Death, Taxes and Lewisham: Extending the Bakerloo
The idea of extending the Bakerloo Line southwards is almost as old as the Bakerloo Line itself. One that seems to capture the imagination of rail enthusiasts, politicians and Londoners alike. It certainly ranks alongside suggestions such as re-opening disused stations, extending the Waterloo & City Line and of somehow finding a use for the former Aldwych branch of the Piccadilly Line in a considerable number of amateur and professional imaginations.
Reasons for wanting to extend the Bakerloo Line southwards vary from rational argument to gut feeling. Certainly, as discussed many times before, the Bakerloo Line is really the only tube line with any significant potential spare capacity. A tube map shows it terminating on the Zones 1 and 2 boundary which instinct says to many is far too close to central London. Furthermore, to many, the Bakerloo Line appears to be a rump of its former self – a line that at its height not only went out as far as Watford Junction but also had a branch from Baker Street all the way to Stanmore. To these people it seems that whilst other tube lines have expanded, the Bakerloo has contracted and this really ought to be rectified.
Whatever the reason for the continued popularity of a potential Bakerloo extension, on September 30th things finally took their first genuine step forward for some time when TfL launched its consultation on extending the Bakerloo Line southwards from Elephant & Castle. That a consultation was imminent was relatively well-known as was the proposed route, even if some of the exact details remained firmly under wraps. Despite this, the consultation still managed to contain one or two minor surprises.
As with all such consultations it is important to begin by asking one key question – why now? One can certainly query why the mayor felt it was necessary to consult about this now. Uncharitably, one could argue it represents a belated desire to be seen to be doing something about this longstanding issue before leaving his full time post as mayor. More kindly, there is a certain amount of logic that, having included it in the 2050 plan, its proposed route really ought to be finalised as soon as possible in order to enable the agreed route to be included in long term plans.
Whatever the reasons, it is time to move on and look at the proposed options.
To Bromley and beyond?
Even to the non-transport-planner, the basic options should be fairly obvious from the map above, even if some of the details aren’t. A proposal to continue to Bromley from Beckenham Junction is present, though the lack of details does make one wonder how anyone can meaningfully comment on it. Indeed the lack of detail suggests this is perhaps a late addition. The background to consultation document certainly suggests that it has yet to be established that such an extension is feasible let alone representing value for money.
The curious publication of a map in the 2050 Transport Supporting Paper suggesting a taking over the Bromley North branch and continuing to Grove Park appears to be missing in the consultation. This suggests that possibly someone in TfL or the Mayor’s Office got confused and inadvertently combined a tube option with a much more plausible – and occasionally mentioned – proposal to extend Tramlink from Beckenham Junction to Bromley and from there take over the Bromley North branch.
Last stop Lewisham
There are a couple of genuine surprises in the consultation proposals. The first is the suggestion that one option is to terminate the Bakerloo at Lewisham and go no further. Until now the only plans that have considered extending the Bakerloo Line to Lewisham have always extended it beyond there to somewhere else. Almost as if Lewisham was only ever previously considered as a stepping stone to the real objective – to link up with an existing line in South East London.
It is hard to tell how serious TfL are about this Lewisham-only option. One would have thought that Lewisham – Hayes would be in a different colour and not described as “core extension proposal” on the map key if this really was intended to be taken seriously.
The inevitability of New Cross Gate
The second big surprise is that a station at New Cross Gate features as something that will happen regardless of what option is chosen (at least if we ignore the option of rejecting the proposals in their entirety).
Effectively, if this consultation is to be trusted, then two stations we can be sure will be on an extended Bakerloo Line are New Cross Gate and Lewisham. Local residents rejoice.
Underground stations – just like buses…
Possibly a more minor surprise is the number of intermediate stations proposed between Elephant & Castle and Lewisham. Given the phenomenal cost of underground stations it is surprising that there are three of them. Possibly even more surprising is that on the Old Kent Road route they have only been given working names – “Old Kent Road 1” and “Old Kent Road 2.” It is difficult to recall any previous rail consultation where the proposed station(s) did not have a name. The aforementioned Background to Consultation document makes it clear that these are not definite and it may be that there will be only one station along the Old Kent Road. The lack of detail is almost certainly due to there being plans to comprehensively redevelop the area, but being at an early stage, the exact desired locations of stations is unknown.
Getting the right combination
One thing that seems to be clear from the start is that whilst a number of options are suggested, combinations of these options are not taken into account. For example, the route serving Camberwell and Peckham Rye makes a lot of sense if the priority is to provide these communities with an Underground service. In the case of Camberwell it has been recognised for the best part of a century that it is particularly poorly served and Peckham has poor links to the West End. There will doubtless be people who support this option but it is hard to see that they would also be in favour of extending beyond Lewisham as that would make the trains more crowded and so lose much of the attraction for them of an extended Bakerloo Line.
Conversely it is hard to imagine many people that supports the line’s extension down to Hayes and Beckenham Junction would be keen on the additional time that would be added by the longer and more curved route via Peckham Rye (although the Background to Consultation document gives the impression this will be absolutely marginal).
In a similar manner, if the proposal to extend to Bromley is found to be viable, it would inevitably need a decent service which could only be provided by extending any trains that terminate at Catford Bridge (or possibly Lewisham) or by diverting trains away from Hayes.The subtlety would probably be lost on those using Clock House and stations south thereof who probably won’t respond and say that they support the proposal but only if it doesn’t go to Bromley as well as Hayes.
Despite the fact that the different consultation options are not independent of each other one could well imagine a scenario, much like Crossrail 2, where the planners pick and chose between the options in an attempt to solve multiple transport problems and end up with a route that was the first preference of very few people indeed.
The Elephant in the plan
Always more interesting than what is included in a consultation is what isn’t. Often this can be quite hard to spot, but here there is at least one absolutely glaring omission – any kind of detailed timescale. There is a short reference in the consultation but it is vague. It states:
If funding is identified, construction could start as early as 2023 (subject to the necessary powers) and the extension could open as early as 2030.
This appears to be slighty more optimistic than the answer provided in the faqs where it states:
Completion is estimated by the early to mid 2030s if funding is secured
In some ways this is surprising – because it is something that is pretty much spelt out elsewhere in the Mayor’s 2050 Transport Supporting Paper which talks of completion by 2040 – for stage 1 (there is also an upgrade with increased frequency proposed for 5 years later). Nothing can happen until the Bakerloo Line is modernised which, based on timescales quoted up to a few days ago, means we are talking around 2035. On the assumption that TfL couldn’t afford both the tube upgrade and building the extension simultaneously, that would mean “spades in the ground” on any extension around the late 2030s – something that fits in with details in the appendix of the 2050 Transport Supporting Paper where the dates given are presumed to be opening dates.
Unfortunately it does seem that the first of the deep level tubes to be upgraded with the New Tube for London, the Piccadilly Line, is currently suffering from a continually receding planned completion date. It has just come to light that the Piccadilly Line upgrade, is not now expected to be fully complete until 2027. This naturally also has an impact on any Bakerloo line timescales and thus suggests that a realistic earliest opening date for the Bakerloo Line extension would be around 2042.
Given that one of the many reasons that the Bakerloo never got expanded to the south was that there was always something more important to do, it is worth asking just how seriously the current proposals can be taken given the extended timescales involved. Indeed a presentation given to the London Underground Railway Society a few years ago Jonathan Roberts summarised some of the proposed southward extensions that never happened.
Ianvisits has also been quick to point out that there have been past proposals and the wording of his headlines certainly suggests a suspicion that this current proposal may well go the way of all the others.
To those that have he giveth…
This is not the time to go into these 20th century proposals in detail but a common feature would appear to be the desire to use the extension to improve public transport in an area not particularly well served by rail and for that reason Lewisham did not feature as a major objective. In a way this was the downfall of all these schemes as they all had to be funded by the public purse and yet there was no obvious payback – the aim was not to stimulate new housing or job opportunities or avoid road building. It was to make the disadvantaged in society have a better life (Diamond Geezer touched on this nicely here and here). Sadly whilst it is certainly a laudable objective, we suspect it is also one for which there is no tickbox on the Treasury’s request-for-funds form.
Probably the best known of recent proposals was one put forward by our own Jonathan Roberts acting in his professional capacity as a transport consultant. We referred to it at the time as Haykerloo and the article of that name, with plenty of pictures and a map or two, might give those unfamiliar with the Hayes branch a bit of an idea of the nature of the line in question.
In the early years of the 21st century when Ken Livingstone was the mayor there was also renewed talk of extending the Bakerloo Line southwards. The ideas were rather vague and then – as now – maybe that suited the mayor.
Against this background Lewisham Council decided to seize their chance and engage a consultant to look at the relative merits of various plausible schemes that involved extending the Bakerloo Line whilst making sure that Lewisham was included in the options – and indeed preferenced over Camberwell which had historically been a strong alternate favourite, but had the massive disadvantage (from Lewisham council’s perspective) of being in Southwark. Whilst the outcome could not be known in advance, there must have been strong inkling that a direct route to Lewisham to minimise tunnelling and journey time would probably score well when measure by the DfT and TfL standard criteria.
One can take the attitude that Lewisham’s initiative was motivated by self-interest and was not in the best interest of London as a whole. Ultimately, however, the Borough was looking after its own interests and it was at least a commendable leap of faith to do something positive whilst all others were vacillating – one that may well pay off in a very long run.
Whilst it is possible to look on their consultation as a failure, it wouldn’t perhaps be wholly fair. For what then happened was that both TfL and Network Rail took an interest in the scheme. In the case of Network Rail they did not seem at all concerned as to whether or not as a whole the scheme was a good one. What excited them was that it would divest them of the Hayes branch which meant that six extra desperately needed peak slots per hour would become available. Indeed, Network Rail even suggested extending the DLR from Lewisham to Hayes as an alternative.
TfL’s interest in Haykerloo was probably more because it would at last get the Bakerloo Line extended. They probably took the attitude that a frequent tube service was better than Network Rail and the DfT providing for 6tph in the peak, 4tph off-peak and 2tph evening and Sundays.
Jonathan Roberts subsequently wrote an article for Modern Railways (MR) about extending the Bakerloo (at both ends) and gave a talk to the London Underground Railway Society (LURS) already mentioned.
In his MR report and his talk to the LURS Jonathan was no longer constrained by his terms of reference and his final slide is telling in that he suggests that maybe the best thing to do is not extend the Bakerloo Line to Hayes but take three SouthEastern routes to Lewisham and combine them in a tunnel to form a separate route to London
– and presumably leave the Bakerloo line still terminating at Elephant & Castle. What you combine that with is a short extension of the Bakerloo to the Old Kent Road and provide good cross platform interchange, Mile End style, to provide the best of all worlds to everyone. As he points out, the beauty of that is that you could extend the Bakerloo first to a future-proofed four platform terminus and subsequently use two of the platforms for your new Crossrail line. It would also allow the Bakerloo to be subsequently extended to Lewisham via Peckham Rye, or anywhere else deemed appropriate, at a later date.
So the question that has to be asked, is what has changed between the original report to Lewisham Council and the current consultation?. The answer can be summarised in three words: timescales and frequencies.
For the first time this century we have a plausible timescale for the Bakerloo extension to Hayes. As already mentioned, the 2050 Transport Supporting Paper talks about a completion date of 2040 with a further upgrade around 2045. This alone make the whole thing more believable. It also throws most of the previous objections out of the window because we have to look at them afresh and consider not how London will be in the period 2020-2025 but instead 2040-2045 and transport-wise we expect that to be very different
According to the 2050 Transport Supporting paper the frequency in 2040 will be the Bakerloo Line Upgrade 1 (BLU1) which would give
a peak service frequency of 27tph as far as Catford Bridge, with 15tph to Hayes and 6tph to Beckenham Junction.
So this means that Hayes, under these proposals, gets a train every four minutes. This is double what was previously proposed and something that would be comparable with a 12-car Networker train every 10 minutes.
The real improvement in this scenario is the 27tph to Catford Bridge – a genuine game changer that would help revitalise Catford. Catford is marked out as an ‘opportunity area’ and a frequent fast tube service direct to the West End could absolutely transform the neighbourhood. It is also an area that would probably welcome blocks of high quality flats or other forms of dense housing development built to a high standard to replace much of the current housing stock.
So by 2040 or so the Hayes branch could be part of the Bakerloo Line with a just-about-adequate peak service at the outer end. But, as the salesman would say, that’s not all. From 2045 you get:
2nd phase upgrade to support demand growth generated by Bakerloo Southern Extension: full automation to reduce operating costs and optimise service operation; increase in peak service frequency from 27tph (post BLU1 service) to 33-36tph; overall increase in peak capacity of c22-33 per cent.
This would suggest a peak hour service from Hayes every three minutes if the increase was uniformly applied. So one can see the question for residents of Clock House and stations to the south thereof:
Would you prefer a peak service every ten minutes alternating between Charing Cross and Cannon Street or would you like a peak service every three minutes to Charing Cross and beyond to the West End? – and, by the way, with the three minute service your house will probably rise considerably in value.
One can almost feel the steadfast resolve of Colonel Blimp of Hayes to rally the troops to oppose the Underground line melting away with every prediction of rising house prices.
What could possibly be wrong with that? Arguments against are (almost) killed.
So, it looks like the objection to the Bakerloo extension on the grounds of inadequate frequency has been totally and utterly overcome. A train every 3 minutes in the peak period to the end of the line would probably give every commuter a seat in the morning if their commute on this line exceeded half an hour. At least it would be better than their situation today with main line metro stock.
The need to keep spare capacity on the line for commuters boarding at Waterloo is also no longer a powerful counter-argument to any extension, as it really makes no sense once Crossrail 2 is built. In fact Crossrail 2 would almost certainly reduce numbers with many changing at Clapham Junction.
Another supposed benefit of Crossrail 2 is to reduce pressure on the Northern Line. This may then give an alternative reasonable route to the City for Haykerloo commuters which would involve a change at Elephant & Castle. After all, not all city commuters want to end up at Cannon St (where current Hayes services go) and it could be that some would rather change at Elephant & Castle and get a Northern Line train direct to Bank or Moorgate.
The case for extending the Bakerloo Line to Hayes in around 2040 may appear overwhelming. There is though this nagging doubt that this is just the wrong approach. It simply does not intuitively appear to make long term sense to replace long, big trains with short, little ones and to modify the stations and signalling at great expense. It is also a solution that has absolutely no potential for future growth. Basically, by 2045, the line will already be “maxed out”.
One could argue that if the line can sustain a 20tph tube service at the extremities then surely it would equally deserve 10tph full size train service? That is a train every six minutes and, whilst not a train every three minutes, an extra 90 seconds wait on average if one turns up at the station at random is not that significant and allows for future expansion of the service.
Taking a similar approach, if Catford Bridge could justify 36tph tube trains it could probably equally justify 18tph full size trains. And that is probably the greater portion of a Crossrail Line. Terminate another 6tph at Lewisham and you have the southern end of a 24tph Crossrail service that will provide capacity for considerable relief and interchange opportunities at Lewisham. In fact, decent Crossrail capacity at ever rising Lewisham town centre would probably go a long way to provide that elusive significant relief for Lewisham railway station and its awkward curves and junctions. So surely there is an arguable case for limiting the southern Bakerloo extension to Lewisham and planning something bigger and better for the Hayes Line through Lewisham to central London and beyond? Maybe that is what lies behind the consultation option of not continuing beyond Lewisham.
This all neatly goes back to the final slide of Jonathan Roberts’ LURS presentation and the suggestion of another way.
Of course the issue is that extending the Bakerloo from Lewisham to Hayes is relatively cheap as it really uses existing assets and combines them to their maximum effect whereas starting almost afresh with a new Crossrail option is very expensive but very future-proofed. And if your were to have a Crossrail option one day then the Old Kent Road would appear to be an attractive alignment and you could even “double end” a station on the Old Kent Road itself. This, however, would not really make much sense if the Old Kent Road was already adequately served by a tube line. And given that it looks like the current (and probably any future Mayor) will be anxious to develop the area around the Old Kent Road it is hard to imagine that the Old Kent Road will end up with nothing.
Some people have suggested that Camberwell station could be re-opened as compensation for the Bakerloo going via Old Kent Road, although it is recognised that there are various difficulties with this idea. What seems to be lacking is any corresponding proposal of an alternative scheme for the Old Kent Road in the event that the Camberwell route is chosen.
Ultimately all of this comes back to the perennial London debate – do you build what is affordable and doable in the timescale available or do you hold back and hope the future will allow you to do something better? In this case, do you convert a main line in to a tube line whilst recognising that a future generation may have to reverse the process when it builds a further Crossrail tunnel late in the 21st century.
Whatever the options on the table this is ultimately the real crux of the issue. For the simple truth is that the forecast population growth for London up to 2050 has rather shaken the planners and politicians at City Hall and TfL. They now appear to realise that just doing one major project at a time is not sufficient and for that reason, and those detailed above, the result of this consultation is actually likely to move things forward in a way that the previous proposals didn’t.
Yet thanks to the timescales involved this consultation is not just a transport debate. It is a debate about how much – and how far – we plan for a distant future that very few of those with the time on their hands to respond to such a consultation are ever likely to see, being too infirm or… well… too dead by the time such an extension would be completed.
How that should be answered, and indeed how relevant (or not) it ultimately renders this consultation remains to be seen.
If nothing else, however, at least this consultation confirms that Benjamin Franklin was wrong. Going forward there are three, not two, things in this world of which one can be certain – death, taxes and proposals for Bakerloo Line trains to Lewisham.