Extending the Bakerloo: It’s Not About Transport
For almost a hundred years people have talked about extending the Bakerloo line. The latest consultation report on doing this has now been published. We look at its conclusions, and explain why it’s about housing, not transport – something that may well mean it actually succeeds.
Less is more
We have said it before but, in the transport field, it often seems that the less important something is the more interest it attracts. Much has been written about London’s cable car. Trams are a consistently hot topic, and yet they carry the same number of passenger journeys as just the two busiest bus routes in the capital. A recent article on this website on the Oxted lines generated over 600 comments and nearly all were about the lightly used branch to Uckfield and very few about the busier and more important one to East Grinstead.
It seems to be the same on the Underground. Comments on the Waterloo & City line (and especially extending it) seem to be such a popular subject that they have generated one of our few specific rules on comments – the subject is almost always banned in comment threads for fear of it drowning out the actual subject of discussion.
So it goes with the Bakerloo. It is the next least busy Tube line (at least if you regard the Sub Surface Railway as one entity) and yet an article on proposals to extend it has currently attracted over 1700 comments.
A lot of the reason behind the enthusiasm for small things is due to the possibility of seeing them grow. The idea of railway lines being extended always attracts interest and, as far as the Tube goes, the Bakerloo line is perhaps the only one left with a realistic possibility of being extended. To that end we now look in detail at the latest consultation report on proposals to extend the Bakerloo line.
Death by considering all the options
If “Death by Powerpoint” was a late 20th century phenomenon then “Death by Consultation Responses” is a candidate for its 21st century successor. With the modern democratic ideal that all consultation suggestions have to be considered and responded to, no matter how daft, we have reports where the message that it was meant to convey is in danger of becoming lost. Here, the three individuals who TfL confirm suggested the Bakerloo should be extended to Gatwick Airport should perhaps step away from their respective computers and take a long, hard look at themselves. We will also ignore the details of why a Bakerloo line extension to Hextable, Wilmington, Coney Hall, Hammersmith, Birkbeck, City Hall and a host of other equally bizarre locations was rejected and attempt to find what the report is really trying to say.
The lessons of Crossrail
It is unfortunate that despite our best intentions and revised plans, events have conspired against us and we have not yet managed to report on the latest Crossrail 2 consultation (which expires on 8th January 2016). Had we have done so, one of the messages we would have got across is Crossrail 2 is not just about transport. It’s not even just about London.
Crossrail 2 is largely about housing in the South East of England. If one fails to appreciate that then one fails to understand a lot of the decisions the project and its backers make. People can (and rightly will) get bogged down in arguments on whether it should go from Wimbledon to Clapham Junction via Tooting, via Balham, via somewhere else or directly without an intermediate station, but these are mere details and hardly matter at the macro level.
In the same way, a few years ago, one could have made a case that Crossrail itself was as much about London maintaining its prominent position in the world and its markets as it was about providing a better transport system. Again, this was something its detractors (such as Simon Jenkins in 2009) failed to grasp when suggesting how the money could be better spent on other transport schemes that wouldn’t have sent out the same message to international investors.
So it goes with the Bakerloo. As with Crossrail 2, the rationale for extending the Bakerloo line is largely about housing – something that we have been trying to emphasise for some time and something that this latest consultation report makes abundantly clear. A failure to grasp this will result in a failure to fully understand why the decisions made so far have been made.
The report’s conclusions
For our purposes it is easier to give the main conclusion of the report and then look at how it arrived at it, rather than the reverse. So, without further ado, the report recommends that the Bakerloo line should be extended from Elephant & Castle to Lewisham via the Old Kent Road and suggests an opening date of 2030.
Clashing with Crossrail 2
Surprisingly, the report hardly mentions Crossrail 2 and when it does it is only in a fairly minor context. This would initially seems to be an oversight as Crossrail 2 is proposed in the same time frame. The question has been posed many times: surely we can’t afford to finance both a Bakerloo Line Extension and Crossrail 2 at the same time? The answer to this is made clear in the report and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it follows one of our Editor John Bull’s favourite maxims – you build the railway you can pay for, not the best one you can plan.
Here, that means the Bakerloo Line Extension has to be mostly self-financing through much-needed housing development. Once one accepts this criterion then a lot of other decisions fall into place.
Follow the money, follow the housing
Many different options and their combinations were considered. Only in the light of looking at the housing issue can you clearly see why the route chosen was selected.
As we have covered before, south of Elephant & Castle the first major issue has always been to decide a route to Lewisham. One option went directly via the Old Kent Road and New Cross Gate, the other would have served the historical favourite of extending to Camberwell before heading Eastward to New Cross Gate.
The report is pretty blunt. The area around the proposed two Old Kent Road stations is ripe for redevelopment and a line down the Old Kent Road to Lewisham could support 20,000 to 30,000 new homes. By way of contrast housing along the route via Camberwell is already established and going to Lewisham via this route would only provide around 5,000 – 10,000 new homes.
As a result, the Old Kent Road route has been selected.
Something else that has been considered is whether to just go to the Old Kent Road and terminate there or, alternatively, to go a little further and terminate at New Cross Gate. Proceeding a little further means proving that the major benefits haven’t been achieved once the second Old Kent Road station is reached.
One might think that, having considered the housing issue, transport considerations would then feature heavily and it is true that much is made of the improved connectivity. Nevertheless, it is still the housing issue which dominates. The report suggests 5,000 homes are already planned between New Cross Gate and Lewisham and with the Bakerloo Extension that could go up to 8,000.
Other considerations for rejecting the Camberwell route
The report provides other reasons for rejecting a route via Camberwell. It suggests that it would cost £1.5bn to go to the two Old Kent Road stations, £1.98bn to do this and extend to New Cross Gate and £2.57bn to include Lewisham as well. All prices are 2015 prices.
To go to Lewisham via Camberwell would cost £480m more and take an extra two minutes. The construction would be more difficult and more disruptive because the area is already largely built upon.
As a transport consideration, the report comments that the road traffic congestion is roughly the same on the Camberwell – Elephant & Castle route as on the Lewisham – Elephant & Castle route (the Old Kent Road). This might initially suggest that this is not a factor to consider but the report makes the point that the journey is longer via the Old Kent Road. Journeys from Lewisham to Elephant & Castle currently take 25 minutes as opposed to 15 minutes from Camberwell and these figures will get worse as road congestion worsens. So the saving to people like bus passengers is greater if the Old Kent Road Route were to be chosen.
What may be surprising in the report, especially in the light of earlier consultations, is the lack of committed support to extend the Bakerloo line beyond Lewisham. In particular, even the Hayes line, previously so strongly favoured, is seen as problematic. For starters it is seen as costing £680 million more that if one terminated at Lewisham and, unlike on the other side of Lewisham, there is little prospect of recouping more than a small proportion of that cost. Whilst emphasising many of the perceived advantages of going to Hayes, the report acknowledges the challenge of construction complexity at Lewisham and difficulty and risks involved in converting existing infrastructure would be negative factors. On top of that it is expected that there would be a period during construction (length unspecified) when journeys would be considerably worse.
Just as the report seems to be in denial about Crossrail 2, it seems to also be in denial about issues concerning Bakerloo modernisation. An opening date of 2030 is proposed but it would be inconceivable that we would have a new Tube extension with 1972 tube stock, nearly 60 years old by then, as the means of carrying the passengers. Apart from any other consideration, there simply aren’t enough trains to provide an extended service let alone the proposed 27tph one. The Bakerloo line currently manages 22tph at best and then that is for 75 minutes in the morning peak. 20tph is a more sustainable figure.
Unless TfL has some trick up its sleeve, with timescales slipping the way they are, it is going to be very hard pressed to have introduced New Tube for London on the Piccadilly line, on the existing Bakerloo line and have a sufficient pool of extra trains to run a decent service on the newly extended Bakerloo line to Lewisham at 27tph. It is noticeable that the indicative timescale does not include when the trains will be ready.
The proposed opening date of 2030 also requires the 1992 stock on the Central Line to keep going for a few more years. This stock hasn’t performed well and at one stage it was thought that updating Central line stock would get a higher priority than the Bakerloo line stock. The Bakerloo line stock might be old but it is currently going through a major refurbishment and its low tech nature means it could, if necessary, be kept going almost indefinitely.
It seems clear from the fact that costs are given that there must have been some detailed investigation in the civil engineering aspect of stations. Despite this, details of stations are not mentioned in the report. Building a Tube station at Lewisham must be fairly problematic. It is also difficult to see how it could be done to provide good interchange with National Rail, which is on a viaduct.
Over the past few years Lewisham has witness a dramatic surge in high rise buildings near the station but no provision has been made for an Underground station. As the report acknowledges, a problem is going to be how to safeguard for future extension when one does not know in which direction that future extension would be. The report will only state that “[a] future extension beyond Lewisham has … not been ruled out”. At the very least, this does seem to suggest it is already in considerable doubt.
The report does allude to the benefits of Lewisham as a transport interchange. So it could well be that passengers from Hayes and other lines change at Lewisham for the Bakerloo line. What the report still fails to grasp, however, is the capacity issue on the London side of Lewisham. If the Bakerloo line from Lewisham is full by the time it gets to central London and the National Rail services and DLR from Lewisham are also similarly full, then reallocating lines on the country side of Lewisham from National Rail to the Bakerloo line does absolutely nothing to increase capacity into London. It frees train paths, certainly, but these are replaced by other trains. The mix of people changing at Lewisham changes, as does the precise rail service, but the overall result is the same.
Much more encouraging is mention of Network Rail’s Kent Route Study which is currently in progress. TfL will work with Network Rail on this. This co-operation does seem to be long overdue as, up until now, there has been no real sign of a joint proposal with common objectives.
A station at Camberwell at last?
Possibly the biggest surprise – and perhaps the most welcome thing to come out the report – is the proposal for a station at Camberwell. Whilst this was mentioned in the December press release, the details were not available until now. Notable is the positive benefits this station is seen as likely to bring.
Many people have suggested that proposal of this station would be a political expedient to make up for the Bakerloo line not serving Camberwell itself. Instead, the report suggested that an additional reason for the Bakerloo line going via the Old Kent Road was that there was no realistic alternative transport strategy to support housing in the Old Kent Road but, if the Bakerloo did not take that route, there was an alternative for Camberwell that could be pursued. The obvious question, though, is: if this is such a good idea how come it is only now being seriously considered?
Reasons have been given in the past as to why reopening Camberwell station is not possible. One is the reduction in capacity that stopping trains there would cause. This is a bit difficult to believe though, given that the same argument could be applied to Elephant & Castle station on the same stretch of track and surely that station is more critical.
Another reason often given is that it would affect the critical timing of the Wimbedon Loop trains. A lot of analysis is being done on the 2018 Thameslink Timetable and, whilst it will work if everything goes according to plan, it is extremely fragile. One cannot see much enthusiasm in adding yet another variable, in the form of dwell time, that could affect Thameslink trains. Then again, this could be an opportunity for the DfT to get out of its commitment to run the Wimbledon loop trains through the Thameslink core. Regardless of whether or not the Bakerloo line extension gets built, the saga of Lea Bridge station and the time taken to build that shows that it is unlikely, even if rapidly approved, that a new Camberwell station will be in use in the near future.
Finally, a bonus
Nothing really to do with the Bakerloo line, other than very tenuously, is a diagram in the report suggesting how a more intensive service could be run in South London. This seems to be awfully like a TfL proposal to improve south London lines to provide a more frequent all day service. Generally known as TSLO (pronounced tis-low) it stands for Turn South London Orange. The diagram appears to be part of this long awaited proposal, the details of which have until now, for the most part, been kept strictly under wraps. When it surfaces, we will cover it in detail here.
This time it will be different
On the surface, a report (and proposal) so clearly focused on housing rather than transport may seem a bad sign but for almost a hundred years plans have been made to extend the Bakerloo line south of Elephant & Castle and nothing has come of it. The reasons for that have been varied – the lack of priority, proposals that weren’t serious and just a bit of political posturing, lack of money, lack of focus and declining use of public transport. With the current mayor, and almost certainly any future mayor, concentrating on housing and this being seen as a vital part of the housing solution, it just may be that this time things will be different.