With the recent introduction of six more trams and a new service pattern, the time seems right to look both back at, and forward to, changes to Tramlink. In the first part of this article we provide an overview of the London tram scene – such as it is – and look at some of its history up until now. Before doing so, a brief note: TfL insists on calling south London’s premier light rail system “London Tramlink.” This is to be consistent with London Buses, London Underground and London Overground. To almost everyone else though – including the DfT – it is generally “Croydon Tramlink,” or just “Tramlink.”

Click map to enlarge. The current Tramlink network including the new route 4 which at present runs between Elmers End and Therapia Lane.

Tramlink – forever unique in London?

We are going to stick our neck out a little and suggest that Tramlink will be the only tram network we will see again in London, even though a few years past it appeared that there would be a brief tram renaissance. Many schemes were proposed, with two showing particular promise. These were an ambitious scheme in West London and the even more ambitious Cross River Transit, that would run through central London.

Unfortunately the West London Tram scheme incurred a lot of opposition. To make matters worse, that resistance was from highly organised professional people undaunted by the prospect of taking on the legal challenge of opposing the scheme. Because it was primarily an on-street scheme it did have a lot of disadvantages that the objectors could exploit. Initially it survived because it was based in a Borough where the Labour majority was in favour of the idea. Their majority was small, however, and so it was no surprise when the scheme was abandoned once the local Conservatives were in control. The lesson learnt was a harsh one.

Cross London Transit (CRT) had all-party support, although some influential Conservatives were vehemently against it. Like West London Tram, the reason given for abandonment was because the money was not available, but it could be argued that the time for on-street trams had by then come and gone. The capacity of CRT trams would not have been as much as those of Croydon – they would have had 2 + 1 seating unlike Croydon’s wide trams. Such trams in capacity terms are merely oversized buses rather than undersized trains. The narrower trams meant that in places buses could not share the infrastructure so the potential delay to buses had to be factored in. The cost of providing on-street trams showed no sign of coming down as expected and the cost of moving utilities continued to mount. Furthermore there was a gradual realisation that trams were not going to have the ability to solve major capacity problems, and that if growth continued as it seemed likely to do then we had to stop thinking about trams and think again seriously about new underground rail lines.

A short but critical part of the Tramlink network. This photos is taken from the platform at Sandilands and is looking west towards Croydon. The strip of land occupied by the tram tracks was originally safeguarded for a road widening scheme that never happened. The road in question is a red route, the A232. Note the queue of cars waiting to cross the junction having been delayed by the trams.

As the above hopefully shows, Croydon was lucky. A disused rail alignment, two further railway lines in use but ripe for conversion and a short but critical strip of land safeguarded for a subsequently abandoned road scheme meant that on-street running would be minimal. Furthermore suitable new road and traffic management schemes could divert traffic away from nearly all the stretches that were to be shared with other traffic. It is unlikely such an opportunity will present itself again. Readers, especially those in North London, may point to proposals for some kind of Light Rapid Transit based around Brent Cross. TfL have never shown enthusiasm for this, however, and have even gone as far as stating that if the Dudding Hill Line were to have passenger services restored they would rather it was by a London Overground service.

A Brief History of Tramlink

The history of Tramlink is a long one but we will restrict ourselves to that which is relevant to the current day. Tramlink was approved by the government in the 1990s. One last minute hitch was a the withdrawal of £10 million of the necessary funding by the Treasury at short notice. Croydon Council was able to fund some of the necessary highway changes, and some savings were made by selecting less aesthetically desirable options, terminating at New Addington slightly short of the originally proposed location and replacing a proposed short tunnel under a main road with a crossing at ground level. One crucial cutback was a section of double track between Beddington Lane and the tram-over-rail bridge at Mitcham Junction.

Looking towards Mitcham Junction from a point just west of Beddington Lane stop. In the original Tramlink plans this would have been double track.

The Private Finance Initiative setup

Tramlink was to be run as a Concession with a DBOM (Design, Build, Operate and Maintain) contract. This seemed a good idea at the time but the flaw in this arrangement soon became apparent. Due to unexpected difficulties, mainly involving electrical earthing issues, Tramlink opened late and with no money coming in for a while its ability to show the projected healthy profit was deeply tarnished. The rational approach, given the commercial nature of the company, was to run the contracted service but otherwise keep a tight rein on expenditure and minimise any risk. This became apparent when the company was not prepared to improve on the contracted sparse evening service without a direct subsidy.

The situation reached near farcical proportions when a new stop at Centrale in central Croydon was built with developer money at TfL’s insistence. The stop was built at great cost but the company that had the tram concession decided not to use the stop. Their argument was that it would primarily divert existing custom rather than attract new passengers, so there was no benefit to them. At one point they were demanding an extra tram to be provided to enable them to continue to run the contracted service without increased risk of failing to meet their performance targets which would encounter a penalty. TfL on the other hand were in no mood to make any concessions whatsoever.

Centrale Tram Stop in central Croydon eventually opened in December 2005. It had been completed months earlier but a dispute between TfL and TCL meant trams passed without stopping.

How the Network is Used

The following is, of necessity, a simplified guide to traffic flows on Tramlink. As a very crude rule of thumb outward journeys tend to be from home to a major station, shops or central Croydon and vice versa for return.

The relevant stations that are major destinations are Wimbledon, East and West Croydon, Elmers End and Beckenham Junction. Birkbeck is one of the quietest National Rail stations in London and modal transfer here would either be minimal or non-existent. Mitcham Junction may see some inter-modal transfer but not on the same scale as the others.

The morning peak primarily consists of journeys to the major heavy rail destinations and the central Croydon stops. After the morning peak Ampere Way (for Valley Park shops – IKEA etc.) and to a lesser extent Waddon Marsh (Purley Way superstores) also become major destinations.

The surprise popularity of the Wimbledon Branch

During planning it was presumed that the New Addington Branch would be the busiest and that the Wimbledon branch would be relatively quiet. This assumption was largely based on the fact that the former Wimbledon–West Croydon rail shuttle ran every 45 minutes, and consisted of two carriages which weren’t exactly overtaxed by the demand. When a Rail Replacement Bus Service ran during conversion of the branch a bus would typically have one or two people on it. Indeed at the time some questioned why a minibus or even a taxi was not used instead.

It thus came as a complete surprise when Tramlink opened, and the Wimbledon branch was so busy that its 6 trams per hour (tph) soon proved to be inadequate. In retrospect we should not be so surprised, as the importance of a turn up and go service is now well recognised. Other reasons such as extra stops, a service to the heart of Croydon, relative cheapness and the perception that as it was new, it must be good, also played a part.

Merton Park Road Crossing. This is where the Wimbledon branch crosses the busy A238, the Kingston Road. Initially a service of 6 trams per hour (tph) in each direction used this crossing. It is now 8 tph and this could rise in future. To make matters worse the location is also a T road junction.

In contrast to the Wimbledon branch, passenger usage on the New Addington branch was slightly below expectations. This was a bit disappointing as one of the prime justifications for Tramlink was to provide the New Addington Estate, at the time of building reputedly the largest council estate in Europe, with a decent public transport service that was not 100% reliant on buses. The New Addington branch originally had 9 tph which was subsequently regarded as marginally greater than needed.

Change of Service Pattern

Originally Wimbledon trams ran to Elmers End every 10 minutes. It became the objective, however, to improve the busy Wimbledon branch and run 8tph along it. This was regarded as the maximum frequency that could be achieved with the existing infrastructure. The obvious expedient thing to do was to restructure the service and run a 8 tph Wimbledon-New Addington service, and this was thus done from July 2006. The remaining lines were covered by an Elmers End-Croydon Loop-Beckenham Junction service, which for passenger clarity was advertised as two separate lines. Line 1 was Elmers End to Croydon and Line 2 was Beckenham Junction to Croydon. Originally Lines 1 and 2 had a 10 minute service (6 tph) but it proved difficult to have sufficient trams in service and it was later reduced to a 12 minute service (5 tph) after the morning peak period.

One benefit of the revised pattern was the new ability to go directly from New Addington to places like IKEA served by Ampere Way. This improved service for shoppers was no doubt anticipated. What was not fully appreciated in Tramlink’s early days though was the number employment opportunities that had been taken up in the Valley Park retail outlets by residents of New Addington. Prior to the tram coming, such a commute would have been impractical or at least very difficult. Tramlink’s direct service, therefore, proved to have a major social benefit. A clear reminder that it is sometimes important to look at transport schemes from more than just a transport perspective.

Relationships Deteriorate Further

As time progressed the downside of the PFI contract really started to show. Beyond the day-to-day conflicts, two disputes arose which involved serious sums of money, and on at least two occasions the concessionaire, Tramlink Croydon Ltd, took TfL to court.

The crucial issues were:

  • TCL alleged that TfL had broken an agreement, express or implied, to recast bus services to feed in to Tramlink. Furthermore they were actually running routes that competed with Tramlink contrary to what was intended. TCL lost the case.
  • TCL alleged that they were entitled to charge a premium fare above the standard fare for a bus journey. Indeed this was initially the case but TfL chose to simplify the fare structure and charge the same price for trams as for buses. TCL won this case, but instead of a fares hike TfL compensated TCL for the loss of income.

The latter case cost TfL around £4 million in the first year in payments to TCL. Of course TfL could to some extent offset that against the need to contract fewer buses to provide the necessary service. It could also be argued that, so long as there was unused capacity on the trams making the marginal cost negligible, this solution would appear to be the best use of resources overall. Nevertheless this was an ongoing cost that TfL would rather not have had.

TfL takes Over

As the relationship between TCL and TfL continued to deteriorate, the ultimate outcome became somewhat inevitable. The investors behind TCL had already written off their capital outlay and a tram system with no realistic prospect for growth is not the sort of investment that a Venture Company like 3i wants on its portfolio. Furthermore it was clear that the concessionaire would always be a hostage to TfL policy decisions over which they had very little control. Any hopes of benefiting from their experience and being in a good position to bid for other tram schemes in the country was also rapidly becoming a non-starter.

TfL, on the other hand, must have been equally frustrated. Flushed with the success of London Overground, they were keen to see Tramlink prosper and grow in the same way. Options to improve things which should have been easy to implement – such as a decent evening service, a spruce up of the stops or a refurbishment of the trams were unachievable. It was pointless making grandiose plans for the future with no control over either the finance or the implementation. What is more, the £4 million compensation payment mentioned above was an annual charge and only likely to increase as time went on.

It therefore came as no surprise when it was finally announced that TfL had bought out TCL for £98 million. TfL justified the expense at the time by emphasising that they would no longer need to budget over £4 million per year to pay TCL. Effectively they were investing their money at around 4% interest. Even if they had to borrow the money it represented a solid investment, as TfL can borrow money at extremely advantageous rates. One suspects that the owners of TCL were just as pleased with the deal in the end.

TfL get busy

In June 2008 TfL became the outright owners of Tramlink. They moved quickly to gains some “quick wins” with a new colour scheme and tram refurbishment as well as some improvements to stops. Overdue track replacement was also carried out. By now the number of annual journeys exceeded 28 million, however, on a system only designed for 24 million. Regardless of what improvements were finally decided upon, more trams were clearly needed.

Unfortunately an order for a small batch of new trams was always going to be very expensive, so TfL asked for expressions of interest to supply up to ten trams, probably secondhand, to supplement the existing fleet. Once they could establish how many trams they could get hold of they could then make appropriate improvements to the infrastructure to use them to best advantage.

As it turned out, TfL hit something of a jackpot. As we have previously reported, by an enormous stroke of luck TfL were offered six suitable new trams at very competitive prices, and so the idea of procuring some secondhand trams was quickly abandoned. In part 2 we will look at the work done to accommodate these trams, and the revised service that has been provided as a result. We’ll also look at the network today critically and identify its good and bad points. Finally, we look towards the short term future and what services we may expect in the next year and beyond.

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There are 112 comments on this article
  1. Andrew Bowden says:

    I’m an occasional Tramlink user I can say services have improved a lot under TfL. Worth noting that whilst TfL did take over, one element of the old contract remains – operation of the Tramlink still remains with First Group just as it did under TCL.

    Now though ticket inspectors are far less likely to present you with a rather random looking “First” branded ID badge though! The old badges gave no indication at all that the inspector worked for Tramlink – they could have been anyone.

  2. Benedict says:

    Is it perverse to hope that one day a tunnel is dug under central Croyden, and the whole thing just converted to an extension of the DLR? Having a myriad of seperate different systems was exactly the kind of thing the LPTB tried to minimise on…

  3. mr_jrt says:

    Thanks for another great article. On a tangent, would it be possible to use something like geohack for the map links? – I.E. Beddington Lane

  4. Ben says:

    Where does the notion of the cross river tram using narrow, 2+1 seating trams, come from? This would seem perverse in a new-build system. I recall much longer trams than Croydon’s being proposed as well.

  5. Innocent Abroad says:

    I worked briefly for Croydon LBC in the early 1990s, tho’ not on Tramlink. For some reason it was supposed that it would sustain the (failed) bid for City status – I never could work out how they came to that conclusion.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This article has broken HTML preventing it from being displayed in some RSS readers and possibly some browsers. The opening h2 tag is not closed in the following heading:

    <h2The surprise popularity of the Wimbledon Branch</h2>

    Also, across the site, the RSS link in the HTML head section is incorrectly linking to “” which does not exist, this should be pointing to the domain. The on-page RSS icon in the page header links correctly.

  7. John Bull says:

    Thanks Anonymous – should both be fixed.

  8. Andrew Bowden says:

    Benedict – Funnily enough I was pondering the other day quite why the DLR has never been merged in to London Underground.

    I mean, to the passenger what’s the real difference? The DLR has trains that run at high frequency. So does the tube. You have to touch in and touch out. Just like the tube. Okay so most of it runs outside of tunnels. But so does the tube.

    Trains are different. But then the trains are different between the Central and Northern lines.

    There are no doubt many reasons why its never happened. But I’d be interested to know just how many of them actually are good, solid sensible reasons that – in the grand scheme of things – actually make sense as opposed to making a more unified, coordinated system overall.

  9. ChrisMitch says:

    TfL’s reason for branding Tramlink as ‘London’ Tramlink makes no sense when you also consider the ‘Docklands’ Light Railway.

  10. Rational Plan says:

    I feel this article glosses over the disaster that was the West London Tram, and makes to sound as if it was some trifling problem with Nimbys.

    Street running at the western end of the scheme was not a problem as this was mainly along a dual carriageway. It was once it got to Southall and then the prewar housing to the East the real problems began. As the road was narrow along large parts, several proposals to keep the trams moving ended up sinking the scheme.

    These were; the demolition of properties at road junctions, so the junctions could be widened for new right turn lanes. Elimination of parking and loading in front of businesses and homes. The worst was the closure of the main road to all but trams at certain points with all traffic diverted down parallel residential roads (with their parking eliminated as well).

    It was not just that the Conservatives won Ealing it was that every Labour councilor, but one was defeated at that election at the height of the controversy. It is this that put paid to street trams in London. All those consultation exercises where no one actually listens or changes their mind were for nothing until people were upset enough to vote about it. After all Ealing might have gone Tory but TFL was in Kens hands at the time, he could have ridden rough shod over the voters if he wanted. But it was the that election that concentrated minds and a that point Cross river transit was dead, it just took a couple more years before they would admit it.

    Street trams could be built in London, but they would have to accept them getting stuck in traffic, if they want to avoid the political problems of previous schemes.

  11. JamesB says:

    I just wish it had come to Colliers Wood (Underground) via Haydon’s Road (Thameslink) and Wandle Park as was once planned.

  12. Taz says:

    The need for CRT was partly to relieve overcrowding on the Northern Line even post the current upgrade, but subsequent plans for an Upgrade 2 with Camden Town reconstruction weakened this case. Having dropped CRT, Upgrade 2 also lost its way!

  13. Greg Tingey says:

    CRT could & should have been made to work with trams identical to Croydon’s – I never realised that some idiot/moron had proposed they be SMALLER than the Croydon ones, for a potentially much busier service!
    Also, they were Ken’s pet project so BoJo had to cancel it, didn’t he?

    WLT was very badly planned, especially in the Ealing area, though Southall wasn’t much better.
    Again, it COULD have been made to work, but not in anything like the (track) fromat proposed – what on earth were they thinking (or were they not thinking?)

    London-exceptionalism again …
    Trams work very well indeed in Manchester / Nottingham / Amsterdam / every major German city, so why can’t we do it?

    Extensions from existing network
    Almost certain, I’d say … but which one first?
    Up to Crystal Palace (& best of all, right to the top of the hill?)
    Down to Purley?
    Across to Bromley & linking both N & S stations (& taking over Bromley N branch??) ?
    Divert @ Wombledon & along to Streatham (where would you fit it in at the East end?)?

    Last point.
    There is/was a Croydon Tramlink web-site, written by the late J Parascandolo (Killed in a car-crash – he was a signalling engineer) it is still available, & is worth a lot of study.

  14. Mikey C says:

    Rational plan

    I agree, knowing friends in Ealing, they all hated the scheme (and this includes people who use public transport a lot)

    By effectively shutting off parts of the main road through the area, there would have been traffic chaos in the area, as everything was diverted along side roads, including bus routes, which would have been chopped to force people to change onto the trams.

    Trams on streets work best if you have wide, empty boulevards of the sort which are rare in London, or are in the centre of Cities where there is very little through traffic.

  15. Anonymous says:

    The only problem with CTL is that it goes into Croydon.

    At least it gives the New Addington residents a direct link to Purley Way without having to breathe the Croydon air in the middle.

    Maybe if the Bakerloo ends up extended to Hayes the Tram Link could extend east to link up.

  16. Anonymous says:

    What am I writing, Elmers End would be the link up!

  17. John says:

    Also worth mentioning that Croydon Council had allowed parts of the former Sanderstead / Elmers End line to be redeveloped (i.e. Coombe Rd) and were then obliged to buy back the land for Tramlink.

    In connection with Sanderstead/Elmers End, I would be interested to have Pedantic’s views on the BML2 scheme which the DfT now seems to be taking (a little more) seriously. Perhaps a future article?

  18. Pedantic of Purley says:

    I will comment on other points later but to clarify the point about West London Tram (WLT).

    I was not trying to say the Nimbys were necessarily wrong but that from the perspective of trying to introduce trams to another part of London it was unfortunate that the opposition was so well organised.

    The scheme was doomed because the scheme had both many flaws and an articulate local opposition. However this is easy to see in hindsight. I made the comment about Nimbys because I too personally believe that, without the strong opposition encountered, Ken Livingstone, if still in power, would have pushed the scheme through. That may well not have been a good thing in retrospect. If nothing else it would have probably tarnished the image of trams in London.

    Whether or not the West London Tram would have overall been a good thing is something we are now unlikely to know for sure. If built it would have no doubt have been controversial for years to come. What has been quickly forgotten in Croydon is how much opposition there was to the tram prior to and in the first few months after opening. It was quite possibly at around the same level as West London Tram in terms of numbers but not as vociferous or well organised. Once the system started running reliably and the transient issues sorted out it appeared that everybody had been in favour of it all the time – bit like the Olympics.

    My personal frustration with WLT was that money was being spent pushing forward a scheme with a lot of opposition when the money could have been better spent on Tramlink improvements and an extension to Crystal Palace that people were campaigning for and had all party support.

  19. Metrication says:

    Good article. I hope in your future article you will talk about the mythical Sutton/Tooting extension (which ties in well with your recent Blackfriars articles).

  20. Pedantic of Purley says:


    BML2. I think some of the ideas are inspired but other parts completely bonkers and I struggle to keep the language decent. I will only comment here on the BML2/tramlink issue. How the guy (basically it is one guy behind this) thinks that you can run both a serious rail service and a reliable Tramlink service on the two track section between Sandilands and Arena is beyond me. And that is based on current tram frequency and not what it might be in the future. And anyone can draw vague lines on a map in their home in Sussex and glibly state that trams can be diverted from Lloyd Park to East Croydon to free up the trackbed. I think West London Tram shows us the level of opposition there will be to the street running to achieve this.

    Politically, like West London Tram, the whole thing is a disaster in the making. What do the residents of Croydon get out of it? Nothing. What disadvantages ? Basically it will destroy the Tramlink system now carrying large numbers of urban passengers. Any future Mayor of London will be forced to show his strong opposition to the scheme which will benefit relatively few rural commuters from places that do not have a vote for Mayor.

    I also have a deep loathing of any scheme that someone dreams up for the benefit of a small community of which they are a part without taking into account the wider picture and the benefits and disbenefits of others. These schemes inevitably understate the disadvantages to others. This is one of the reasons I detest Haykerloo which was basically dreamed up by Lewisham Council to wangle getting a tube service to Lewisham and Network Rail which just wants to free up the slots that the Hayes trains take up on their approach to London Bridge – never mind that they are full of passengers that by and large work in the city (not served by the Bakerloo line) and need to travel there.

    Rant over but mention BML2 or Hayerloo and I turn into Mr Hyde.

  21. Dave says:

    BML2 (a misnomer) is a complete non-starter. I get the impression that it has been dreamed up by an author of railway books, who has read about the Beckenham – Brighton proposals of the 19th Century and convinced himself that it’s “a good idea”. Every time the subject comes up on various Yahoo! groups the questions are deflected with nonsense. His ideas, apart from diverting Tramlink away from the tunnels, include reinstating the embankment through Addiscombe. Nothing but frustration, which you obviously share, trying to get information, but it just isn’t going to happen. Let’s put it down to some sad person’s ego trip.

  22. Andrew says:

    A major problem with both the West London and Cross River tram schemes was that TFL’s transit projects planning team didn’t always do a particularly good job.
    The WLT was routed along the particularly narrow Southall Broadway and TFL declined to look at going parallel to the railway through the gasworks site. Having an interchange with the railway might have appealed to Hillingdon, which instead ended up bored with the scheme even though it had no pinch points of its own.
    It took a whole year after the Ealing election, when the game was clearly up, to stop the project.
    TFL were persuaded by interests in Nottingham, where views on public transport are particularly polarised, to reinstate the option of tram tracks down residential side streets in Somers Town in the CRT consultation, which a message on the LRTA web site encouraged people to support. This antagonised locals and Camden council for little benefit.
    When the idea of a tram depot in the King’s Cross lands fell through a site in Peckham was chosen possibly because the CRT as a whole might be expected to have more support somewhere without an Underground line but it wasn’t sold to the locals ending with local opposition to the depot.

  23. Andrew Bowden says:

    I lived in Ealing at the time of West London Tram. Sometimes felt I was the only person to actually support it. I still think it could have been a valuable asset to the area.

  24. mr_jrt says:

    As much as I liked the idea of the WLT, I can’t help but feel a far superior option would be an extension of the Central Line from Shepherds Bush along pretty much the same Uxbridge Road corridor and interchanging with the H&C at SBM, LO at a relocated Acton Central, Picc/Disrict at Ealing Common and/or Ealing Broadway, then the Met/Picc/District at Uxbridge.

  25. Disappointed Kitten says:

    Imagine for a moment in fantasy-tube-land, how useful it would be if TfL built a new tube station on the Northern Line between Morden and Wimbledon South to create a tram-tube interchange at Moreden Road Tramlink. It could take the pressure off Wimbledon by opening up an alternative nothbound route into town. But it would never happen – apart from the vast construction costs, people would actually start using it and fill up the Northern Line to bursting point. We can’t have that, can we!

  26. answer=42 says:

    The general point behind all this is that if London is to develop a ‘string of pearls’ of suburban centres, there has to be a means of transport to provide non-radial links to them, as in Wimbledon / Croydon. What better than the tram? This point stands even if trams closer to central London, as in CRT and WLT, can’t be made to work.

    The Brent Cross idea, even if massively overblown, is not entirely daffy. I would think that a tramline that parallels, either next to or over, parts of the North Circular Road / North Circular Carpark would have a ready-made market and could help to regenerate the industrial areas alongside.

    Moving to fantasyland, I would like to see if a market existed for a tram with the following quasi-orbital route:
    Finchley Central
    Mill Hill East (taking over Northern Line)
    Mill Hill Broadway (mostly trackbed)
    Edgware (ditto)
    Stanmore (street running)
    site of Stanmore Village (street running)
    Belmont (trackbed)
    Harrow & Wealdstone (trackbed)
    Harrow on the Hill (street)

  27. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Just to pick up on a few other points.

    …the whole thing just converted to an extension of the DLR
    Apart from anything else, DLR style automatic trains are probably a bit of an non-starter due to the large number of level crossings unless the relevant railway authority permits these with automatic trains – unlikely. Many of these are extremely minor but would pose a problem to eliminate. The New Addington branch alone has eleven according to Carto Metro. [For a bonus point work out which crossing he missed (not necessarily on the New Addington branch)].

    There is a clever way to partly get around this. Run the Wimbledon branch as a separate service into West Croydon. In fact you could then make the branch an extension of London Overground. Brilliant! Oh, hang on, trains between Wimbledon and West Croydon is what we started with but no-one used them.

    Looking at it another way what possible benefit is there of expensively changing the system over to something else? One could argue that capacity would increase but the simple solution is to lengthen the trams and the latest Variobahn trams are designed so that they can be retrospectively extended.

    Where does the notion of the cross river tram using narrow, 2+1 seating trams, come from?
    The trouble with reporting on cancelled schemes in the digital age is it is very difficult to provide sources. However I have been to talks when talk of trams in London was at its height and one of the very serious concerns of the tram development team was that if the different schemes ever were to meet up then there would be a lot of incompatibility issues regarding width. Some schemes were just impossible to push forward with wider trams due to road width restrictions. The team were confident that if they actually got to the point where there would be an incompatibility then they could get round it by having extendable steps to bridge the gap at the stops.

    Also worth mentioning that Croydon Council had allowed parts of the former Sanderstead / Elmers End line to be redeveloped (i.e. Coombe Rd) and were then obliged to buy back the land for Tramlink.
    Yes and that included a new block of flats near Blackhorse Lane (Teevan Close) that had to be demolished. A friend told me that one department at Croydon Council advised another department very emphatically not to permit any development on the trackbed because of the future embrionic Tramlink scheme but they were ignored.

  28. Long Branch Mike says:


    This is what Paris has done with it’s orbital T1, T2… tram lines just outside the city gates, to great success apparently. Interestingly, Paris & RATP are said to be very interested in the peri-orbital success of the Overground. Obviously, tram & Overground (or heavy rail) focus on much different urban & transportation goals…

  29. Greg Tingey says:

    For a really, really detailed map of Tramlink, part of the late S Parscandolo’s site has one… here:
    Then examine each section – if onnly to find “Carto Metro”s missling LC!

  30. Greg Tingey says:

    I forgot the other obvious extension – to Biggin Hill!

  31. Anonymous says:

    @Pedantic of Purley

    You show your bias when discussing the Bakerloo extension. First, ignoring everything else, transport (certainly a metro line) should never be based on persevering one locality’s direct link to a specific destination, especially if a far larger group of commuters may benefit from changes. That’s absurd. Second, it’s a lie to suggest it was all about NR and Lewisham building up a selfish case, there were/are other routes besides Hayes the line could have from Lewisham and which would have freed up slots into London Bridge, plus Tfl were pushing that extension as well. There were considerable benefits to across South and SE London with the route, and transport has to be utilitarian in its aims. Third, how many commuters from Hayes have the vicinity around Canon St. as their final destination? What about those who travel onwards to the faster growing Eastern and NE fringes of the City? Fourth, what would be lost from cutting off a direct route to one part of the city would have been balanced with increased frequency and, crucially, improved reliability due to the line becoming self contained.

    The bakerloo going to Hayes may not be the best route, but to present the case the way you did was completely one-sided and, frankly, hints at your own prejudices and biases.

    On London trams, one of the problems for me was that they were very expensive schemes for rather minimal benefit. Once bus removals on certain stretches were considered how much extra capacity would be generated? For over a billion the CRT just wasn’t worth it imo. If trams can be built for a quarter of that they may have legs.

  32. Lemmo says:

    Thanks for this, an interesting read about an area I know well but was away when Tramlink was developed.

    We are going to stick our neck out a little and suggest that Tramlink will be the only tram network we will see again in London, even though a few years past it appeared that there would be a brief tram renaissance.

    That seems a shame, given how prevalent tram systems are in other cities. I wonder why London is such a special case?

    I agree with answer=42, that London’s “string of pearls” of suburban centres may be well-suited to trams, providing local routes perhaps radiating from rail interchanges.

    The West London Tram and Cross River Transit are certainly worthy of a future article, I’m sure there is much to be learned from both. But what of emerging schemes such as the Southwark Supertram?

  33. Pedantic of Purley says:

    Anon said:

    The bakerloo going to Hayes may not be the best route, but to present the case the way you did was completely one-sided and, frankly, hints at your own prejudices and biases.

    Hints at my own prejudices and biases ? Hints ? Hints! I hope not. I rather hoped I made them abundantly clear. If I write an article I try to be objective. If I write a comment that is my own personal opinion (or prejudice or bias) then I try to make it clear that it is my opinion. I am as free as anyone else to write my own biased comment if I want to. Given that I started the paragraph with I also have a deep loathing for … I think it was pretty obvious to everyone that what follows was not likely to be a detailed analytical rational critique. And if any doubt remained then surely the final sentence would have made that clear.

  34. John says:

    @Pedantic, 10.17am

    Whilst I couldn’t agree with you more re. Hayerloo, I find that BML2 has certain attractive elements, in particular the possibility of connecting Gatwick, Southend and Stansted airports via Canary Wharf, whilst also providing a relief route for the BML. Yes, some parts of the route have not been thought through, i.e. what to do with the Tramlink, but the general thrust of the idea is good imho, if only to provide inspiration for better schemes. Network Rail appears to be overwhelmed by the whole south coast capacity issue and the best that they could offer in the RUS was platform lengthening and 12-car services in the peak.

  35. Rational Plan says:

    My personal preference for a West London tram scheme, would be have the line as before from Uxbridge. Once it crosses the A412 Hayes Bypass, have cut through the industrial estate and fields to the old Southhall gaswoks site to Southall station.

    Since crossrail will now be calling at Southall , this might make a goo terminus, then only the bus passengers from Southall broadway to Ealing would be interchanging at Ealing broadway station.

    Alternatively if you wanted to provide a one seat ride all the way to Ealing broadway then the tram line could swing back up to the main road and once past the Hospital I’d have it in a tunnel all the way to Ealing broadway.

    At least that way it avoid nearly all the main points of conflict and be faster to boot.

    As for the immediate future I don’t think we will see a new separate network of trams. But I do get the feeling that TFL think that Tramlink can form a core of a much bigger network for South London. The east has had DLR and the North the Overground and Tramlink could be the Souths chance for a big upgrade.

    So I think that well see in a few years a lot of extensions proposed after Crystal Palace , with extensions to Sutton and Bromley highly probable.

  36. Timmy! says:

    Thank you, another good article and I look forward to part 2.

    Like others, I hope this isn’t the last tram network. It’s disappointing that CRT never progressed but I do think there’s an opportunity for trams (possibly not for a long time though). If you look at the network in San Francisco, they’re run underground on a Tube-like service and then go on traditional routes. Some trams run in sets of 2 or 3 before splitting. If we do need more cross river routes, trams in tunnels and then road running might be the answer if we can’t fund larger schemes.

  37. stimarco says:

    BML2 has some nice ideas at its southern end, but it peters out into little more than vague handwaving the closer it gets to London. Simply put: the trains have nowhere to go. There was even a suggestion to build yet another London terminus at some random location, for no other reason than the fact that all the London termini serving the City area are already rammed to capacity.


    I did write to HS2 Ltd. a while ago suggesting a possible solution to the thorny political issue of the Heathrow Spur: make it run all the way down to Brighton, with intermediate stations at Croydon and Gatwick (and possibly Three Bridges, but that's a tough call).

    This solves the "where do all these additional trains go?" problem: at OOC, or (more likely) Heathrow itself, you already have connections with Crossrail and the GWML, not to mention the Piccadilly Line and that small, regional airport sitting on top of it all. Add in the proposed westward connection to the GWML towards Slough and Heathrow suddenly becomes a major interchange in its own right.

    You could extend Crossrail services all the way to Brighton instead of terminating at the airport. Class 395-derived stock capable of 140 mph. running would be sufficient. (Building the line to Brighton from Heathrow for higher speeds is unlikely to make much sense: once you consider the intermediate stops, it's just not going to make enough of a difference, and a 140 mph. design speed would give more routing and tunnelling options.)

    Furthermore, Brighton & Hove would also be connected to HS2 itself and the GWML, opening up many connection opportunities. This might seem a bit over the top, but remember: Brighton's station is also the terminus for Coastway services to Ashford via Hastings, and to points westward via Hove and even Portsmouth if you're a serious masochist. Lewes, Brighton, Hove, Hastings, etc. aren't huge individually, but together they represent a combined catchment area bigger than the Medway Towns. And there are a couple of major universities in the area too, so connections with the rest of the country are certainly in demand.

    Why take the slow train via Guildford and Slough (or Reading) to Leeds or Manchester when you can take an HS2 service from nearby Brighton instead? That releases capacity on those older lines for more local and regional services, so you get benefits there too. The UK’s rail network is very unusual in being essentially a gigantic, nationwide metro system with short trains running at relatively high frequencies. (For example, in France, even major towns and cities like Clermont-Ferrand are served by much longer trains running approximately every 2-3 hours from Paris.) As stated in the Tramlink article, offer a “turn up and go” service and people will improve the attraction of a new line.

    HS2 to Brighton via Heathrow, Croydon and Gatwick therefore makes more sense than either BML2 or the proposed half-baked spur to Heathrow alone.

    Yes, it’s more expensive, but BML’s capacity problems aren’t going to be solved by anything other than new infrastructure anyway. Even the RUS for the region admits this. An HS2 spur solves both the capacity problem an LHR-only spur would throw up, and also neatly solves the BML’s capacity problems, which are mostly due to the lack of capacity in London’s existing termini by simply not terminating trains there in the first place.

    And, of course, “Brighton High Speed”, via Crossrail, gives far better connections to destinations like Heathrow (especially if the airport itself is kicked out and the site redeveloped), the West End, the City, and Docklands. (And either Abbey Wood or Shenfield, but I can’t help that.)

  38. peezedtee says:

    Dave wrote: Let’s put it down to some sad person’s ego trip.

    May I come to the defence of BML2’s Brian Hart? I knew him 40 years ago in an entirely different context, and he is a clever and very nice chap, not at all a sad person or an ego-tripper. By all means disagree with his scheme, but this kind of personal abuse of somebody you clearly don’t know is pointlessly offensive and morally wrong.

    Brian Hart has been campaigning for decades for the reopening of the Lewes-Uckfield line, which should clearly never have been closed. He then saw the opportunity to marry this local issue up with a wider one, viz. the acute capacity problem on the Brighton Main Line. Many think it an ingenious scheme. There are plainly difficult issues with it north of Sanderstead, but at least it seems obvious to me that the scheme has been put forward in good faith.

    Instead of hurling vulgar personal abuse, which reflects extremely poorly on the writer, people can study the scheme at , where various arguments are dealt with, and make up their own minds.

  39. stimarco says:

    Re. Tramlink:

    I suspect TfL are hoping Tramlink could be extended slowly and stealthily over the years, much as the DLR has been. Small, cost-effective extensions, until, suddenly, you have a tram running all the way from Sutton, via Croydon to, say, Peckham. The disused Crystal Palace High Level branch’s tunnels are still there, though there would be a little demolition or re-routing involved at the old “Upper Sydenham” station site where the two tunnels meet. It might even be possible to bring that old Italianate subway link back into use if the Crystal Palace Tramlink station were built close to it.

    However, the above also highlights the problem with using traditional tram technology: unless you have some conveniently sited bits of disused railway alignment, you’re going to be building a lot of overhead infrastructure and embedding track very expensively into roads.

    Why not just hang the trams from that overhead infrastructure instead and remove the need for those rails entirely? You’d then only need to plant some pylons and slap some prefabbed guideway beams up. This takes a damned sight less time than identifying and relocating services, digging up great lumps of already congested narrow London streets (many with businesses that rely heavily on passing trade), laying embedded track, filling it all back up to track level again. All while having to use high-quality materials and workmanship, because—despite your best efforts to put it off as long as possible—you WILL have to dig those rails back up again every now and then for maintenance purposes.

    None of that applies to a modern suspended guideway system.

    Yes, I’m talking “monorail”, that unfairly maligned toy-town technology that, for some mysterious reason, appears to be doing very well in Asia and elsewhere. (No, it doesn’t have to look like the Listed structure of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn: that’s basically a preserved railway in all but name. Look to Japan, Singapore and Malaysia.)

    And consider this: there’s no cast-iron law, graven in stone, that says all suspended guideway systems have to be entirely grade-separated throughout. You could save a hell of a lot of money by dropping the trains down to street level and building tram-style stops instead.

    Suddenly, the only advantage traditional trams ever had disappears entirely: making a suspended system fly over congested streets is child’s play; making a tram do likewise is rather less so. This also trivially solves all the criticisms against the WLT and the CRT proposals: you don’t have to dig up the roads any more, and the trains can easily be kept out of the way of congestion areas. Problem solved.

    I don’t think London—or traditional trams—have any real future in London. But it is going to take an unusually visionary Mayor to stick his neck out and suggest doing what London does best: pioneering new technologies. Heathrow’s new ULTra system serving T5 is genuinely innovative and might even presage the future of personal transportation. Before that, we had the DLR. We built the fully-automated Victoria Line in the 1960s, the first ever deep-level Tube tunnels in the 1890s, and the first ever underground urban commuter steam railway in the 1860s. (Oh, and the world’s first dedicated commuter railway, the London & Greenwich, way back in 1836.)

    London is nothing if not a city that’s not afraid to try out new technologies. It’s time to go back to our roots and get pioneering once more. Existing technologies simply aren’t up to the job any more.

  40. Anonymous says:

    HS2 LHR to Brighton is a much better idea, although it would be cheaper avoiding Croydon. BML2 is a disaster for Tramlink. After I saw the proposal I sat on an Elmers End tram to look at the formation. I really can’t see how it could be done. The ltest idea of a Croydon Interchange between Purley Oaks, South Croydon and Sanderstead won’t be popular (mind you the MP probably wouldn’t object as he isn’t sure where Croydon is!). And replacing those stations with Croydon Interchange would be a big issue for the commuters who use them daily, I measured up to a mile by road from each one. Much as it would be a nice to have for Tramlink to go to Purley as was planned, I can’t see how it will be accomodated on parts of Brighton Road, particularly from Purley Oaks to the Bus Garage and then from The Swan and Sugar Loaf into town. I used to live on one of the rat runs near the bus garage and deliberately diverting traffic away would be awful for those roads.

  41. stimarco says:


    I quite like Brian’s ideas towards the coast, particularly the notion of increasing capacity for the Tonbridge Main Line too. Unfortunately, as a means of relieving the BML, it has a number of major flaws—not the least of which is the fact that Lewes isn’t Brighton. Brighton & Hove is the big cheese here: Lewes has a far smaller population. Just getting there from Brighton would add over 20 minutes to the journey time as you’re not heading towards London until you get past Lewes itself. And then you end up taking a long, winding, route that will simply grind to a shuddering halt.

    “There are plainly difficult issues with it north of Sanderstead”

    Unfortunately, the problems with the existing BML are also north of Sanderstead: a bunch of lines all converge into one in Croydon, making it a big bottleneck—there’s no scope for expanding East Croydon, short of building new platforms beneath it, as the site is surrounded by buildings.

    Running services into Lewisham is also a non-starter: that junction is already saturated and there are no cheap options. Spamming it with lots more trains from Brighton won’t be popular with those relying on services from the other lines as those would have to be cut back to make room for the BML2 services.

    Most recently, Brian has changed his mind about where to send the line and is now suggesting a “Thameslink 2” option via the Docklands to Stratford (and, presumably, beyond). This might have some legs, but you’re talking about massive, and very expensive, civils work, and you still have to get the line to that side of London first—most likely in a long tunnel. (An East End Thameslink route has already been mooted by others, but with the intention of relieving Lewisham Junction by diverting some services onto it before they reach Lewisham itself. I suspect this option would be much easier to justify.)

    Finally, the diagrammatic route map on Brian’s BML2 site is somewhat misleading in not showing all the curves. The Brighton-Lewes line wasn’t built for speed; if you’re going to spend billions on a project like this, ending up with a route that’s slower and less direct isn’t going to win you many friends. You could extend HS2 to Brighton for a lot less money.

  42. stimarco says:

    “HS2 LHR to Brighton is a much better idea, although it would be cheaper avoiding Croydon. “

    I did consider that option initially, but there really isn’t anywhere that comes even remotely close to Croydon’s connectivity, and you really do need a hub somewhere in the south-west of London to help justify the cost. You can’t build a brand new railway just to serve commuters during the peaks; you need to ensure there’s enough demand throughout the day to justify running all those expensive trains up and down the tracks.

    There are something like seven or eight lines converging on East Croydon, with three (I think) from the south, as well as umpteen services via Norwood Jct. and Selhurst to the north. That’s a massive catchment area. It’d transform transport in south London by providing much, much easier access to all that expensive new infrastructure: not just HS2, but the GWML and Crossrail too.

    A route that runs further out and bypasses Croydon would most likely have to bypass Gatwick too as there aren’t many options that close to London that don’t involve a lot of tunnelling. (This is North & South Downs territory: it’s quite hilly.) You’d have to build tunnels regardless.

    My reasoning is that you might as well take a route via Croydon and head straight for the existing line, while offering lots of useful connections. An underground station at East Croydon is a small price to pay, and you don’t have to go much further south before rising up to the surface. There are also enough open spaces, industrial parks and the like along the LHR-Croydon alignment to provide plenty of access for the tunnellers without causing too much disruption.

    As the line speed doesn’t need to be the full HSR monty, adding a couple of stations at useful interchanges can be justified as it won’t affect journey times as much as on a full 250 mph. route. You’ll still have journey times of around 30 min. from LHR to Brighton.

    You could build two platforms on a loop beneath East Croydon and be done with it; no need for expensive new surface buildings as you’ve already got East Croydon itself for that, although another entrance would help with passenger flows.


    The same problem applies to any other solution for the BML: you’re going to need a new railway through the city regardless of which option you choose, which is why BML2 makes little sense financially. If you’re going to build long tunnels under great swathes of London, a traditional tunnel isn’t going to be noticeably cheaper than a 140 mph. one, so you might as well go for the latter.

    Besides, I like Croydon. It’s been the red-headed stepchild of London because of the blunders made during the 1960s, but that was 50 years ago! Hasn’t it suffered enough?

  43. Greg Tingey says:

    Anon @ 18.14
    “On London trams, one of the problems for me was that they were very expensive schemes for rather minimal benefit. Once bus removals on certain stretches were considered how much extra capacity would be generated? For over a billion the CRT just wasn’t worth it imo. If trams can be built for a quarter of that they may have legs.”

    Ah, London/Britain is DIFFERENT, it couldn’t POSSIBLY work here …. is what you are saying.
    Like High-speed rail lines or zonal ticketing schemes, you mean?

  44. mr_jrt says:

    Welcome back to transport discussions…you were missed. I don’t agree with the majority of your ideas, but it’s great having someone with vision and imagination to spark a good discussion or two.

    One point I’d like to pick up on though: there is room for more platforms at East Croydon – demolish Mondial House and rebuild it with new lines through the ground floor and you can manage at least a couple more platforms, if not many more. Sadly I think this opportunity is again going to be lost as the required land west of the existing platforms is likely to be redeveloped in the near future…

  45. Fandroid says:

    @stimarco elevated rapid transit existed before monorails.

    I was pleasantly surprised how well the curiously misnamed ‘U-Bahn’ in Hamburg blends in as an elevated street railway, even though the structures are all from the early 20th century. The advantage of these elevated railways is that they can also run at ground-level and underground where necessary, and, if standard-gauge, can even become tram-trains.

    Now I think of it, London already has one! It’s called the DLR. What might be a sensible solution for London is dual-voltage vehicles capable of current collection from both o/h and 3rd rail. My brains keep trying to work out how the DLR could be extended north up the east side of the Lea Valley to Walthamstow. A combination of elevated and ground level and even some street working would make sense (although the latter would require a driver).

  46. Rogmi says:

    @ disappointed kitten
    It would be possible to have an Underground station at Morden Road. The Northern line crosses (under) the Tramlink at about 470 feet from the west end of the Tramlink platform., so the walking distance would be no worse than some of the distances covered at some interchange stations, or fit travelators.

    However, from a driver’s point of view, it is a nice run between Morden and South Wimbledon and it would be a pity to break that up 🙂

    Mind you, if they ever extended the Tramlink from Wimbledon to Sutton via Morden Road, Morden and St Helier they probably wouldn’t need an interchange. (They might also find that the trams were packed to / from Morden in rush hours).

  47. timbeau says:

    excavating a new station tunnel at Morden Road would be a big job though, and would probably require closure of the line whilst it was done – which means closing Morden depot as well.

    South Wimldeon/Merton Park is a shorter distance than some OSIs, for instance Putney/East Putney.

  48. Fandroid says:

    Almost everyone here seems to be agreed that street trams in the more congested parts of London are not really viable. If we look elsewhere, (not just San Francisco), there are a reasonable number of tram networks where they go underground in the central area- Cologne, Brussels and Stuttgart; plus Amsterdam, where one Metro line shares street tram tracks in the suburbs (Train-Tram rather than Tram-Train?). The down-side for this strategy in London is that most of those cities created their underground tram routes by cut-and-cover. Modern tunnelling would not be that expensive in comparison, but creating stations or tram-stops in tunnels is likely to be extremely costly.

    Rational Plan’s suggestion of the West London Tram terminating at Southall fits much better to the generally accepted role for new tram lines in big cities with a decent rail network- ie stick to distributing passengers around the outer suburbs, where a Metro line is too big and expensive, and there tends to be a lot more space to play with (as in Paris for example). My favourite for London would be a network linking Heathrow to Uxbridge via Brunel University.

    Expanding the Croydon network is a great idea, but common sense suggests that it would be better in a lot of central South London to upgrade the railway network with flyovers, underpasses and interchanges, so creating the potential for a true ‘Metro’ network there.

  49. Rogmi says:

    Whilst work might entail a brief closure, perhaps for the odd weekend (with trains reversing at Tooting Broadway and Stockwell), I can’t see that it should have that much effect on the service. The platform tunnels could be excavated whilst the service is running in the same way that, say, the step plate junction at London Bridge was.

    When the line leaves Morden, it goes straight ahead, until it has crossed Dorset Road, then it starts to curve gently to the west slightly in order to get into the curve east towards South Wimbledon. The path of the line can easily be seen as it runs under Kendor Gardens, the linear park. The curve west starts around Covey Close, crossing under Tramlink in the vicinity of nos. 134 – 138 Dorset Road and underneath Nursery Road playing fields, where it then starts the curve east.

    The platforms could lie under Dorset Road, with construction access from sites at Kendor Gardens and Nursery Road playing fields. The biggest problem is whether there would be sufficient headroom to dig out above the existing tunnels. Kenley Gardens is cut and cover and so there may not be sufficient depth under the foundations of the houses on Dorset Road. It should be possible to have the platforms under the playing fields though. Unless any part of the playing fields was purchased, there couldn’t be any surface buildings, so there would have to be a tunnel access to Morden Road Tramlink platforms, although I suppose they could build an emergency exit at the corner of the field, at the end of Parkleigh Road.

  50. Mikey C says:

    The cities with trams in tunnels have far smaller Metro systems than London, the central trams are an alternative to a ‘proper’ underground line. If we were to go to the expense of boring tram tunnels under central London, we might as well build new Underground Lines, Crossrail 2 etc.

    They are good fun to ride on though 🙂

    The other thing about London is the sheer number of bus routes, a trunk route (Uxbridge Road, Oxford Street) will have several bus routes running on a section of the road, then going off somewhere else. A single tram route won’t be much use for most journeys, making people change from buses onto trams when they previously had a bus going all the way isn’t much of an improvement.

  51. Anonymous says:

    When I suggested Croydon would be expensive I still think it should be done. If trains are 400 metres long, maybe the platforms could lie under Lansdowne Road and the Whitgift Centre with Entrances at the Dingwall Road entrance to East Croydon and at West Croydon for added connectivity. Gatwick Airport would connect with the Fastway buses in Crawley. Also there needs to be better connections round from Croydon to Kingston and Heathrow for local passengers. BML2 needs to be a more local project connecting Brighton with Tunbridge Wells and improving the Lndon Bridge to Uckfield service to half hourly electrics.

  52. Anuffer Anon says:

    As one of the very few passengers who seems to use the WCML to go to/from Central London rather than Heathrow, Brighton, Croydon, Canary Wharf or Lewes I do wonder about the business case for the aforementioned HS2 extension.

  53. Whiff says:

    And there are quite a few people, myself included, who don’t think the business case for the whole of HS2 adds up but that’s an argument for another day.

    On the subject of this article it seems to be agreed that there is limited scope for building more on-street trams and we can’t go on building more and more tunnels under London for ever. Therefore the only answer seems to be, as Stimarco and Fandroid mentioned, more elevated railways. They seem successful in places like Chicago and Bangkok, for example, so could they made to work on a larger scale in London than just the few stretches of the DLR we have already.

  54. stimarco says:

    @Greg Tingey:

    London really is different though. And not just London.

    Thanks to the very poor quality high-rise buildings constructed during the 1950s and later, the British developed a strong prejudice against living in “flats”. They were seen as somewhere to keep the poor people. The upshot of which is that most city suburbs in the UK comprises low density, low-rise terraces and semi-detached housing, most of it Victorian or inter-war.

    Contrast with cities like Rome and Paris, where almost the entire suburban housing stock is mid-rise, medium-density apartment blocks, most of it dating back to the 1950s and ’60s, but which was mostly built as separate units rather than as formal housing estates, as was attempted in the UK. Roads were deliberately made nice and wide too, although by then the tram was already in its twilight years, even in Rome.

    The problem with London’s low-density suburban sprawl is that (a) it spreads out much further than it should do given its actual population, resulting in (b) a much tougher sell for metro and other rail-based forms of mass transit, which—by definition—relies on moving ‘masses’ of people to pay its way. Traditional rail is at its most efficient moving massive numbers of people around, but take a look at, say, Kent House station (LC&DR route from Herne Hill), or Catford. The stations are surrounded almost entirely by low-rise, low-density housing. Until 10 years ago, 2tph each way was considered more than sufficient to handle the demand there.

    Until the 1930s, Catford was on the edge of civilisation: to its south, there was nothing but fields until you reached the tiny village of South End, then more fields until you got to the outskirts of Bromley. Downham and Bellingham are entirely 1930s inventions. And, again, it’s all houses, not apartments. Parisians and the Danes were living in flats way back in the 1800s, let alone the 1950s, so yes, London is “different”.

    London is a bastard to plan transport links for. South of the Thames, the railway companies were in constant, and utterly idiotic, competition with each other right up to the 1890s, so not only were the lines built on the cheap, with very little thought to future capacity constraints, but they often duplicated each other and chose the cheapest, most circuitous routes to save money too. Gravesend—roughly the same distance from London as Heathrow (the M25 swings much further out from London to the west)—takes over an hour from Charing X. That’s almost 20 minutes longer than the Tube journey to LHR. And it’s two-track all the way, with no opportunities for fast trains to overtake, no segregation of service classes, no “fast” lines, no nothing. Junctions are entirely flat too. Yet that line has to serve not just metro-style commuter trains, but also handle fast express trains from as far afield as Canterbury and Margate.

    I’ve made this analogy before, but imagine trying to serve express trains to Cambridge or Oxford by running them up the Central or Northern Lines instead of along their dedicated tracks into the mainline termini. That’s what south London’s rail network has. And it’s why pathetic, mewling screams from the regions about “spending all our money on London” come across as petty. Manchester has a full-on tram network. Newcastle and Glasgow even have dedicated metro lines. Penge and Dartford have literally fuck all: no trams, no metro, just two-track railways that have to cope with express trains as well as 4tph for the locals. (This is why they went for platform extensions, incidentally: upping the frequencies just isn’t an option without massive re-engineering.)

    The latent demand in south London is now so high that any single new piece of infrastructure will be overwhelmed the day it opens. Bakerloo-Hayes/Bromley North would be PIXC within a year of opening. I guarantee it. The DLR extension to Woolwich was effectively at capacity within a week of opening: locals north of the river now complain that they can’t even get onto the trains. And we’re talking about King George V and City Airport stations here, just one and two stops up from Woolwich DLR! Crossrail’s Abbey Wood branch is going to be very little, very late. It WILL be rammed within a month of its opening. No ifs, no buts.

    And the BML is just one of the victims of these Victorian blunders and the poor forward planning ever since. BML2 effectively shunts all its trains up through east London because there is literally nowhere else for all those new trains to go. There’s simply no more room. No more capacity. The south London rail network is full up.

    Multiple mass transit solutions are needed to fix the imbalance, but there’s really only the Bakerloo line available for further extensions. Adding branches onto existing lines isn’t really viable as most are already close to capacity. Make no mistake: south London doesn’t need just one or two new tubes, but complete segregation of urban and extra-urban services to solve its capacity problems. But central London is already riddled with tunnels and other underground infrastructure, so where do you build all these new lines?

    Our usual selection of technologies are no longer enough…


    … and that’s why I suggest looking at other technologies instead. South London can never be a full member of the London Underground club because there simply isn’t enough room beneath the city centre to build enough new tunnels to cope. This is why I prefer a ‘grid’ of Crossrail / Thameslink routes to take urban sevices out of the termini and make full segregation easier by dropping the extra-urban service into new (non-stop or limited-stop) tunnels, providing their segregation.

    But there is still a need for an intermediate mode.

    Trams aren’t viable: they require precious road space and London—especially south London—has very little of that. Witness the joke that is the “South Circular” and compare with its north London counterpart and you can see the very real problem: that’s supposed to be one of south London’s major arterial routes, yet it’s basically just a signposted route along mostly very narrow streets. Trams are just not going to happen down there; there’s literally nowhere to put them. London lacks a convenient planned grid or radial road (like Paris) network, so there are rarely sufficient parallel routes to divert vehicles down while you’re digging up the main roads.

    Which brings us back to the only viable option: building new infrastructure above the ground, instead of beneath it. It’s a lot easier to dig tunnels through thin air. But the DLR’s technology wouldn’t be viable either as it would effectively blot out the skies along many roads, a lot of which are often residential in character. You need something that has a very small ‘visual footprint’, but which can match the DLR and traditional trams for capacity.

    And that leaves suspended guideway systems—of which there are many, not all of which are even technically ‘monorails’. (As a writer by trade, I find using such a misleading term difficult, so I prefer “suspended guideway system” instead.)

    For example, “MonoMetro”, despite its name and truly atrocious website, is actually a narrow gauge two-track railway from which the trains are suspended, allowing the use of ordinary railway-style switching technology with only minor modifications. I think it’d be the ideal technology, with some modifications, including at-grade stations wherever possible, to reduce costs.

    Such systems are also massively cheaper to build as, like the DLR, it’s all prefabricated. You just need to punch small holes into the ground for the support pylons. No need to dig up miles and miles of roads also makes it much easier to ‘sell’ to the locals. (Even the ‘we can see into people’s bedrooms’ problem is trivial to solve: use polarised filters fitted to the train windows, and fit—for free—a polarised film rotated 90º to that on the trains to residents’ windows. The result is that windows viewed from inside the train will all appear completely black. And vice-versa.)

    What London needs is a “London Overhead” network.

  55. Fandroid says:

    @Mikey C

    I wasn’t really intending to suggest that London should have a tram system with tunnels through the centre, just that many other big cities had decided that trams on the city centre streets were not on, but that they were worth keeping, so burying them in the city centre was the solution. In London, the idea of shoving them through congested central streets (as with CRT) and the inner end of West London Tram is just plain daft. You are right, London has a high capacity ‘Metro’ system which is the best use of any city centre tunnels.

    Interestingly, Stuttgart has an S-Bahn system which tunnels through the city centre (with a fair number of underground stations) plus a ‘U-Bahn’ system which is a tram system with both street running and segregated tracks which also goes underground in the city centre. It’s worth a visit, not least because the city landscape is very hilly and it’s impressive how the U-Bahn trains/trams cope with the gradients.

    In my list of tunnelling tram systems, I forgot Porto. (They call it the ‘Metro’).

    London should seriously think of trams in the suburbs, and not be afraid to tunnel through the more congested satellite centres.

    Multiple bus routes are fine, until they get stuck in all that traffic! Trams would be pointless as an alternative if they didn’t run mostly on segregated routes. Then passengers would happily sacrifice the inconvenience of changing (from tram to bus) if the overall journey time is shorter. Them forriners do it all the time!

  56. Greg Tingey says:

    Actually very easy, if you reverse (Beckton-stlye) out of Stratford not-international-not high-speed, then run part-elevated, stops @ crossing of Ruckholt Rd, site of Lea Bridge Stn, round Hall Farm curve (ish) – MUST leave room for at least a single-track heavy rail re-instatement, then “Partly stilted (i.e. on the SE side of the existing embankment to St James’ ST & a “Joint station in the corner of W Cenral car-park/bottom of Midland station!

    Widening @ E Croydon – well there is another missed opportunity going down the tubes, just like Blackfriars, or Bradford, or ……

  57. Dudley Horscroft says:

    Re Trams on Streets
    The capacity of a single lane of traffic is about 1800 cars – perhaps 2200 if no HGVs, buses, etc and all drivers behave properly. Add traffic lights and capacity drops to about 900 cars. Average occupancy is about 1.2 so ‘person capacity’ is about 1100 at best. With 80 passenger buses at 2 minute intervals (to avoid congestion at bus stops) capacity is increased to 2400. With trams carrying 300 at 2 minute intervals, capacity goes up to 9000 persons per hour. Put trams in the centre of the road and you leave the kerb side lanes clear for other vehicles. Hence no problems with trams to Purley, or to Brixton/Euston/Kings Cross. Or the Oxford St tramway.

    Re WLT
    Agreed TfL got it wrong in trying to shift cars onto side roads – above shows what could be done. Southall looks like a good idea, but after Iron Bridge the trams should have been diverted to an elevated line above the main line, to terminate at Ealing Broadway. Good connexions to Cross Rail and to District and Central Lines. If elevated is good for a monorail it is equally good, and just as expensive, for a duorail.

    Re BML2
    Coming up the Oxted Line is not too bad and when it gets to Croydon there are two options – run via Elmers End to Catford, Lewisham, Greenwich and Stratford, thence Norwich (interchange with other lines at suitable, or unsuitable(!), locations) or tunnelling under East Croydon and coming to the surface at Selhurst and Norwood Junction to reach Victoria and London Bridge. Or, before London Bridge, using what remains of the Bricklayers Arms branch and running via the Elephant, Westminster and under the parks to Paddington!

    Re CRT
    IIRC narrow trams were ruled out for reuse of the Kingsway Subway as it is being blocked by CrossRail at the north end as well as the road underpass at the south end. So the next proposal was medium width trams – 2.4m – as someone noted above because of some consideration re traffic lanes widths. However, I believe that these were satisfactorily solved and the normal standard UK width of 2.65m was finally settled on. And the cost was absolutely ridiculous – there was no tunnelling on the route and very few bridges. No need to shift utilities either, this has pretty well all been done to prevent road works disrupting traffic. Tracks can be laid so that there is minimal disruption when they are renewed. Melbourne learnt this the hard way – earlier track laying used mass concrete from foundation to rail head level, which required massive ‘ice pick’ machines to break up the concrete when renewing tracks recently. But all recent renewal has been done with steel or duo-bloc sleepers and arranged so as little as possible has to be disturbed when rails are renewed in 40 years time.

  58. Anonymous says:

    I agree, it is an utter disgrace that Glasgow, a city with an urban area of 1.75 million people, and Newcastle, a city with an urban area of 1.65 million people have limited metro lines when Dartford, a borough of less than 100,000 residents, and Penge, a town of around 30,000 people, have to go without their own.

    I also agree that those people pathetic enough not to live in London all live in Manchester, Newcastle, or Glasgow, and all only in the areas of those cities served by their metro lines and trams.

    There is nobody living anywhere else. Certainly nowhere that have train lines with only one stop in the town served by 2tph or fewer. And absolutely there is nowhere worse than the 10tph each way that serve Dartford station or Penge’s stations. Definitely no one have to mewl about having to rely on private bus companies with infrequent services, excessive fares, or both, to get around.

  59. timbeau says:


    “With eighty-passenger buses at 2 minute intervals (to avoid congestion at bus stops) capacity is increased to 2400. With trams carrying 300 at 2 minute intervals, capacity goes up to 9000 persons per hour”

    Only if you assume 100% occupancy, which you did not for the cars.

  60. Anonymous says:

    Re Trams on Streets

    But few roads in London are wide enough for 4 lanes of traffic. For a Purley extension it’s possible from Swan and Sugar Loaf to Haling Park Road then probably possible as far as Sanderstead Road. Then it’s a bit iffy down as far as Brantwood Road, then probably OK all the way to Purley. It would require widening pavements and there wouldn’t be room for Tramstops without fouling the road further. Brighton Road carries a lot of traffic, much of which wouldn’t be reduced by the trams as it comes from outside Croydon from places with little in the way of a public transport option because it is Surrey where the buses run hourly if you’re on an A Road (and lucky), but not after 6pm or on a Sunday.

  61. Mikey C says:

    An awful lot of the traffic in London is made up of commercial vehicles, vans and lorries, they aren’t going to disappear if you build a tram down half the road, instead you will just end up with gridlock, and ruin the buses network.

    What people forget, is the sheer size of London’s existing public transport network, what other city on the planet has the number of buses, tubes trains, national rail trains, DLR etc that London has? My impression, when I visit other cities, as generally there are MORE cars on the road elsewhere. I bet far more people drive in central Paris than in central London.

  62. Malcolm says:

    @timbeauOnly if you assume 100% capacity which you did not for the cars

    That figures if you are talking about peak loadings. If there are sufficient passengers, they will fill up trams etc until they are full. That doesn’t happen with cars.

  63. Greg Tingey says:

    Paris inner roads are supprisiungly empty compared to London …..
    But they have Metro / RER / buses / SNCF(RATP)

    Berlin: DB / S-bahn /U-bahn / buses / Trams.

    Can’t work in London?

    I must agree, though that a Paris-style “semi-ring” of trams, would be a very good idea for London.

  64. Anonymous says:

    @stimarco – love your post. All too true.

    I can’t imagine Londoners putting up with something like a suspended railway though – despite the brilliant polaroid solution, folk will just object to the thing as an eyesore.

    But the basic principle of segregation of metro/express services is spot-on. In my often fevered imaginings, I envisage converting existing south London railway lines into double decker tracks – building a second tier all the way along into central London, either above or dug below the line. Sure, there would be visual impact, but maybe easier to get away with on existing infrastructure where locals are used to seeing a great big bloody bridge anyway.

    But my solutions tend to be a bit Heath Robinson…..

  65. James GB says:

    I am not sure about the overhead type thing on the streets of London. Putting aside the nimbyism (and the impressive polarised window solution), it comes down to space. I will assume that the overhead vehicles run at 4.5m above ground level (to clear buses and lorries) then drop down to 0.5m above ground level at the stations. Lets assume that the trains can manage a gradient of 10% (probably with something like a mountain railway rack wheel built in). The gradient at each end of the stop will therefore be 40m long. If the trains are 100m long then the stop and it’s approaches take up (100m + (2x40m)) 180m minimum, say 200m with some margins. Over that distance, the area under the transit will be closed to road traffic due to insufficient overhead clearance.

    Let’s imagine this applied to Oxford St. Is there anywhere along that road with no side streets over a 200m stretch? I don’t think so. There will then be a choice between blocking side streets off, running the transit down the centre with road traffic at either side and right turns blocked, or closing the street to the rubber tyre altogether. You don’t get those problems with trams.

    Width is also important. If we assume that the trains are 2.5 metres wide, there is a 1m gap between them when passing, and the platforms are 3m wide and on the outside of the tracks, then one double track transit stop and it’s approach tracks consume 1800m squared of land that can’t be used for anything else much. That’s a huge figure, and it will limit the number of stops you want to build. If the stops are less than 600m apart then the track will spend less distance at full height than they will ascending + descending + in stations.

    If you accept all of the above, it seems to me that the economics and performance of the system would come down to how long you can make the trains. You need the longest possible trains with the widest possible bodies operating at the lowest possible headway with the best possible acceleration. Acceleration will be determined in large part by how well each train accelerates up the steep gradient next to each stop. Reduce the gradient and the land take increases rapidly … in my example above, if you decrease the gradient to 5%, the stop and it’s approaches now measure 280m long and land take increases to 2280m squared. The longer the train the longer the stop and the greater the impact of side street closures etc. Similarly, the wider the vehicle, the wider the space taken by the stops, and the greater the difficulty of fitting them into the street without closing it to other traffic.

    I am not opposed to monorails or similar full stop, but it seems to me that they are appropriate in certain specific situations, like building along the route of an existing motorway/railway/river. Not city centres with congested, ancient street plans.

  66. Anonymous says:


    Gravesend and Heathrow aren’t roughly the same distance from central London. Gravesend is 21.8 miles/ 35 km and Heathrow central is only 14.3 miles / 23 km, that’s a hell of a difference. Gravesend is also about 5 miles from the M25. I also don’t know where you get your timings from? The Piccadilly takes 48 minutes from 1-2-3 to Piccadilly Circus compared with a 55-58 minute journey from Gravesend to Charing Cross.

    Also London’s suburbs aren’t low density (nor is the area around kent house) and whilst London could be denser your comparison with Paris is a bit off. The population density of the Paris urban area is 3,640 /km2 compared with 5,099.4/km2 (2001 census) in London.

    Having said that I do agree with your sentiments that south London has rubbish transport links and that Crossrail or any other new line would be swamped.

  67. stimarco says:

    @Anonymous (06:07PM; 16-SEP-2012):

    My mistake, I was actually thinking about Dartford, not Gravesend. (I lived near Gravesend for a while, so it’s my mind’s default station choice for that area.) Although not quite the same distance from Central London, the crucial difference is that you don’t have to change trains to get from Central London to Heathrow. Nor is the Piccadilly Line also having to cope with freight and express services along the same pair of tracks.

    The problem with the Dartford services is that they all stop dead, slap bang on the banks of the Thames. Kent has better connections with France and Belgium than with the rest of the UK. The only major British city you can get to from stations in Kent is London, and only the arse end of it at that.

    Even with the proposed Thameslink service improvements, many services won’t really benefit much due to the limitations of the routes. With no passing loops, service frequencies are going to be inherently low. No Tube-style “turn-up-and-go” from the likes of Erith, or Greenwich, despite their proximity to central London, because the same tracks also have to cope with expresses and freight trains. The Tube network has no such issues, as, to the north of the river, it is entirely segregated from express and freight services. The only way to squeeze more passengers onto the network has been to lengthen trains, but there’s a limit to how far you can take that approach.

    As for “London’s suburbs aren’t low density (nor is the area around kent house)”, I beg to differ. I grew up near Kent House station, so I know full well, from first-hand experience, how dense the population is there. It’s almost entirely low-density semi-detached and fully-detached housing. Some areas, like Birkbeck and Mackenzie Roads, are smaller semi-detached (and some terraced) Victorian houses. ALL have gardens. Compared to the mid-rise and high-rise apartment buildings you’d find in New York City, Paris and Rome, I can assure you that, by comparison, London is extremely low density.

    To put this in context, consider the density of NYC’s Subway network. Go look at a map and you’ll see myriad lines. Yet NYC’s core is barely half that of London’s core. NYC has double the population density of London in its central core thanks to all those high-rise buildings.

    Paris’ outer urban area is low-density, like London, but it still has a much higher central core density. Very few Londoners actually live in central London itself, but this is not the case in Paris, New York, Rome, etc.

    @Anonymous (02:10PM; 15-SEP-2012):

    Are you seriously claiming that Whitley Bay, Monkseaton, South Shields and South Hylton are more deserving of a metro link to Newcastle than Dartford, Penge and Bromley are of a metro link to London? Because I’ve used both networks and I know which one is rather less in need of expansion. (Hint: it’s the one run by Nexus.)

  68. James GB says:


    I disagreed with you on monorail-type-things, but I agree with you completely on HS2 to Brighton. There may be a benefit from locating the HS2 main terminus in Sussex in that it might (I stress the “might”) be much cheaper than providing the equivalent one in Central London. So instead of a wholesale rebuilding of Euston, build a 4 platform through station, perhaps completely underground, perhaps under the Euston Road with entrances at both Euston and St Pancras. Continue in a tunnel via Croydon (another through station) to a main terminal station built cut and cover style at Gatwick. Most expresses from the north would terminate there, with a few continuing south to a new underground terminal at Brighton. Grade separated approach tunnels at Three bridges would allow some trains to come off the classic line and use the new tunnels to get to Brighton, increasing overall capacity.

    The greatest benefit would probably be felt if Gatwick can somehow become the UK’s hub airport at Heathrow’s expense.

  69. stimarco says:

    @James G B:

    I wasn’t suggesting running the network entirely at street level. Merely pointing out that, it could be built, partially at-grade in areas where it would make sense to do so.

    I sure as hell wouldn’t build it at-grade along Oxford Street. That particular headache might be better served by conversion into a dedicated shopping mall—i.e. pedestrianise the thing and be done with it. Fit some kind of PRT system to provide connections with suitable bus stations at each end (the Park Lane car park could provide one of them) and recast bus services accordingly.

    Oxford Street has only been a major tourist attraction and shopping street for about 100 years, so it hasn’t a lot of historical foundation. Many of the big department stores were rebuilt during the 1960s, while the south side of the street is mostly shabby little terraced buildings, so it could be argued that road-widening is justifiable. There’s very little on the street, aside from Selfridges, that is of any great architectural merit until you get to Regent Street / Oxford Circus.

    Also, we do have digital video cameras and other forms of recording technology available to us now that would allow a very accurate virtual preservation of the entire street for posterity, should that be desirable. There’s no need to cripple an entire local economy and allow history hold it to ransom.

    Our Victorian ancestors thought nothing of knocking down tatty old rubbish and replacing it with something better. It’s high time we had more confidence in our own era, instead of all this tiresome ancestor worship. They weren’t that good. Brunel serially bankrupted many of his backers, made plenty of lousy judgement calls and his father even screwed up the survey for the Thames Tunnel. I’ve seen a late Victorian terraced house stripped right down to the brickwork and it really wasn’t pretty. They clearly had their cowboy builders too.

    Finally, you could just kick the politicians out to Birmingham and make Westminster London’s new shopping district instead, restoring Oxford Street to its original role as a trunk road. But that’s just fantasy, up there with fairies and honest politicians.

  70. ChrisMitch says:

    Oxford Street does not deserve saving from a aesthetic point of view, but knocking it down just to build a tram route does seem a tad harsh…!

  71. timbeau says:


    “the crucial difference is that you don’t have to change trains to get from Central London to Heathrow”

    Nor do you from the north Kent lines, unless you consider Charing Cross and Cannon Street not central enough?

    “The only major British city you can get to from stations in Kent is London, and only the arse end of it at that”.

    Again those of us coming into Kings Cross, Wterloo, pPddington, Victoria wuld love to get as close as the southeastern people get.

    “No Tube-style “turn-up-and-go” from the likes of ….Greenwich, despite their proximity to central London”

    Greenwich has 6tph off peak, plus the DLR, Dartford has 10tph off peak. Not far from turn up and go.

  72. Taz says:

    Is London different: The commuting problem. A vital task of public transport is to move people between home and work. “Central London has some of the highest job densities in the world. There are only five local authority areas in the UK, all in central London, with employment densities of more than 5,000 jobs per square kilometre. The City of London has a density of 130,000 jobs per square kilometre!!!” (A rail strategy for London’s future, TfL 2006 p.23, emphasis added) Since construction of the SSL lines, only the city branch of the Northern Line, the Waterloo & City, and the Central Line have been built through the City. Over a century later, Crossrail will bring much needed relief.

  73. Fandroid says:

    I’m unsure of stimarco’s assumptions about the supports needed for a suspended system.

    To support a two-way system on single pylons would create huge cantilever forces due to the one-sided loading. Remember that a decently loaded train in the peak would be mighty heavy! And, the supports would have to be designed to cope with two trains side-by-side. All that requires massive columns and deep and big foundations.

    Admittedly, I haven’t seen many suspended monorails in action. The only one I have seen is the Skytrain at Dusseldorf Airport. That has twin column supports, and they are pretty big, and are not vertical (so need a wide base overall). And those columns don’t have to cope with the cantilever forces. The virtue of using a suspended system there is that it can weave over roadways and fencelines and low buildings, taking a direct route unconstrained by the ground level layout. However, it doesn’t go very fast!

    I would have thought that the Oxford Street problem was easy to solve. Just close it to through traffic (allowing traffic to cross at lights), pedestrianise it all, and run tramlines down the middle, with regular shuttles reversing at each end. Through bus passengers could just hop off and on. People and trams can mix, just look at Piccadilly Gardens in Manchester! It would be noisy though, with all those tram bells ringing constantly, and those erstwhile through bus routes would have to find other streets to clog.

  74. Anonymous says:

    Whitley Bay has a 5tph metro service and is about the same size of Penge which has a combined 10tph rail one. South Shields also has a 5tph metro service yet is more than twice the size of Penge. Its population is also 33% more than that of Dartford.

    It makes no difference at all to the public whether their lines are metro, heavy rail, underground, overground, or rocket ships, so long as they are frequent enough and have space to board them. I have never seen anyone ask to lose a 10tph rail service in order to get a 5tph metro one.

    Personally I would even argue that Penge has 20tph given how close Crystal Palace station is. I have often used that method there, using the Penge Gate and walking through the park.

    Whatever the needs of those in London, that they have any does not mean that people living elsewhere should be grateful of a substandard service or do not have legitimate complaint. Funding may have to be contended, but people’s needs are not.

    This can be a hideously unfriendly site at times. But more disheartening than your vile dismissal of the “pathetic mewling screams from the regions,” where in very few cases people have a service that is even remotely comparable with us in London, let alone better than it, is that other users apparently see nothing wrong with it.

  75. Whiff says:

    @Anonymous – I personally think your final comments are very unfair as I feel that is one of the friendlier message boards I comment on, free of much of the attention-seeking behaviour and personal insults that pollute much of the web, but each to their own. As someone who spent 4 or 5 years commuting by public transport around Devon I do agree that Londoners do sometimes not realise how good they have it already but that doesn’t mean there is not considerable room for improvement. I seem to be remember there was a good, reasonably balanced discussion of this on one of the HLOS threads.

    @James GB – unless I’m missing something there is no need for an elevated railway to drop to street level for stations. After all the Underground doesn’t rise to the surface to let people off. The Bangkok Skytrain, the system I know best, doesn’t have any fancy technology but works well because there are wide roads so there is space for the railway and tall buildings on either side so that it is not too much of an eyesore. Not sure if either of these occur enough together in London to make a similar system workable.

    @Taz – fascinating figures on the numbers of people working in central London. Just shows what a challenge we will have trying to change working and commuting patterns to relive congestion in the core. After all isn’t one of the unspoken truths about over-crowding on the BML that too many people defy common sense by commuting all the way from Brighton to London every day.

    Also some interesting ideas on extending HSL2 south to Brighton. I wonder how the people of Sussex would react if you told them they could have a super-duper new railway connecting them to the rest of the country but the price they would have to pay is a doubling or tripling in size of Gatwick.

  76. Paul says:

    @stimarco – Population density
    “Compared to the mid-rise and high-rise apartment buildings you’d find in New York City, Paris and Rome, I can assure you that, by comparison, London is extremely low density. ”

    Sorry fella but the stats don’t agree with you. London is the 43rd most densely populated city in the world at 5,100 people/sq km, Paris is 69th (3,500), Rome is down at 83rd (2,950) and New York languishes at 114th with less than half London’s density at 2,050.

    Most of the top 40 is in Asia and Africa, with notable European densities beating London being St Petersburg and (by a small margin) Athens and Madrid, although they are all significantly smaller cities. So it’s fair to say that London is the most densely populated area of its size in Europe. Didn’t reckon on that did you?

    The outward appearance of buildings is deceptive. London fills those Victorian terraces with conversions at a density that beats the “mid-rise and high-rise” which of course need some open spaces between them.

  77. Paul says:

    Picking up the thread about monorails and the like – please please look at Sydney’s monorail for an extremely lightweight affair that sails slickly above the streets of the CBD.

    One of the nifty things they did in Sydney was to build some of the stations inside existing buildings. The monorail simply sails in through the side, at the 1st or 2nd floor level, and sails out the other side. No need for expensive new constructions. If the station’s part of a department store they even welcome the extra footfall.

    Personally I think Oxford Street could do a lot worse.

  78. Anonymous says:

    On the Sydney example, it is worth noting that the Sydney monorail has been widely disliked by residents ever since it was built, is a one-way loop which makes it useless as a means of transport, has very low capacity, and is due to be demolished next year…

  79. Greg Tingey says:

    Paul & others
    Excuse me but … except for very specialised circumstances …
    Why not?
    and junctions – slight problem there.
    The Sydney one is described as a “A single loop”.
    Die Wuppertal Shwebebahn is a long thin, double-track single loop.

    Please try to think of the engineering practicalities?

    “Stations in the air” – need to come down to ground level?
    So … Cabary Wharf, Westferry, South Quay, Crossferry, Limehouse etc can’t possibly have any significant number of passengers, can they?
    And the LOR couldn’t have worked as well as it did for 60 years, could it?
    We have nify inventions called, err … oh, that’s it – “Lifts” & “Escalators” don’t we?


  80. Anonymous says:

    @Paul – interesting but is the website you linked to comparing like with like? London is given as having an area of 1,623 sq km whereas Paris comes in at 2,723 sq km. (Even Milan is given as having an area of 1,554 sq km.) If you look at a 60% bigger area for Paris it’s not surprising it’s got a lower population density!

  81. Fandroid says:

    Has anyone here seen/used the ‘el’ in Chicago, and could give us a rundown on how well that fits in? I suspect that Chicago streets are a lot wider than ours, but on the other hand the grid system must make for some viciously tight curves.

    I go with Greg here. The DLR is a fine example of how you can fit a modern elevated railway into an urban landscape. With a careful engineer/architect look at the structures, it seems likely that they could be made to be even more street friendly than they appear to be now.

  82. Fandroid says:

    Annonymous has hit the relative density issue on the nail. These statistics tend to just use arbitrary municipal boundaries and ignore the urban realities. A small example near me is Reading, where the ‘borough’ is deemed to be too small to be a city (at about 100,000 pop) but the reality is that those boundaries mostly date from pre WW1 and greater Reading is nearer 300,000 in population (blame Redwood).

  83. Anonymous says:

    The el in Chicago does have some very tight bends. It’s kind of like a roller coaster in some ways, especially in the loop section. The stations are very compact on the loop, and it’s very dingy underneath on the roads.

  84. timbeau says:


    ” The DLR is a fine example of how you can fit a modern elevated railway into an urban landscape.”

    Did you see ehat the docklands landscape looked like in 1987? The DLR is actually a fine example of how you can build an urban landscape around a modern elevated railway – a rather different proposition.

  85. Paul says:

    @ Greg Tingey

    Points are very definitely possible on monorails. For example, in the depots of the Las Vegas monorail and the Osaka monorail .

    Suspended monorails can also have points, like the Siemens H-bahn

    Wuppertal doesn’t have any points on the mainline, because the system is over a century old and to a design not used anywhere else. There are points in the depots at either end though.

  86. Anonymous says:


    The density figures Paul posted are for the urban areas not municipal boundaries. The London urban area is a bit misleading as it includes places like Watford and Woking which are connected by ribbon development but with them included is still denser than Paris. Outside of the city boundaries places like Paris and New York suffer a massive drop off in density, because of the green belt that never happened to London.

  87. Paul says:

    Sydney’s monorail may be a single loop, but even it has points, as required to switch trains in and out of the depot!

    Yes it is a bit useless in transport terms, and yes it is being ripped out after 25 years in favour of…. an extension to the tram system! However, the example of a lightweight, quick-to-build monorail that doesn’t have to occupy a lot of space on city centre streets is valid. If it had been a useful piece of transport infrastructure – ie taking people places they wanted to go rather than around a big circle, the story would have been different.

  88. Paul says:

    Re: Population densities

    Cities are notoriously hard to define on a “like for like” basis. Generally political boundaries are usually misleading, so personally I accept the “continuous urban area” concept as the best compromise.

    The argument over Paris being geographically larger is surely self defeating. Paris has a smaller population than London in a larger continuous urban area. Ergo it is lower density. That’s what lower density means!

    Sure, you can go and find a high density area of Paris and a lower density area of London, it’s easily done, of course it is. But it would also be a meaningless comparison.

  89. Anonymous says:

    @Paul – the reason the Sydney monorail is lightweight is precisely because its cars are so small. The reason it doesn’t take up much street space (although the supports do block a full traffic lane on Pitt Street) is because it operates in one direction only. To be useful as a form of transport it would need to have two beams and so take up twice as much space; if it was useful as a means of transport then the cars would need to be larger and so the supports would need to be heavier. In other words, it is low impact precisely because it is useless.

  90. Long Branch Mike says:


    I’ve ridden & walked around the Chicago El a few times – very noisy beside and underneath. Very dark underneath even on a sunny day.

    The stairs at the El stations are very narrow & surrounded with bars, like going to a jail. Great view from the trains though!

  91. Long Branch Mike says:

    Re: Sydney Monorail

    See The Simpsons classic Monorail episode. Says it all…

  92. Fandroid says:

    I think we’ve all (me included) gone off the point concerning population densities. It’s the density along the relevant transport corridor that matters. So an urban area that it is low down the overall density table could locally still support a transport system that relies on a large number of passengers.

    Modern trams have several advantages over buses (especially double-deckers in London). They are far more comfortable to ride if you are standing up. This was reinforced for me yesterday on a no 24 from Hampstead to Gower Street. It lurched, bounced, jerked and roared in true London bus fashion. Last week I was on a tram which just glided along with the only threats to my stability happening at the stops, and that was only in one dimension. I suspect if we had trams introduced in central London they would be immediately overloaded as they would attract people to an obviously superior form of transport (subtracting short-trip passengers from the Tube as well as from buses).

  93. Anonymous says:

    Re the Sydney monorail perhaps Boris will put a bid in for legacy river crossing…..

  94. Greg Tingey says:

    Conventional point are fail-safe, automatically, monorail points are NOT.
    Yes, they are possible, on “monorails”, but why make life difficult for yourself?

  95. timbeau says:

    What makes conventional points automatically fail safe but monorail points not so? They can and do fail, but there are interlocks and other safety measures which normally prevent a train entering points which are not locked, or set for the wrong route. Why would monorails not have similar safeguards?

    Looking at the photos though, it would seem that most monorail points are much more substantial structures than those on conventional railways. They also look as if they can only be negotiated at low speed – not a problem in depots but a severe operating constraint in service.

    The basic physics of the situation requires that for a vehicle to remain upright it must either have an active balancing system (as a bicycle does – but is hardly fail safe), or points of contact with the ground which are spaced across the width of the vehicle sufficiently widely that the centre of gravity of the vehicle is always above a point within that width. That either means a very wide wheel (like a road roller) with a suitably wide road/track surface to support it, or some form of stabiliser – an outrigger, which will need its own track – in which case you might as well make the thing symmetrical and have two identical tracks, and wheels to run on them.

    Having two wheels on an axle was invented several thousand years ago, and running them on rails at least 500 years ago. No-one has has yet come up with a practical system with fewer (or indeed more) than two.

  96. Anonymous says:

    Going back to Tramlink, I note that the new Variotrams do not seem very popular with somebody at Therapia Lane – at times when the original fleet can cover requirements, such as on Sundays, the Variotrams are left in the depot.

  97. Greg Tingey says:

    If you approach a setr of facing points, you must go somehwere, left or right.
    If you approach a set of trailing points, if set correctly, you run through, if not, they are forced, damage occurs, but train stays on track.
    On monorails, if points are open there is a bloody great HOLE, isn’t there?
    Conventional rails/wheels are also good because of the conicity effect – they are self-centreing.
    Plateways & monorails don’t normally have this advantage, either …..

  98. timbeau says:

    Greg – point taken, although it has been known for trains to split facing points (essentially what happened at Potters Bar) , or be derailed by incorrectly-set trailing points if it rides over them rather than forces them over, which can also be messy.

  99. swirlythingy says:

    Anonymous 19 Sep: Yes, I wondered about that. I recently had cause to travel from Elmers End to Wimbledon late on a weekday night, and I kept an eye out for any new trams I might pass, as I knew they were operating on this same route. I didn’t see a single one until I passed Therapia Lane some time later, at which point I found out why – all six were sitting in the sidings idle.

    Nor did I see a single tram displaying its route number as 4, and I had to change at Croydon as usual. Is it a peak hours-only service?

  100. timbeau says:

    Yes, it is peaks hours only.
    The Tramlink timetable shows the last tram on route 4 leaves Elmers End at 1946 on weekdays and 1846 on Saturdays, with no service on Sundays. As to why the new trams are confined to this route – Part 2 mentions that some modifications were needed at East Croydon for the new trams: are there constraints elsewhere on the network that limit the use of the trams? (The photos in that article show one of the new trams at Wimbledon on a test run, but I’ve never seen one there in service)

  101. MiaM says:

    The politically most likely way for more tramways in London would probably incremental addition to Tramlink and/or tram conversion of railways that has a low frequency today (like Wimbledon-Croydon did before Tramlink) and/or tramway as a part of some kind of grand remake scheme (like the DLR when Docklands were remade).

    Where could incremential expansions be buildt? Another stop south of New Addington would probably be very nice for those who live there, but unless the green area outside New Addington will be buildt up it doesn’t seem like a step to a bigger expansion. Any other directions / diversions possible?

    Tram conversion of West Croydon – Sutton has IMHO one really good side effect in that West Croydon railway station could be closed and Overground moved to East Croydon. That would require that termination platforms would be built at East Croydon which requires that available land won’t be buildt on.

    Is there any area of London that is “up for a grand makeover”? I don’t know of any such place.

    The politically far more bold alternatives would be to divert cars from areas that don’t really nead that much cars itself, like for example the previously mentioned Oxford Street. Would any politician in power dare to do that? Would it be easier to remove cars to give trams their own lanes than to give buses their own lanes?

    Re the East Croydon, BML2, HS2 e.t.c. issue:
    Is there any good alternatives to rebuild East Croydon as a “two story” station with for example 6+6 through tracks and some terminating tracks westwards of todays platforms, perhaps with two levels of tracks southwards to for example Purley?

    Also, what exactly is the problem with BML south of Purley?

    The idea to run HS2 trains via Heathrow and Croydon to Brighton/southern reminds me of one of the proposals for Berlin in the 1990’s before todays Hbf (central station) and it’s tunnel were buildt. At that time there were a proposal to run every long distans train atleast 180 degrees round the circle railway line that goes around Berlin, and have four big interchange stations (todays Westkreuz, Ostkreuz, Gesundbrunnen and Südkreuz). In theoy it’s a good idea, far less constrution work and money would had been required compared to todays solution, but in practise everey passenger would need to know where they have do make their interchange to an onward journey. If someone had lighted at the wrong station there would be a rather big chace that they’d miss their onward connection, and the timetables would probably also had been more complicated.

    This gives me the impression that it would be a better idea to integrate HS2 with some kind of Thameslink 2 and partial BML expansion (mainly Croydon, but trains could also go onwards to SE/Kent).

    Combine this with Swanlink (Waterloo – Liverpool Street) and perferable make all lines have one major interchange point (Farringdon?), and London would have a far better rail network than today.

    Ideally there wouldn’t be any trains that terminate without running through the central area, except diesel trains (unless they are made dual mode – it’s not that complicated to build diesel electric trains that also can run (perhaps with reduced power) on third rail electrifictaion, the third rail voltage isn’t that far away from the voltages used internally in a diese-electric loco anyway).

    It would be interesting to know how much it would cost to build some really big tunnels, like for example an 8-track tunnel Waterloo-Liverpool Street, 4-track London Bridge – Euston/Marylebone, Victoria – Fenchurch Street (and possible Victoria – Marylebone) e.t.c. that could handle through trains with enough capacity to handle as much trains as todays railways that connects to the termini stations. It would probably be a massive cost, but that is what London really should have.

  102. Greg Tingey says:

    Route Numbers not displayed?
    /RANT ON
    WHY have TfL/London Buses started (some time back) only putting FINAL DESTINATION on their bus-blinds, without intermediate stops?
    The passengers just MIGHT WANT TO GO somehere IN BETWEEN their joining-point * the final stop.
    Consider the different available routes between say Vaxhall & Clapham Junction…
    If you are in a hurry, & want to get to BAC (Battersea old Town Hall) you can, quite esily get on the wrong one -( I did, once) …
    What complete moronic idiot thought of providing LESS useful information?

    Excuse me, but
    Closing W Croydon Sutton?
    You DO realise that there are quite a lot of trains that go to places like Epsom Downs & Leatherhead and Dorking & Horsham along that route?
    A THROUGH train every 10 minutes in the of-peak each way in the present timetable – & you want to replace this with a tram-shuttle?
    It isn’t just Croydon – Sutton!
    Did you even think of looking at a time-table when you made that suggestion?
    Maybe an EXTRA pair of tracks for trams, if there is space (which I suspect there isn’t in some places) …..
    Also, where trams have reserved sections, you often have buses in the same (paved) sections, with just cars/lorries/cyclists banned – use your eyes – Croydon already has this.
    Sub-surface rail tuinnels in city centres.
    The USUAL method is to have two tracks, but a 4 (6, 8) track station in the centre.
    Like Amsterdam Schipol or Antwerp Centraal LL ……

  103. timbeau says:

    MiaM “The politically far more bold alternatives would be to divert cars from areas that don’t really nead that much cars itself, like for example the previously mentioned Oxford Street. Would any politician in power dare to do that?”

    Private cars (other than taxis – grrr) have been banned from Oxford Street since at least the 1970s

  104. timbeau says:

    MiaM “The politically far more bold alternatives would be to divert cars from areas that don’t really nead that much cars itself, like for example the previously mentioned Oxford Street. Would any politician in power dare to do that?”

    Private cars (other than taxis – grrr) have been banned from Oxford Street since at least the 1970s

    Greg – I don’t think Swirlythingy said no route numbers were displayed: only that there were no No 4’s

  105. Greg Tingey says:

    Not disagreeing, but his mention of route-nos set my rant off!

    typo btw … should read: “…but a 4 (6, 8) track station in the centre.
    Where the “face” came from I haven’t a clue….

  106. Anonymous says:

    On Tramlink route numbers, the lack of route numbers on the system map/diagram is not very helpful. In fact, using different shades of green to depict the different routes is pretty poor.
    The non-use of the new Variotrams on Sundays/evenings (although that debate would belong better in the Part 2 article) is a bit odd. Normally you’d expect staff/management to want to make maximum use of their newest rolling stock. One thing I noted about the Variotrams though is the narrow, non-wheelchair accessible door at each end behind the driver (ie front left and rear right).

  107. timbeau says:

    Where the “face” came from I haven’t a clue

    I think you’ve inadvertantly set up an emoticon – an “8” and a “)” perghaps? Lets see: 8)

  108. Rogmi says:

    Better still, extend the Overground from West Croydon to Sutton and then round the loop via Wimbledon, Tooting, Streatham and West Norwood to join up with the LO at Crystal Palace – a bit like a “d”. Saves reversing trains at Wset Croydon and Crystal Palace, although it would need a junction added to the curve between Leigham Junction and West Norwood Junction.

    Or just carry on from Streatham to Clapham Junction where it can go via platforms 16/17, joining up with the LO at Latchmere 2 junction. You could then run a circular route:
    Dalston Junction, West Croydon, Wimbledon, Streatham, Clapham Junction, Willesden Junction, Dalston Junction.

    I don’t care what, but anything that would improve the service round the Wimbledon loop 🙂

  109. swirlythingy says:

    Wimbledon to Clapham Junction via Streatham?!

    What ‘improvements’ were you thinking of, exactly?

  110. mr_jrt says:

    I suspect that barring a extensive rebuild of Sutton station the only LO extension possible from West Croydon would be to Epsom Downs.

    I’d like to see Crystal Palace to Clapham Junction given to LO, then merged with into the WLL services. If Sutton were to get it’s rebuild, then West Croydon to Wimbledon becomes viable, and restoring platform 10 to NR and a flyover north of the station gets LO to East Putney, where a solution involving a restored flyover and an additional pair of lines to Clapham Junction would be all that prevents through running to the SLL and back up to Surrey Quays. Just like your ‘d’, only larger 🙂

    …as for the circular service, I’d imagine a spiral would work better:Watford (DC Lines)Willesden LL (DC Lines)Primrose Hill (DC Lines)Dalston Junction (ELL)Crystal Palace (ELL)Clapham Junction 16/17Willesden HL (NLL)Camden Road (NLL)Dalston (NLL)Stratford (NLL)(Lea Valley?)

  111. MiaM says:

    The trains Sutton – central London could go via Streatham (and then either Victoria or E&C + Farringdon), or is that route overloaded?

  112. Rogmi says:

    The improvement being the amount ov trains (LO) running on the Wimbledon loop – anything more than the 2 tph (often tph ot less!) would be an improvement. I wouldn’t really care when they went after that, although Clapham Junction would be an option.

    If there was a decent service guaranteed (as much as possible) on the loop, whether it is from NR, LO or tram, I’m sure that it would have many more passengers. I don’t use it as much as I could because I just can’t gurantee turning up and finding a train coming along. A frequent service, or at least a guaranteed service at a specific time would be an incentive to use it. As it is, I often take a bus, even though the journey may be longer.

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