Consultations Cubed: The Overground (And More) at Old Oak Common


On 22nd September TfL launched a new consultation on the possibility of adding one or more stations to the London Overground in west London at Old Oak Common. With at least two other OOC rail consultations already on-going and a third due later this year on a potential Crossrail link to the West Coast Main Line (WCML), it finally seems that a new west London rail hub is moving closer to reality.

In 2013, London Reconnections covered the nascent plans for Old Oak Common in some detail. We refer both newcomers and avid LR readers back to those articles to provide context but, in short, think of Old Oak Common as the Canary Wharf of west London. Old Oak Common is an emerging transport hub for HS2, Crossrail and the Overground, and the gateway to the huge Park Royal Opportunity Area. It is giving rise to one of London’s most ambitious redevelopments.

Old Oak Common is expected to serve 250,000 passengers a day, which is on a par with Waterloo. Indeed the planners expect around one third of HS2 passengers to interchange at Old Oak Common for Crossrail. Adding an Overground station would take another 10%, and would also reduce the number HS2 passengers switching to Crossrail by 15%. However, the number of passengers transferring to the Overground will depend on the proximity of the platforms, the frequency of trains and the destinations served – hence the importance of identifying the optimal route and station options for the Overground at Old Oak Common.

ooctfl2014The connections at Old Oak Common

TfL’s Overground station consultation presents three options for Old Oak Common. We look at these below, in the confident expectation that LR readers will hurry hence to the TfL website, eager for the opportunity to shape the future. We recommend that you do so, because there is a vision to be forged and fragmented fiefdoms to be brought into line.

That vision ultimately stretches further than the boundaries of west London, tying in with the nagging question of how can London strategically manages its growth. It’s challenging territory, but territory which we are covering in our on-going series on the Mayor’s 2050 Vision. It is fair to say however that Old Oak Common can be considered to be something of a microcosm of London as whole – part of the pattern of London breaking out of the central core, and growing though a necklace of new clusters.

It also provides an intriguing test case as to how such grand, interlinked plans and visions are worked out on the ground. What is the strategic policy? How is the masterplan created? And what are the roles of the multifarious ‘stakeholders’?

Consultations galore

A year on from our articles in 2013 we now have not one, not two but three public consultations on Old Oak Common.

The first of these is TfL’s Overground consultation, to be explored later, the second consultation however is from the Greater London Authority (GLA), on the proposed Mayoral Development Corporation (MDC) for Old Oak Common and Park Royal.

As we reported last year, the MDC is regarded as an essential vehicle to lead on the planning and regeneration, drawing together the many stakeholders. The MDC will seek to emulate the success of the London Legacy Development Corporation that is leading the post-Olympic regeneration of Stratford and east London. Despite the opposition of key stakeholders, notably the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham (within which Old Oak Common largely lies), the MDC is progressing on the basis of commencing operations in April 2015.

It is perhaps worth pausing briefly here to acknowledge that Old Oak Common itself can be a confusing location to mentally picture, especially given the variety of rail lines that pass through the area. As ever, for the cartographically challenged, cartometro is your saviour and the map below should give some impression of both the layout – and size – of the Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Areas themselves.

mdcareaAn aerial view of the vast Old Oak and Park Royal Opportunity Areas

If you build it they will come

The GLA intends to undertake its masterplanning in-house, but is currently preoccupied with building support for the MDC. While the masterplanning process awaits this, TfL still need to push ahead with rail planning at Old Oak Common. This is partly because of the tight schedule for the HS2 legislation, but also because the success of the Old Oak Common development depends on the public transport links being established early on. This is not just to improve the business value of the development itself, but also because it is necessary in order to build it – the large construction workforce will require much-improved public transport links to the area, of which one or more Overground stations would be a key part.

The third consultation comes from a surprising source: Queens Park Rangers (QPR) football club. The club believes that in order to compete at the highest level of the game they need a larger home than the 18,000 seat Loftus Road stadium they currently inhabit in Shepherd’s Bush. Wishing to stay in the local area and yearning for the comparative expanses at Old Oak Common, QPR are working with Stadium Capital Developments (SCD) to draw up their own grand plan. SCD are the company behind the regeneration of the Emirates Stadium at Arsenal, and they will be soliciting views on a vision for a 40,000 seat stadium in the heart of a new residential and commercial development.

QPR mapQPR’s vision

LR readers will have to imagine where the rail lines lie in the plan above, but it appears QPR have ambitions over most of the Old Oak Common development site. To QPR, the fact that they don’t actually own any of the land appears to be a mere detail. But one of the major landowners, the retailer Cargiant, have ideas of their own. In a recent statement they professed surprise at QPR’s proposal, in particular that it seemed to rely heavily on land owned by Cargiant, following which they announced that they will present their own regeneration scheme in due course. No doubt QPR will benefit from the PR, but we will watch this proposal, and the manoeuvrings of other developers, with interest.

There is one more on-going consultation of relevance: the London Infrastructure Plan 2050, on which LR is midway through a detailed three-part analysis. The 2050 Plan provides the strategic policy direction for developments such as at Old Oak Common, as well as specifically identifying Old Oak Common as a satellite activity zone for Central London and a new transport hub. This fits the pattern it describes of emerging clusters outside the central zone, and the need for improved orbital rail links between them.

Overground to Old Oak Common – step by step

In 2011 the Mayor laid out four conditions which HS2 would need to meet in order for the Capital not to object, one of which was to include an Overground station at Old Oak Common.

Studies by TfL and Network Rail (NR) in autumn 2012, and a later study for the Department for Transport (DfT), led to the identification of an impressive 28 options for potential Overground access at the site. These went through a shortlisting process undertaken by Mott MacDonald along with TfL, HS2 and NR. Of the 28 options explored, five options were selected, all feasible within HS2 timeframes.

However, following resistance from DfT to the Overground proposal, TfL and NR commissioned a further GRIP 2 (Governance for Railway Investment Projects, Pre-feasibility stage) study in mid 2013. TfL also recognised that, if it wished to petition the HS2 hybrid bill, substantial evidence would be required to present to the HS2 Select Committee.

Engineering consultancy WSP and architects Farrells have since been appointed to design three options, which are now presented in the consultation. Beyond this the aim is to identify a single preferred option for a GRIP 3 (Option selection) study in early-2015, so that they can negotiate its inclusion as an Additional Provision to the HS2 Phase One Hybrid Bill, due for publication in December 2014. If successful, this would potentially allow work to start on the preferred Overground solution at Old Oak Common as early as 2016.

Juggling oranges

As the proceeding paragraphs probably suggest, there is a fascinating game of pass-the-funding-parcel being played at Old Oak Common. While TfL and the GLA are reliant on HS2 to underpin the whole hub concept, they have been diligently petitioning HS2 on the Mayor’s four conditions and negotiating over who carries the cost. But at this stage it is still not clear whether the Additional Provisions will include safeguarding for an Overground station at HS2, or for the Crossrail-WCML junction.

The urgency for DfT and HS2 to clarify such details no doubt partly explains the recent strange announcement by the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin on the proposed Crossrail branch to Tring on the WCML. HS2 badly needs Crossrail to provide relief for the WCML in order to enable work to proceed at Euston. McLoughlin’s announcement however arguably also strengthened TfL’s own hand. For if the government wants Crossrail to extend to the WCML, its design must not detrimentally impact the Crossrail service as planned, and the government will need to pay for it. Fascinating though this context is, it can’t provide an easy milieu for the Old Oak Common transport planners to work within.

TfL is consulting on three options for new Overground connections at OOC.

Consultation map ATfL’s Overground option A
Consultation map BTfL’s Overground option B
Consultation map CTfL’s Overground option C

Option A proposes a new Overground station on the west-side of the OOCOld Oak Common station site, with a 350m walk to Crossrail/HS2 station. Services would leave the WLL via a new grade-separated junction at Mitre Bridge and run on new tracks along the south side of the IEP depot. The route then has to curve back on itself to rise up to Acton Wells Junction and the new platforms, before continuing on to Willesden Junction.

This route was explored in detail in our 2013 articles. It is a cut down version of an early plan that neatly caters for multiple route options using an Overground station on the south-side of the Old Oak Common complex, much closer to the Crossrail/HS2 platforms.

TfL 2013 option 12013’s “Option 1”

However TfL has rejected a south-side station entirely, and we don’t know the reason for this. Perhaps it is the cost of bridging across the Intercity Express Programme (IEP) depot, although provision for this has actually been made in the depot planning permission. Maybe TfL want to avoid the confusion of Overground platforms at multiple locations. Perhaps a station on the south side would entail too much encroachment on Wormwood Scrubs, which is protected Metropolitan open space. All are possibilities.

A slide from an earlier TfL presentation shows this design as option 8.2 in the GRIP 2 study. The diagram offers more detail and notes passive provision for a second station on the south side, and this safeguarding may still be envisaged.

TfL82Option 8.2 from the GRIP study

But what of the route from Acton Wells Junction to the Midland Main Line (MML) and the proposed Hounslow to Brent service? Although this is a component in the Mayor’s orbital route outlined in the recent 2050 Vision, this is airbrushed out of the Overground options at Old Oak Common. Not even the route is shown on the maps.

The photo below shows Acton Wells Junction with the route to the MML branching northwards to the left. The west-side Old Oak Common Overground platforms will be located just north of Acton Wells Junction on the route to the right (towards Willesden Junction). The alignment here used to take five tracks, so there is space to locate new platforms.

What is not clear is whether it will be possible to provide platforms for the Hounslow-Brent route on the left. If indeed it is possible to locate platforms somewhere around Victoria Road, then the interchange distance from Crossrail/HS2 platforms could be over 500m, which is far from ideal.

Acton Wells Jn smActon Wells Jn looking north. Photo courtesy of David A Wingham

UPDATE 27-9-2014: TfL advise us that they are working closely with London Borough of Hounslow to ensure that, whichever option they go for, an extension to Hounslow can be added later with a stop at the new station on Old Oak Common Lane. The platforms in all options will be 8-car compliant.

Of Tfl’s suggested options, option A offers route simplicity but the west-side platforms are a long walk from the main station so interchange is far from perfect. It would also concentrate services over the flat junctions at Acton Wells, which would likely become a bottleneck as services intensified.

Option B is more modest, and carries less risk in terms of planning and deliverability than option A. The current Overground service from Clapham Junction to Stratford would instead run over freight tracks through Willesden Junction before swinging south into the west-side station at Old Oak Common.

At least, that is what we assume; the diagram is ambiguous. If the Overground service from Clapham Junction to Stratford is to be retained, it will either by-pass Old Oak Common going straight to Willesden Junction, or it will reverse at the new west-side station. Closer perusal of TfL’s January 2014 presentation to the Golden Mile Transport Group suggests the latter – services will indeed reverse at Old Oak Common, which will incur a 10-minute time penalty for through passengers.

UPDATE 27-9-2104: TfL advise us that Option B only works if the service is split, effectively sending half to OOC to terminate and half to Stratford but bypassing OOC. The timetabling doesn’t work with all 8tph coming into OOC from Clapham and reversing on to Stratford.

So, while option B is cheaper to build, at around £140m plus additional rolling stock, it is less beneficial in terms of journey time savings. Option A has a higher capital cost, at around £525m and carries more risk, but delivers greater benefits.

UPDATE 23-9-14: TfL provides more detail as PDFs in the consultation page. Sadly we did not have access to these when we wrote the article, but this information supports our core discussion. Here are the downloads:
Comparison table of the options.
Passenger numbers, represented on maps which show the area in detail.
Service/route plans.
Technical summary and cost estimates.
Environmental impacts.

Another benefit of option B is that Willesden Junction could be served by new low-level platforms, although this is not shown in the diagram. This is a glaring omission. It means that connectivity with Overground and the Bakerloo at Willesden Junction is essentially traded for the more varied menu of interchange options at Old Oak Common. With new low-level platforms at Willesden Junction, passengers could have both. Willesden Junction’s potential role as a second gateway to the broader Old Oak Common and Park Royal development is a topic we shall explore in a future article.

Option B derives from option X in the earlier GRIP 2 study, and the TfL slides below provide more detail.

TfL Option X GRIPOption X from the GRIP study
TfL Option XFurther details on option X

The final option C requires even less new infrastructure than option B. A new west-side station is joined by a new east-side station on the existing route from the WLL to Willesden Junction high level. This new east-side station is more convenient for QPR’s putative stadium development, but a 650m walk somewhat stretches the definition of interchange. It is also very close to the existing station at Willesden Junction.

Overground services would continue to use their existing routes, but with new stations at Old Oak Common. Apart from the inconvenient interchange, the clear downside is the split between two stations.

Interestingly, the local community group Save Our Scrubs is strongly opposed to option A because it impinges on Wormwood Scrubs, and is lukewarm about option B because of the impact it will have on residents in the Wells House Road area. Their vote goes to the two stations on offer in option C.

The delicate art of optioneering

These three options have emerged from an iterative process of ‘optioneering’ over the last two years. The images below, from TfL’s presentation to the Golden Mile Transport Group, illustrate the decision process.

TfL shortlisting exampleThe shortlisting at work

TfL shortlisting example 2

Another shortlisting example

Note the criteria used to assess the options: alignment quality, interchange quality, impact on HS2, benefits to passengers, impact on stakeholders, impact on operational railway, regeneration impacts.

There is no indication of the relative weightings of these criteria, but achievability in terms of integration into the development as a whole is a key factor. Indeed the constraint of not treading on the toes of HS2 or Crossrail at Old Oak Common means that some worthy Overground designs will have been rejected early on, and this may already be leading to a sub-optimal outcome.

UPDATE 27-9-2014: The edited (i.e. public) version of the Options Assessment Report on the TfL consultation website has maps of the options which were considered.

That vision thing

What are we to make of this consultation, and these Overground options? It is likely that those looking for some kind of bold statement will be a tad underwhelmed. The whittling process appears to have stripped out options that offer better interchange and potential routes. It is hard to see this as a confident step towards the sort of bold and integrated masterplanning that the Park Royal development will require.

An interchange involving a lengthy walk will entice fewer passengers. Not only will this not provide the intended relief for HS2 at Euston, but it may push more passengers on to Crossrail.

A south-side Overground station would be much more convenient than a west-side, but no option is presented for this. The east-side station presented in option C is more convenient for that side of the development, including the proposed QPR stadium, but a more coherent clustered interchange would offer far more route options. Plus there is far greater potential to improve interchange at Willesden Junction, yet this is not explored.

A south-side station would also allow a WLL-Brent service. This may become a preferred option to the proposed Hounslow-Brent route if platforms cannot be provided on MML branch from Acton Wells Junction.

It is also vexing, albeit understandable, that these Overground proposals for Old Oak Common are presented in isolation. Potential synergies with Crossrail are not explored, and the nascent Hounslow-Brent service is pretended away.

It is also strange that there is a consultation over the potential station locations, but none on the route pattern. The assumption appears to be that Old Oak Common should be designed for existing routes, rather than for a new route pattern that better serves the needs of west London travellers and the limitations of the site. This is exemplified by the inadequacies of option B, involving a lengthy and inconvenient reversal for services from the WLL, mention of which diligent LR readers will have noticed is conspicuous by its absence in the TfL consultation.

If a vote was forced here at LR Towers on the suggested options, it would likely result in the nomination of option A over B and the forgetting of option C. In an ideal world, however, option A would come with a south-side station and safeguarding of future links to the SW and NE, as originally proposed. In a development of the scale of Old Oak Common, this would perhaps not be too much of an ask.

Ultimately with a clear vision and leadership, the panoply of stakeholders and co-dependencies at Old Oak Common could result in synergies that would yield a new transport hub par excellence. It is hard to see how this can happen if good options are discarded, however, simply because it is deemed too hard to piece them together with other parts of the puzzle. This is something that all of those involved in planning the area would do well to remember.

Written by Lemmo