TfL Announce Beginning of Overground Capacity Work


TfL have released a press release officially confirming that they have begun work on expanding Overground services (where possible) to 5-car services:

A programme to introduce five-car trains on all London Overground routes and increase the capacity of the railway by 25 cent, to meet rapidly increasing demand for the network’s services, was announced by Transport for London (TfL) today.

The £320m programme includes the construction of longer platforms and the delivery of an extra 57 carriages by the end of 2015.

In reality, the Press Release isn’t quite correct – as it stands upgrading the Gospel Oak – Barking Line is currently out of scope. This is due to the difficulties caused by the failure to secure funding to electrify the line, which complicates the issue – something we described in our coverage of the TfL Business Plan:

Capacity enhancement on the Overground is going to be a huge headache for TfL to plan in the coming months, largely thanks to both those points. It’s worthy of a post in itself, but the “short version” is that without knowing the future of the GOBLIN, it’s going to be incredibly difficult for TfL to plan capacity enhancement across both that line and the Overground itself. Adding a third car to the 172s would seem like a no-brainer, but Bombardier all but indicated they didn’t want the work earlier this year by pricing it high, forcing TfL to start the process of tendering for new diesel rolling stock.

Electrification of the line, whilst it would bring its own cascade problems, would thus potentially make things easier by opening up the option of running 378s – in some configuration – on the line. There is some suggestion from sources that TfL were hoping for a GOBLIN mention in the Chancellor’s statement, but that was not the case meaning an electrification decision now almost certainly depends on the freight pot to be allocated in January.

This all leaves TfL in a bit of a sticky position, capacity planning-wise. Do you plan for an all-electric fleet across all Overground lines, and adjust your units, orders, and upgrade milestones accordingly? Or do you commit to a diesel fleet on the GOBLIN, thus fixing that as the future there for the foreseeable future?

Whilst the Press Release focuses on high-level statements about why this is required and the success of the Overground, more information on what TfL are actually planning to do with regards to this work, can be found within the recent Board Papers:

LOCIP is a programme of works addressing the increasing demand on the London Overground network. It includes conversion of the existing fleet of London Overground Class 378 four car trains to five car trains on all routes. To achieve this increase in capacity, a series of infrastructure enhancements are required including:

(a) additional stabling at Silwood Triangle and Willesden and the associated connections to the network;
(b) reconfiguration of New Cross Gate Depot and Willesden Train Maintenance Depot to enable maintenance of the five car fleet;
(c) platform extensions, signalling and associated systems works;
(d) infrastructure changes to support additional capacity (including enhancement of existing turn-back sidings); and
(e) procurement of new Class 378 rolling stock cars to extend the existing four car units to five-car units plus potentially additional five car units to increase peak service frequency.

Delivery of five car services on the East London Line (ELL) by December 2014 is provided for in the TfL Business Plan.

The papers continue and, as previously suggested, indicate that the GOBLIN is specifically out of scope for this work as things stand (bolding ours):

LOCIP addresses this problem [overcrowding] in the medium term (to the mid 2020s), by providing permanent benefits of extra capacity. Various schemes that could provide additional capacity were examined. The five car option provides the optimum solution, derived from additional capacity to meet growing demand, and hence a reduction in crowding.

The benefit cost ratio for the five car option is better than any other feasible train lengthening option, as the engineering challenge and costs increase disproportionately with increases in train length. Greater frequencies are not readily achievable in the short term, other than on certain small sections, due to a number of operating constraints. If these constraints were resolved in the future (by re-signalling or reallocating capacity) then further value from the five car option would be realised as the extra trains that could then be added would be longer five car trains.

It may be desirable to provide further additional capacity by the mid 2020’s and this ties in with both the end of the current rolling stock lease arrangements and potential changes connected with High Speed 2. As part of LOCIP, where reasonably practical, provision is being made to accommodate six car trains. It should be understood that even if the five car trains ultimately become as full as current four car trains the benefits of five car are not ‘lost’, the trains are still carrying 25 per cent more passengers than they would as four car units.

Works to the Gospel Oak to Barking route to increase train length from two car to three car are excluded from this paper. Proposals will only be brought forward when funding sources have been identified.

As to where things currently stand:

A planning application for the proposed new sidings at Silwood Triangle was submitted to the London Borough of Lewisham (LBL) on 30 November 2012. Preapplication stakeholder consultation has been completed by TfL and a positive pre-application advice letter has been received from LBL.

Negotiations are well advanced regarding necessary land purchase adjacent to New Cross Gate Depot maintenance shed.

Positive discussions are underway with Network Rail (NR) regarding delivery of works on its infrastructure and it is expected that necessary contractual arrangements will be agreed in line with the programme. TfL has currently entered into Basic Asset Protection Agreements with NR, to enable NR to support design development by TfL – for example by the provision of NR asset records.

Discussions have taken place to procure additional rolling stock from Bombardier Transportation, the manufacturer, and QW Leasing.

Discussions are also being held on a price for the two additional units to enhance ELL frequency.

Positive discussions have taken place with the European Investment Bank (EIB) in respect of possible involvement with the part-financing of the additional rolling stock.

The papers also give an idea as to what needs to happen next:

Rolling Stock Procurement: Conclude commercial terms with Bombardier Transportation on the price and programme of build for the additional cars and undertake detailed negotiations with QW Rail Leasing (and the EIB) to incorporate these cars into the existing leasing arrangement.

East London Line: Complete the necessary design deliverables and commence procurement of programme critical works contracts. In order to meet the December 2014 programme objective it is proposed to start the tender process for the following contracts in January 2013:

(a) Silwood Triangle stabling enabling works; and
(b) Silwood Triangle switches and crossings long lead procurement.

Obtain planning consent for sidings works at Silwood Triangle.

Complete acquisition of land necessary to extend New Cross Gate Depot maintenance shed. Apply for and obtain necessary planning consents and commence works.

The Silwood Planning Application can be seen here (thanks to LondonChap for the link). The extension of the maintenance shed will potentially be interesting. By preference, it appears that TfL wish to extend out the back, but to do so they will need to purchase some land. If this is unsuccessful, then they will effectively need to make small extensions to the shed at both ends which would be awkward (you can get some idea of the shed layout here.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.