejigging Gospel Oak won’t be easy.

    @ Timbeau – I took it as read that the wires would link to the NLL and obviously I know there are wires at Woodgrange Park and on to C2C land. I was still scratching my head about wires in a container port with vertical lifting but I guess there are ways round that as you suggest.

  42. Graham H says:

    @WW/timbeau -another answer is a wagon progressor (effectively a capstan) – v popular in Russian oil terminals, I discovered.

  43. IslandDweller says:

    @ timbeau “Occasional C2C services to/from Stratford ” No longer occasional. c2c services via Stratford are now a regular timetable feature – aimed at Westfield and WestHam markets.

  44. IslandDweller says:

    To GrahamH comment about evaporation of many freight flows – such as coal. (As Graham comments) the flows that are holding up are containers from ports. Such as Felixstowe and the new London gateway. Aren’t these surviving services the exact flows that are causing patching conflicts around London?

  45. Sad Fat Dad says:

    Re electrifying the link to the MML from Junction Road Junction.

    1) it is indeed very tricky – the tunnel needs major work to fit the wires in.

    2) as said by others above, there is no point doing it until the MML is electrified to at least Leicestershire quarries (for some stone trains). Even then, given their final destination is usually off the wires, use of the Class 88s might be preferred, in which case why bother with the gap.

    3) it will be no use for container trains. No sooner does the link join the MML than it reaches Belsize tunnel (slow line). Said tunnel can not take anything greater than 8’6″ containers on conventional wagons. Rebuilding same to accommodate the (now) more prevalent 9’6″ containers on conventional wagons will be expensive and prolonged (months, not weeks). Note the entire MML Thameslink service uses this tunnel southbound. Of course there are lower floor wagons, but they are somewhat less popular with hauliers as they cost more and reduce efficiency in terms of containers carried per given train length.

    4) even if Belsize tunnel was sorted, 10 miles down the line is Elstree tunnel, same problem.

    5) (still on topic, just) which all calls into question the practicality of the proposed Radlett freight terminal, although the developer is now talking about housing on the site (quelle surprise).

  46. Graham H says:

    @IslandDweller – “pathing” conflicts perhaps? Yes, I agree though even those flows are vulnerable to bulk break in, say, Rotterdam, then onward movement by coastal shipping. The long term answer – assuming that these flows stay stable – is to redirect freight from Felixstowe to the W Midlands away from the NLL with attractive access charges which make up for the extra distance travelled. (A task that seems to be beyond the Regulator and certainly of no interest to NR…) The major problem long term may well be the WLL for traffic from the Channel to Willesden and the WCML, for which there is no obvious alternative. Lorry trains may well clip in to the container market, however, [Note to self – do I believe that driverless lorry trains will simply recreate the railway freight infrastructure, marshalling yards and all…?]

    The suggested future for freight in the MR article was to look at reviving wagonload traffic. This may be too simplistic – we lack the infrastructure to handle it now – and lorry offers door-to-door. German experiments with Windhoff vehicles and the Swiss experience with a wagonload PSO and a lot of marshalling and private siding capacity, doesn’t bode well.

  47. Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

    @Graham H: a scheme to use attractive access charges would certainly never happen as that might possibly require a small degree of “goverment intervention”….

  48. Graham H says:

    @SHLR – Blimey! Which century do you live in? Next, you’ll be advocating a strategy for network development. -;)

  49. Alan Griffiths says:

    timbeau 31 August 2016 at 13:58

    “Goblin already has an electrified connection at the Barking end – used by the occasional C2C services to/from Stratford”

    They are a bit more than occasional. The half-hourly Shoeburyness service now runs that way all weekend. c2c promote this change as benefitting shoppers heading to and for E20, rather than West Ham United fans.

  50. Malcolm says:

    Hmm. Odd that West Ham fans could benefit from trains being diverted away from West Ham station.

  51. IslandDweller says:

    Blasted autocorrect. As you guessed, I meant pathing but Apple is determined to insert patching. (Two edits already on this post to stop autocorrect overruling me,,,,!)

  52. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ SFD – thanks for even more illuminating detail and for confirming what was merely a hunch on my part about the tunnel link.

  53. Fandroid says:

    Malcolm. West Ham United fans getting off at West Ham would always have been very disappointed.

  54. Timbeau says:

    I think West Ham fans would have probably known to go to Upton Park. It’s the visiting fans who would be confused.

  55. Twopenny Tube says:

    @ Fandroid – all too often WHU fans have been able to stay at home to be disappointed.

  56. Greg Tingey says:

    Container freight from deepwater ports
    Given the sailing time involved, I might predict a continued slow revival of Liverpool, as then the ships don’t need to navigate one of the two most crowded patches of water on the planet – the Channel.
    With onward delivery to anywhere – problem are the freight-access charges, IIRC & the aforementioned lack of a sensible overarching strategy

  57. Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

    Greg: I doubt that it might help a Liverpool revival… Container ships are too big these days for the Mersey… I’m more inclined towards rail from China as is already happening. It only takes 7 days or so, including gauge changes!

  58. Graham H says:

    @SHLR -maybe a fortnight (but still quicker than sea)

  59. Sad Fat Dad says:

    But the train is a lot more expensive.

    Felixstowe is very handy for Rotterdam; the deep sea container ships will often do both from China / Far East, at minimal extra cost.

    London Gateway – well the ships have to sail to within sight of Felixstowe to gain the dredged channel. Logistically, Felixstowe and train to the midlands and north will always be quicker than Gateway to the same destinations.

  60. Malcolm says:

    While ecological considerations might perhaps favour a land journey from China to Europe (though not necessarily), it is hard to see it being economic: just make a fag packet guess at the number of staff-days required to bring one container. And even if rail is quicker than sea, most stuff to be conveyed is either time-critical, or it’s not. Time-critical stuff will come by air, “not stuff” by sea, and rail will be squeezed out of the middle.

  61. Graham H says:

    @Malcolm/SFD – nevertheless, the freight forwarders believe that it’s a market. Presumably -I think you may have forgotten this -the reduction in inventory in transit makes it worthwhilefor the manufacturers.

  62. ngh says:

    Re Malcolm,

    But deep sea container is more energy efficient than rail container shipment which is reflected in the cost as SFD notes.

    Re Greg /SHLR et al.

    1. Liverpool can’t handle anything big e.g. from the far east but is matched in maximum ship size to the East Coast US ports.

    2. The biggest far east container ships tend to do multidrop in Europe via the Channel so typically 3-5 ports from these groups:
    Felixstowe or Southampton [or London gateway]
    Antwerp or Rotterdam
    Hamburg or Bremerhaven
    Le Havre
    Baltic ports

    With a very limited number doing both local options in a country.

    Liverpool doesn’t fit in with this as it is a massive detour and too small.

  63. Sad Fat Dad says:

    There is unquestionably a market for containers by train across Asia, but it isn’t a big one. The time saving is around 18 days compared to maritime, but is still 7-8 days slower than air.

    High value, low volume goods (iPhones etc) will still fly. Low value, bulky stuff (the plastic contents of my kids bedrooms) will sail. Rail will take the mid range stuff where there is value in reducing inventory, but not sufficient value to stick it on a plane.

  64. ngh says:

    Or solve the inventory issue by doing what a number of firms have done by re-shoring (also solves skills shortages and high wage inflation issues in China)

  65. Graham H says:

    @ngh – these days, the very largest ships tend to make only one call per continent – the time and energy costs (plus the delays to containers not being unshipped at the first port of call) make multicalls uneconomic. Hub and spoke rules OK. Very few Baltic ports can take 250000 tonners.

    Most freight forwarders for whom I have worked are pretty categoric that their clients’ first priority is reliability rather than cost – presumably because of the impact on production cyclesin these days of wafer thin inventories and the costs of bunkering.

  66. ngh says:

    Re Graham H,

    Multi-stop was still the current calling pattern for 4 of biggest the lines when I checked earlier… (Maersk OOCL Lloyd etc)

  67. Graham H says:

    @ngh -thanks for that – I was drawing on a study of the deep sea shipping market undertaken by Dornier for the Saudi government in connexion with their abortive (and very foolish) plans for a land bridge across the Arabian peninsula.

  68. Greg Tingey says:

    I spent last weekend, when not dancing & drinking, sitting at the junction of the Dortmund-Ems & Mitteland-Kanals, watching the barges go by ( & get refuelled, as well).
    NOT ONE container. All bulk traffic.
    Which really surprised me.
    Didn’t see as much container traffic on DB as I expected to, either – very little, in fact.
    [ Train journey: Köln/Bonn Flughafen – Köln Hbf – Rheine, return. ]

  69. Graham H says:

    @Greg T /ngh – my curiousity being piqued, I looked into the offerings of various deep sea shipping operators. Whilst it is certainly the case that some – eg Maersk – appear to operate an all stations service from China to W Europe (Maersk routes AE1 and AE2) , it’s not obvious that every ship stops at every lamp post – in fact,they couldn’t because very few ports can take the largest vessels. If you turn to the port operators, only Wilhelmshaven claims to be able to take 400m ships and they are clearly set up for hub and spoke, which they advertise together with a list of shipping and rail operators who can take your stuff away. Same goes for Gdansk ,where the fairway draft is just – at 17m – enough to take 400m ships @16m draft, and again they expect boxes and bulk to be broken out and dispersed to the likes of Stockholm or Helsinki by secondary carriers. I suppose the point is that the hubs may be different but the principle is the same.

    BTWI was amused to see Gdansk advertising its ability to take 770m vessels -not yet seen in the Baltic (or anywhere else).

  70. Alfie1014 says:

    @timbeau There have been regular electrically hauled frieght trains on the LTS (c2c) since the NLL was wired in the 1980s. Currently a daily Tilbury FLT to Crewe service (normally 2 x cl86 or cl90) and Dagenham to Garston car train (cl90 or 92). Other services have run less frequently, including a short spell of Dagenham to Wakefield car trains via the ECML. In BR days in the 1980s there was even the occasional electrically hauled day excursion to Southend Central (class 85 and 86s) from the WCML. What the GOBLIN scheme was originally scoped to include was the liner terminal at Tilbury Riverside (on part of the site of the old passenger station), the London Gateway branch and connections to the MML.

  71. Alfie1014 says:

    Just read on another site that one of the major shipping lines that uses Tilbury is loooking to move to London Gateway and the rumours are that Frieghtliner are looking to move their centre of operations there too. That would reduce current service levels from Tilbury, though there is a certain amount of trip working between the two sites already. Even more of an incentive to wire the Gateway branch!

  72. Guano says:

    Re Snowy, 31st August. “No mention of Leamside”

    There is, however, reference to “new alignments between Northallerton and Newcastle”: very enigmatic.

  73. Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

    @Greg: Lack of containers: If you go and sit on the banks of the Rhine you’ll see plenty… Not so many on the train lines, mostly on the river.

    @Guano: new alignments: The bit around there is quite windy and just begging for someone to get out something bigger than a bunch of spades. It feels quite uncomfortable on a 225 at speed.

  74. timbeau says:

    When I was staying there, there seemed to be a lot of freight traffic of both kinds (containerised and bulk carrier) on the railway running along the Rhine, as well as on the river itself.

  75. timbeau says:

    alongside the Rhine, before the pedants pick me up on it

  76. Anomnibus says:

    [Can I remind Anomnibus, and anyone who might feel tempted to follow him into these possibly-fascinating regions of European comparative railway histo-geography, that this site is called London Reconnections for a reason. Typically commenters can expect to have essays like the one which follows removed in their entirety. However, parts of this one have been left “pour décourager les autres”. Malcolm]

    The balance between road and rail freight inevitably varies from country to country, and even region to region, according to contextual factors like, geography, how well alternative modes compete, and national policies.

    In mountainous regions, like central Italy, Switzerland, Austria, etc., the medieval towns and villages were often perched high up on [SNIP]

    Italian railway engineers usually picked a convenient location within easy reach of pack animals or horse and cart and let the locals sort out the details of how to get their goods to and from the station’s goods yard. These stations could be so far away from the towns they purportedly served that entirely new towns sprang up around them, often with names like “[TOWN] Scalo”. (“Scalo” translates to “stop”, “yard” or “layover”, according to context.) Orte, on the Rome-Florence railway, is an example of this: the urban area you see around the station is Orte Scalo; the medieval town of Orte itself is some distance away up a hill.

    In Switzerland, the more difficult terrain meant it was easier to justify bringing the railways as close as possible to the towns at the expense [SNIP]

    Italian rail freight tends towards train-load and bulk loads, with only a few container flows. Italian and Swiss industries grew alongside the railways and [SNIP]

    The Swiss, living as they do in a ‘crossroads’ country, have other priorities when it comes to road and rail freight.

  77. timbeau says:

    Just to add that comparisons with continental freight operations are anyway likely to be unhelpful because the UK is perhaps the antithesis of Switzerland in this regard. Not only on the edge of the continent, but separated from it, so that there are very few flows of more than 400 miles without the need for transhipment or specialised rolling stock. I gather very little freight in Japan goes by rail.

  78. Anomnibus says:


    Every country needs to assess its infrastructure and define policies according to its own specific needs.

    Other countries can provide hints at common design patterns, but those patterns will often be obscured by a mass of details applicable only to that particular country and / or use case.

  79. CdBrux says:

    I hope this is not considered too far removed from London. I notice some conversation about the port of Liverpool and possible effect on freight balance in UK / London. Peel (well known if not universally liked across the north) have made a significant investment in the port of Liverpool so it will now be able to handle Panamax ships. Some investments in the local rail infrastructure to move the increasing volumes away from the port are also under discussion if volume really expands.

  80. Matt says:

    Does anyone have an idea as to why 4 tracking Camden Road West Junction has not been considered? It seems it could enable the connection Watford DC – East London Line freeing up space at Euston (which is wasted on 5-car trains anyway)?

  81. Sad Fat Dad says:

    Matt – it has been considered. It is very, very expensive. Also, there isn’t any spare capacity to put the Watford DC line trains east of Camden without removing something else.

  82. Greg Tingey says:

    Unless you 4-track practically all the way to Stratford (!)
    Do-able, but the potential cost – never mind the BCR ratio – put it out of bounds

  83. answer=42 says:

    Or you revived the plan to 4-track Camden-Highbury. Probably poor value for money, though.

  84. Sad Fat Dad says:

    Answer=42. There’s already 4 tracks most of the way from Camden to Highbury.

    Greg. In fact there are 4 tracks all the way to Stratford. It’s just that 2 of them are about 30 metres underground.

  85. Matt says:

    Sad Fat Dad- Is the expense due to the need to replace bridges along the short section of new track or the short bit of new viaduct west of Camden Road station? It seems strange that it hasn’t been brought back up as a mitigation measure during the Euston closure or even that you have what could be a considered a cross London line that terminates (while in a good place for onward connections) in Zone 2.

    Greg- Im not sure why you would go all the way to Stratford? My thought was that there would be two pairs of lines running in parallel, one pair for the East London+Watford DC lines and the other pair for the North London Line. It would simply be a continuation of the 4 tracks that run to Highbury and Islington.

  86. Walthamstow Writer says:

    @ Matt – we revisit the “Camden Rd bridges” issue about every 2-3 years. Many moons ago there was an announcement by Geoff Hoon when he was Transport Secretary (for about a nanosecond) that a few tens of millions of quid would be spent on replacing the bridges and adding the capacity. There was a DfT press release to this effect but it’s vanished from the web. Then nothing happened. Then it emerged that TfL had reassessed its service pattern for the upgraded Overground and concluded it (and the freight businesses) didn’t need the capacity at that location. I don’t think very much has changed, despite the never ending dreaming of rail enthusiasts, to alter the volume of freight or pattern of passenger service. Yes Euston might, one day, be rebuilt for HS2 and, yes, there may or may not be an impact on the DC service into Euston but none of that is enough to warrant tens of millions being spent at Camden Road. I think, but am happy to be corrected, that Camden Rd station would require some element of rebuilding if tracks were to be reinstated and I don’t imagine that comes cheap. The final comment is that with the GOBLIN electrified next year it is possible that some freight will be diverted away from running via Camden and Highbury and will go via Gospel Oak and the GOBLIN instead.

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