19 May, 2013 by Mwmbwls
Images bring to life many London Reconnections pieces. We are lucky to have a band of chums willing to brave frostbite, heat stroke and going rusty to capture stuff on our behalf. Therefore our thanks and copyright acknowledgements go to Steam 60163 and Unravelled for these images enabling us to update earlier articles.
Over with Steam 60163
Earlier this year we published an article about the new graded junction at Hitchin. Steam 60163 has assiduously recorded the construction of this viaduct and recently took advantage of a not to be repeated photo opportunity. At a Network Rail charity event local residents were given a guided tour of the soon to be opened link. The tour started at the Hitchin end and proceeded to the junction at the Letchworth end.
The ECML, looking towards London, passes underneath the highest point of the flyover
One of three substantial expansion-joints on the viaduct’s track
The east-facing view of the flyover
The transition from flyover to embankment
Under the Flyover
A Networker passes the spot where the new line joins the existing Cambridge-Line
The new line, awaiting completion, meets the existing Hitchin-Cambridge line
For those interested, the photographic history of the flyover can be found here.
Under with Unravelled
Meanwhile, Unravelled has been following the public demonstration of complex engineering skills that is Crossrail. Inevitably, most of the action is underground but the section from the open-air section from Royal Victoria to Silvertown is taking place before his very lens.
Looking back from Custom House to Royal Victoria, the interlocking sheet piles are in place, prior to the excavation of the Royal Victoria portal
Part of the old NLL Custom House Station remains but its’ days are numbered
At the north end of the Connaught Tunnel next to Prince Regent DLR, a the concrete slab base has been installed and is currently being used from road access to the Tunnel
Another view of the tunnel access
Cofferdams have sealed off the centre of the docks exposing the roof of the old Tunnel. This scene is moving on from JB’s previous site visit in 2012 and earlier in 2010 (linked at the bottom of this article)
Unsurprisingly, working within the dock is a muddy business
Work underway in the dock
Note the brickwork and the old service tunnel location
Meanwhile in Albert Road, preparations are well underway for the brief re-emergence of Crossrail from the Connaught Tunnel before its dives under the river to what we suppose should technically be South Woolwich
Unravelled took the scenic route south that attracted little publicity, until now
The Ferry, with Docklands in the distance
Post-script: Light, what light?
The progress of new Thames crossings proposals increasingly resembles the baby steps taken in the children’s game “Mother May I?” with TfL announcing a further round of consultations, presumably on the consultations.
This ongoing topic provokes profoundly differing opinions and therefore deserves a fuller article. In best Blue Peter tradition, here is one prepared earlier but not by us. Our chum Darryl at 853 encapsulates the choppy river crossing saga rather nicely. The full history can be found here.
The new road crossing(s) is/are not, however, the only game in town and we are again grateful to 853 for keeping us in touch with the ongoing saga of Woolwich’s Crossrail Station.
Crossrail’s station at Woolwich (developers prefix or suffix of choice to be later inserted here) seems to invoke another outbreak of the mulishness that strikes London’s infrastructure plan de temps en temps. The situation is not without precedent. Readers might recall when the station box at Kings Cross Saint Pancras was built but not fitted out. This was despite challenging safety situations arising at the old widened lines station because of growing Thameslink patronage.
Woolwich station was crowbarred into the Crossrail project by pressure from local MPs, the House of Commons Hybrid Bill Committee and local councils. These included Greenwich’s own Nick Rainsford the former minister for London, who had led the Government’s campaign to reform the British construction industry. A deal was supposedly struck at the time that the developers would build the box in order to facilitate the development of their surrounding site, because it did not make sense to start building and selling property to new owners whose new homes would be then blighted by excavation of a large hole next to their front doors. This outbreak of common sense now sadly appears to be no longer common. This is something that needs to be resolved in short order for truly in the case as our images show, the light at the end of the tunnel really is an oncoming train.
Our recent article on future Northern Line upgrades was not really meant to be about one particular aspect but how the pieces as a whole fitted together. It was acknowledged in the title that the biggest contentious issue would be the upgrading of Camden Town station.
The first of these upgrades mentioned – the signalling – is in progress now but attracted very little comment. Whether this is because it is happening in the background or it is because that automatic train operation on the London Underground is now regarded as decidedly passé is hard to tell.
Other aspects of the recent article such as the proposed Battersea extension and Bank Station Capacity Enhancement have been covered before by us in recent years. So it was perhaps, with hindsight, inevitable that a proposed enhancement to Camden Town station to facilitate interchange would attract the most comment. It was also probably inevitable that the whole issue of Camden Town station being completely unsatisfactory for the numbers of people wishing to enter and exit the station would invite a lot of comment, despite clearly not being something that can be done in the timescale for completion of the other aspects of Northern Line enhancement.
The need for interchange facilities and HS2
The provision of good interchange facilities at Camden Town is regarded as essential before the Northern Line could be split – if a split is to be the intention. Some of the comments made the entirely valid point that if inadequate interchange facilities cause passengers to change somewhere else then that, in the bigger picture, would be seen to cause greater problems. A prominent example was Euston. Given that HS2 Ltd probably want the interchange at Euston between HS2 and the Underground to be as smooth as possible, it follows that they will also want to see any split of the Northern Line conditional on the quality of interchange at Camden Town being, at the very least, equal in terms of passenger convenience to that at Euston.
Some of the interchange passages needed at Camden will be quite long. It may be the case, therefore, that an argument could be made to install a moving walkway similar to the one deep below ground at Waterloo tube station to facilitate interchange to the Jubilee line.
Deep Level Shelters
Less expected was discussion of the relevance of the World War II deep level shelters. Taking into account any existing infrastructure when expanding a tube station is always a good thing to do, even if only to ensure one does not get caught out by it during construction – as actually happened at Oxford Circus in the 1960s during the rebuild of the station. This issue with the shelter tunnels was could these be used to an advantage during a possible future reconstruction?
Most regular readers will be familiar with the World War II shelters which were constructed as long deep level tunnels and built with the intention of subsequently using them after the war was over to bypass stations on the Northern Line and hence provide an express service. The idea was a strange one in general and in the rush of war probably no great thought or discussion was given to thinking how sensible an idea this was. Most bizarre of all the shelters in terms of subsequent use must have been those at Camden. The idea seemed flawed on two accounts. The first flaw was the idea that Camden Town would be a suitable station to have trains miss out on their journeys. The second flaw was that, as we shall see, the tube extends into the area of the complex junctions south of Camden Town. In all probability no consideration would have been given as to how the deep shelter tunnels could possibly be connected to this underground complex of junctions to produce a viable track layout. This is especially true when one takes into account that the future “express” tunnels were intended to be in addition to, and not instead of, the existing ones.
Not so secret shelters
The deep level shelters have been documented in many books through the years, and generally merit a few paragraphs or even a full chapter in all the usual suspects such Rails Through The Clay. The most comprehensive book on this subject though has to be the very recently updated London’s Secret Tubes published by Capital Transport in which the subject covers 34 large pages over three separate chapters.
Online it is comprehensively covered by Subterranea Britannica as you would expect. IanVisits reports on a lesser known use for the shelters, Diamond Geezer inevitably approaches the subject in his own way and indeed we ourselves couldn’t resist getting in on the act.
The (black) deep level tunnels in relation to street level.
The above picture shows the location of the deep level shelter tunnels, which are shown in black. It can be seen that they are below the existing platforms (in grey) which it must be remembered are themselves on two levels – one for northbound and one for southbound services. Original access to the deep level shelter is shown in blue.
In the images that follow, north rather confusingly is not up the page but to the right.
The Northern End of the Deep Level Shelters
The Southern End of the Deep Level Shelters
In the two original plans above we see more precisely the exact locations of the tunnels and crucially, but not particularly relevant to current issues, the fact that they extend under the junction complex. As is often the case there are difficulties locating the position in relation to streets because the street names have changed. Wellington Street had been renamed Inverness Street by 1938. We cannot know if this means that the map are pre-1938 or, more likely, the draughtsman was using an out-of-date surface map as a reference. Park Street is almost certainly today’s Parkway.
Looks good in 2D
Ideas for transport links that initially look like a good idea often fall at the first hurdle. Above ground a visit to the site, or even just a thorough look with Google Streetview, may highlight flaws. Below ground, without an isometric 3D dynamic CAD drawing, it is more difficult to decide whether to progress or to abandon ideas at an early stage.
Despite their name the deep level shelters at this location are not that deep. The crown of the tunnel is only about 18 metres below road level. This was probably determined by the minimum depth that they could be which was consistent with safe construction below the Northern Line tunnels.
The southbound Northern Line tunnels are the deeper of the two and it is estimated that the centre of the tunnel is approximately six metres higher than the centre line of the shelter tunnels. This is about the size of a two storey house up to the roof level and it is difficult to see how such tunnels can be incorporated into any future layout of the station.
Are the Deep Shelter tunnels relevant?
It would appear at first sight that the deep level shelter tunnels are of no relevance – excepting, of course, that you always need to know what tunnels are in the area. This will be the case whether considering their use for a minimal improved interchange upgrade or a subsequent full-blown station upgrade.
The idea that the deep level shelter tunnels can serve no useful function in this instance, however, may not be entirely true. Much has been made of the difficulty of finding a construction worksite in such a sensitive area. London Underground have not been prepared to give away many details at this stage but verbally they have said that they believe that they would avoid the contention present in the earlier plans over having a building site in the centre of Camden by locating it some distance from the heart of the station.
London Underground’s pronouncement may just mean construction of an temporary angled shaft for access purposes, or alternatively it may mean using at least one shelter tunnel to access the station work site. This would not be an entirely new idea. As our piece on the upcoming repairs to the Jubilee highlighted, a similar approach was taken at Old Street during repairs to the Northern Line, with disused siding tunnels used for work site access. If this approach were used again, one suspects this would be from the north where there appear to be various insubstantial commercial buildings of little merit. If at least one of these tunnels were used for this purpose then arguably it would be the first time that any of these tunnels would have contributed to faster journey times as was supposedly their ultimate purpose.
Many thanks to Jonathan Roberts for making the material available to make this post possible.
A very strange thing has happened in the the past year or so regarding London Underground and the Northern Line – Senior managers have actually wanted to talk about it.
This comes as quite a surprise. One expects the usual over-excitement as they proudly remind you that London Underground can now run 33 trains per hour (tph) on the Victoria Line, or talk enthusiastically of the sheer scale of modernisation underway on the sub-surface lines. Even evangelising over the Jubilee Line is comprehensible given that, now that it is finally working properly, its operation is increasingly impressive. Indeed they now seem itching to get 33tph on the Jubilee Line but they don’t have the trains.
But the Northern Line? Traditionally discussion of the Northern Line has been restrained, unless it is to illustrate how difficult it is to run a tube line and to highlight that in some ways it is a miracle we have such an intensive service at all. So what’s changed?
A history of Misery
The Evening Standard used to routinely refer to the Northern Line as “the Misery Line.” The twin curses of being starved of investment and being the most difficult line deep-level line to run meant that it was an easy source of horror stories for commuters to read about.
Everyone, even the Government, had recognised that what was needed was a major overhaul of the line. A comprehensive upgrade was planned for the mid 1990s, with new trains and new signalling. The new trains arrived and constituted a vast improvement, but the signalling project was cancelled by the Government leaving the line to soldier on with out-of-date signalling equipment that was liable to breakdown. Worse, without the new signalling, the trains could not run at their full capability. The service level failed to match the original aspirations since that relied on the signalling being replaced and consequently there were more trains available than could be usefully utilised.
The split that wasn’t
At around the same time as the signalling was due to be replaced, the possibility of the splitting the line into two was once again investigated. This had for a long time been recognised as a very cost-effective way of increasing tube capacity in central London. Unfortunately it was well-known that to do this one would have to rebuild Camden Town station, in order to cope with the number of people who would then have to change trains there. London Underground drew up comprehensive plans, but there were many objections due to the loss of a market (not the market – Buck St Market), the Electric Ballroom, the facade of the station and other properties.
In effect those against the scheme, which included the local council, argued that the rebuilt and expanded station would change the whole character of Camden for the worse. At the public inquiry the inspector agreed with the objectors and recommended that the scheme should not go ahead. This was very awkward for London Underground who had argued that anything less that the full scheme would be completely unsatisfactory.
The lost decade
With no real “Plan B” ready and waiting, and subsequently no money available, a period of inaction seemed inevitable. For more than a decade, the strategy for senior managers facing questions about the Northern Line appeared to be to answer them as quickly as possible and then move on, in the hope that the next question would prove less awkward. It was not so much that the Northern Line had regressed back to its former misery line status, it was just that there seemed to be no long term integrated strategy and, entirely appropriately for the Northern Line, no light at the end of an extremely long tunnel.
The pieces start to fit together
In recent years, three things have arguably transformed attitudes towards the Northern Line within London Underground.
Probably the biggest catalyst for positive change has been the proposed extension to Battersea. Never mind that it doesn’t make much strategic sense. Don’t worry about the fact that this is an extension of an already busy line built to historical small tube dimension size. The important thing is that the government is keen on it and wants to see it happen, and with this short extension a complete separation of the Northern Line suddenly makes even more sense than before.
The Northern Line Battesea Extension
Artist’s Impression of Battersea Station
Artist’s Impression of Nine Elms Station
Although no-one from London Underground has explicitly linked the extension to the split, one gets the impression that a split of the line can now be reconsidered for it is needed to maximise the success of the Battersea extension itself. Crucially, it opens the door on Government support, something essential to facilitating the split – or so it is believed.
It should be noted that TfL have already submitted a Transport and Works Order (TWO) for the extension. This is a critical decision – a bit like ‘go’ or ‘no go’ in a space mission or paying a deposit on a house. Once you have gone this far you really are pretty much committed to seeing the project through. Both Airtrack and the DLR Dagenham Dock extension seemed to have plenty of momentum, but when the crunch came and the next step was to submit the TWO application the backers in question (BAA and the Mayor respectively) cancelled the project.
A second major impact on thinking has been the proposed HS2 terminus at Euston. It is all very well planning Crossrail 2 to disperse the crowds, but the obvious first thing to do is maximise capacity of the lines you already have serving Euston. Again, HS2 is something that the Government is anxious to see successful and therefore support for improving the Northern Line in any way possible is seen as something that will get their backing.
The third major impact is the success of the Jubilee Line resignalling and implementation of automatic trains. As the Northern Line will use the same system of automation as the Jubilee Line, London Underground can now be confident that they are implementing a tried and tested system known to work in the London tube environment. Although getting Jubilee Line automation working was both a technical and political nightmare, now that it is up an running it generally works very well indeed. The omens are therefore good for the Northern Line installation, with the painfully learnt lessons and teething troubles from the Jubilee Line hopefully a thing of the past.
It all comes together at once
As well as the game changers mentioned above, something else is creeping up upon the the Northern Line – the early 2020s. These bring potential problems that may represent opportunities if handled well.
Assuming that funding is secured, the fruits of the “Deep Tube” project to run new cabless trains will materialise at the start of the next decade. This is soon after the Battersea extension should be up and running. Therefore there is an opportunity, with a bit of shuffling around of rolling stock, to re-equip at least part of the Northern Line with new trains.
Again assuming the funding can be found, Bank station will also have been rebuilt by the early 2020s. Current plans envisage a completion date sometime in 2021. Currently, even if you could physically run more trains, it is unlikely that Bank station could handle many more people arriving in the morning peak (in the evening, strictly speaking, this is less of a problem – if the station is too crowded you simply don’t let people in). So it would be a big win to co-ordinate a more frequent service with a bigger, better Bank station.
Beyond Bank, there are also proposals to upgrade Old Street station due to the “Silicon Roundabout” effect. Something that would also have a major effect on the Line.
Plans for additional passages at Kennington as submitted as part of the Battersea extension TWO application.
Finally another minor factor, often forgotten about, is improving interchange at Kennington before the Northern Line can be split. This is actually included within the Battersea extension project. It may be a small part of the Battersea extension project itself, but it is a “must address” issue before any full Northern Line split can take place.
Could Camden Kill it all off?
The feeling now is that the momentum is unstoppable. So what about Camden Town station? Here there seems to be a change of attitude. In the past it was thought necessary to sort out all the short-comings of the station. Now attention is focused on providing a scheme that just sorts out the interchange issues.
There is confidence that this can be achieved because it can be done without destroying the buildings and environment that people fought to save and, should it go to a public enquiry, any inspector will probably accept that this is essential for the greater scheme of splitting the line to go ahead. As the split, or at least the increase in service levels made possible by it, will effectively be government policy then the station enhancements are unlikely to be rejected.
It may be that the London Borough of Camden will not be overly happy with lots of work being carried out for no benefit of the people of Camden. Indeed they have already voiced similar concerns about HS2 at Euston. At the very least they thus may wish to see something in the package that would benefit the Borough itself. The reality, however, is that this would cost more money and increase the risk that the project would become too expensive. The likelihood of opposition, however, is far less than one might think. Sources suggest that TfL and Camden made their peace a long time ago, with an agreed compromise plan for the station in place, privately at least, if not publicly.
The reality, of course, is that even with objections from Camden Council, TfL would be unlikely to check their Camden advance. Although as an organisation they would be far too politic to say it, a feeling that the Borough had “missed their chance” ten years ago is likely to have some currency within TfL. One suspects that TfL would be determined not to let Camden halt progress on the Northern Line a second time, even if it meant publicly butting heads with the Borough. Indeed if Camden protested, one suspects TfL would expect the government to back them up and force the scheme through.
Such a scenario would hardly be ideal for all the parties involved but, if such a thing were to happen, one cannot help being reminded of that Millwall chant “You don’t like us, we don’t care”.
Signalling Progress – A Pleasant Contrast
A crucial question for the Northern Line now, of course, is just what progress is being made on the signalling upgrade.
Pleasantly, the answer seems to be that it is progressing as well on the Northern Line as it was progressing badly on the Jubilee Line. On 17th February the first of six stages was successfully upgraded without fuss. Of course the work required some weekend and early Sunday morning closures, but it only required a Sunday morning shutdown to actually implement – and that was just to test it before going live with passengers after midday.
The Northern Line Migration Plan to convert to TBTC. NMA1 is already live.
Indeed the project team are currently confident they can complete the job for the entire line well before the December 2014 deadline. This is largely thanks to their confidence of understanding the system based on the hard-won experience with the Jubilee Line. The only areas of nervousness are converting the junctions at Camden Town and the Kennington Loop. The junctions at Camden Town are a concern because nothing as complex as this has yet been converted to automatic train operation on London Underground. The Kennington Loop brings similar challenges – it will be the first case of this software ever being used on a system where trains do not reverse, but loop round to return to where they came from. In the latter case it is expected that, having identified the potential problem and catered for it, this will in fact go smoothly.
Trickle Down Rolling-stock-onomics
It is pretty self evident that if you build an extension to Battersea you are going to need to buy more trains. Indeed the original business case factored in the cost of buying these trains. The problem is that you don’t really want to build trains the are built to an old design, possibly with obsolete technology, just to be compatible with the existing twenty-five year old fleet – which is what the Northern Line trains will be by the time the Battersea extension is opened. Even if you did, it is quite possible that this wouldn’t comply with modern legislation on issues such as disability from which existing units might currently be exempted. In any case, it would probably be prohibitively expensive compared to an add-on of an existing order. Indeed one wonders if the cost of extra stock based on existing stock in the business case was only ever intended as an accounting exercise, and nobody really believed that this is what would actually be bought.
As it turns out, we can fairly safely discount purchase of additional 1995 compatible stock. This is because the Mayor, Mike Brown (head of London Underground) and now Sir Peter Hendy himself have all emphatically stated that London Underground will never again order an underground train with a cab.
What we now have is a situation where trains on the Bakerloo and Piccadilly need to be replaced in the early 2020s at the latest. Some extra trains are going to be needed for the Northern Line as well as the desire for around seven extra trains for the Jubilee line to get that service up to 33tph. It looks like it won’t be a straightforward case of “out with the old, in with the new”. The challenge is to allocate the proposed “Evo” (cabless) stock and reallocate the existing stock in such a way that each line solely consists of either Evo stock or legacy stock. This does presume that one does not wish to mix “cabbed” and “cabless” trains on the same line. Ideally each line should have only one type of stock (e.g. 1995, 1996 stock) and there should not be a significant surplus of perfectly serviceable legacy stock that has to be prematurely scrapped.
What will undoubtedly make things more complicated is the platform edge doors on the Jubilee, which will either restrict the options available or add to the cost if these have to be modified. What could well help to enable an optimal solution to be found is a split Northern Line with Evo stock on one of the lines and legacy stock on the other.
Piers Connor, writing in Modern Railways for January 2013, described various rolling stock permutations that would be possible. Clearly in these early days the numbers are not exact and it is all a bit tentative but the article ended with the statement that “London Underground is looking to have firmed up its ideas by July 2013”.
What does the future for the Northern Line hold?
Any description of a possible timeline for the Northern Line is inevitably going to be very speculative. It is almost certainly going to be wrong in the detail, but we hope the general gist will be accurate and give you an idea of how things are expected to pan out.
The remainder of 2013 will see TBTC (Transmission Based Train Control), a form of Automatic Train Operation, continue to be introduced on the Northern Line and the critical junction at Camden Town will be converted. By the summer, or shortly after, London Underground will have developed a rolling stock strategy for the early 2020s for the deep level tube lines. A crucial element in that may or may not be the fully splitting of the Northern Line into to separate lines.
If all goes well then by about September 2014 the Northern Line will be fully automated. Based on Victoria and Jubilee line experience, they will no doubt want the system to settle down before imposing changes to the timetable too rapidly.
In 2015 there will be an increase in frequency which has long been held up as an objective. There will be limitations as there will be a constraint caused by the limited number of trains and a limit to what can be handled at Bank. 24tph on both central London branches has long been held to be an intermediate objective for the peak period. As the line down to Morden already has 27tph, this will have to be maintained. In the peak period Morden trains will run via Bank except for 3tph which will go via Charing Cross. Off-peak all Charing Cross branch trains will terminate at Kennington and in the peak hours only 3tph will go through to or start from Morden.
It may be that the above service improvement will be introduced cautiously in stages, so may not be complete by the end of 2015 itself. It should be apparent how awkward it is to have 3tph in peak hours “off-pattern” and starting at Morden and going via Charing Cross. A desired objective will be to get to 27tph on the Bank branch as soon as practical so that all Morden trains can go via Bank. Ultimately it is hoped to get this figure to 30tph. Amongst other things this relies on sufficient rolling stock and the ability of Bank station to handle the passenger numbers.
Probably around 2016 London Underground will know if they are definitely going for a full split of the Northern Line. This is tied in with the crunch decision of whether to apply for a TWO to build extra cross-passages at Camden Town. This will not be anything like as easy as at Kennington as the platforms in question are considerably further apart. If these are to be built, it would be nice to have them ready by the time the Bank Station Upgrade is complete.
Around 2020 the Battersea extension will open. It would be unthinkable that the opening would be delayed for want of rolling stock. It would appear to be extremely unlikely that extra rolling stock would be available on opening day, but most new or extended tube lines take time for traffic to build up so it may be that London Underground implements a short term plan to provide a limited service to Battersea with the stock that it has.
Around 2021 the Bank Station Upgrade will be completed. It may be that the station has been sufficiently upgraded before this date for an earlier increase in service to be introduced – if there is the rolling stock.
Depending on what the rolling stock strategy is, it may be that the Northern Line has gone to the top of the queue to receive new cabless trains. If that is the case and a full split is to take place then this will take place soon after the Bank Station upgrade. It would then be possible to run at least 27tph on the new Morden – High Barnet Line as far as north Finchley Central, although 27tph may well have been implemented a few years previously. It remains to be seen how Mill Hill East is handled.
The number of trains per hour would be expected to increase gradually to reach 30-33tph. Note that the split has to be Morden-High Barnet and Battersea-Edgware due to the main depots being at Morden and Golders Green. On the Battersea-Edgware Line we can be reasonably confident that by the time HS2 opens around 2026 this too will be operating at near maximum capacity, which would be also presumed to be around 30-33tph.
A Complex Plan
Although the constituent parts of the plan may all be sound, it is apparent that this is quite a complicated plan. Like all plans it is reliant on funding for every part of it. It is also reliant on the Deep Tube project producing the goods, namely cabless tube trains, in the timescale required.
For the first time in a long, long time, however, it appears that the fortunes of “the Misery Line” are now looking up. If all the disparate elements of the Northern Line work come together, then we will see increased tube capacity and reliability in central London. One would be getting something that was equivalent to around half of a new tube line at a fraction of the cost – something that all parties would agree would be of enormous benefit to London.
For a number of years now, we have covered Kensington and Chelsea’s push to have a Crossrail station approved. The campaign arguably began in earnest back in 2008, when the Borough began to work towards the redevelopment of the Kensal Gasworks site. Their proposal argued that the turnback facilities planned for Crossrail just west of Paddington should be turned into a full Kensal Crossrail Station, providing a connection to the line in the area.
From the beginning it was clear that the Borough would find little proactive support within Crossrail itself, or from the scheme’s sponsors. The Council’s own initial feasibility study indicated that the Benefit to Cost Ratio (BCR) would likely be weak, Crossrail themselves had larger battles to fight and from the sponsor’s perspective (TfL and the DfT) there was no money to spare anyway. Nonetheless, the Council continued to press their case.
In December 2009, under pressure from Council, the Mayor conceded that he would not object to the station going ahead if Kensington and Chelsea could demonstrate that it would meet the following “tests”:
1) it must not delay the Crossrail construction programme
2) it must not add costs to the Crossrail project
3) it should not degrade the performance of Crossrail or other rail services.
These were always going to be hard criteria to meet, but undeterred in 2010 the Council authorised expenditure of £55,000 on a report into the scheme, in the hope of demonstrating that Crossrail Kensal could indeed meet all three of these criteria. In March 2011 this report was finally published, and we covered it in some detail at the time.
Unfortunately, rather than cementing a case for the station, it confirmed that the BCR for the station was indeed very weak – 1.1, in comparison to the 1.81 ratio of Crossrail itself. Perhaps more fatally, it also highlighted that adding the station to the service pattern would indeed carry a risk of performance degradation.
In an effort to counterbalance the underwhelming nature of the report, the Council finally offered to underwrite the cost of station construction (estimated at about £33m), as removing this from the calculations would improve the BCR. Realistically though, the writing was already almost certainly on the wall – both thanks to the lack of overwhelming evidence to support the scheme in the report, and for a number of other reasons covered in more detail below.
Officially, Crossrail – and more importantly TfL and the DfT as project sponsors – promised to provide a final answer on the station in May of 2011. Yet by the end of May no answer had been forthcoming. Instead, since then, a rather strange period of decision limbo seems to have existed. The Council have continued to vocally argue – both in the council chamber and the press – that the station was still on the cards, whilst in practical (if not official) terms Crossrail, and the plans and works associated with the turnback, have long since proceeded on the basis that it wouldn’t.
Indeed enquiring about Kensal Crossrail had, over the years, become something close to a japanese tea ceremony here at LR Towers.
Every couple of months we would politely ask Crossrail if a decision had officially been made yet. Crossrail, in turn, would politely reply that it was a decision for the project sponsors – TfL and the Dft – not themselves. Said sponsors would then politely indicate that a decision was due imminently, normally in the following month. No decision would appear, and thus the ceremony would begin anew.
All in all it seemed from the outside, perhaps uncharitably, that a decision had long since been made, but that straws had yet to be drawn on who would break the news to Kensington and Chelsea.
Finally, however, it appears that this long saga has come to an end. Last month Sir Merrick Cockell, leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council met with Transport Minister Stephen Hammond and with Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP to discuss the station. During the course of the meeting they confirmed that the station had neither the backing of the DfT, nor of the Mayor of London. This was confirmed in an email, sent by Sir Merrick to colleagues and supporters, which is reprinted in full below.
You have, in the past, been supportive of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s plan for a Crossrail station in Kensal. We have been engaged in campaigning for a station for several years, and we remain convinced of the impressive regeneration such a station would aid. I met with the Transport Minister Stephen Hammond MP, along with Sir Malcolm Rifkind MP, last week to discuss our proposals.
Unfortunately I have to tell you that at that meeting Stephen indicated our plans did not have the support of either the Department of Transport or the Mayor of London. The reasons for that lack of support remain frustratingly unclear.
On a more positive note, the Minister went on to say that that the Department of Transport would be glad to work with us on “alternatives” that might include some form of Heathrow-style monorail.
Clearly that is an intriguing idea but in the absence of any detail about what precise form the alternative would take, what capacity it would have, and crucially, when it would be built and where it would stop, it is impossible for us to make any sort of judgement about whether such a service would be a genuine alternative to a Crossrail station.
It follows therefore that the fight for our station must go on. I hope that I can count on your continuing support while we give this fight one more round. In particular I would ask that you use all your channels and influence to get our case heard as widely as possible. The economic and regeneration arguments for our station are as you know overwhelming. It there are genuine technical reasons why Londoners have to forgo those benefits, we believe those reasons should be spelt out so they can be scrutinised and solutions found.
If you want to discuss any of this further please do get in touch.
Cllr Sir Merrick Cockell
Leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’
A Station Autopsy
So just why did Kensal Crossrail ultimately not come to pass? Sir Merrick claims in his letter that “reasons for that lack of support [from the DfT and Mayor] remain frustratingly unclear.” but in truth, as the background information at the head of this article highlights, the reasons are arguably anything but opaque.
At the time when the station could have been included in the core Crossrail scheme (and most importantly within the original funding package) the BCR for the station just wasn’t strong enough. From the time that 2008 Crossrail Act was passed time was most definitely not on the Borough’s side, and the Mayor’s criteria in 2009 should have highlighted that only a substantial change in the Borough’s approach was likely to result in a positive outcome for the station. It is possible that an early promise of financial backing, at this point, may have considerably aided the Borough’s cause, but by the time the Borough’s own report had been published in March 2011 it was almost certainly too late for even this to sway sponsor backing to their cause.
Not only did their own report fail to make a strong case for the station itself, but by the time it was published the situation on the ground had changed.
As we highlighted at the time, by 2011 Crossrail had passed through, and survived, its own spending review, but in order to do so it had been forced to make savings in a number of areas. One of those areas related to its rolling stock order, with Crossrail forced to reduce its planned number of trains to the absolute minimum number required to meet the train frequencies and reliability to which the scheme had committed. The Council’s own report had highlighted that it would be difficult to include the station into the service pattern without disruption even with the original planned fleet size. With one or more trains now removed from the fleet, this now became effectively impossible.
Moving beyond Crossrail itself, by 2011 it had also become clear, from a wider perspective, that if there were to be a Crossrail station in the Kensal area then the Gasworks site was not the best site for it anyway. With developments proceeding swiftly up the road at Old Oak Common, and plans for HS2 beginning to come more to the fore, it became increasingly clear that a “super-hub” of some kind at Old Oak Common would be a far more beneficial option on a number of levels if money could be found, and this remains the case today.
If there is any surprise at all to be found in this decision, it is thus really only that it took this long to officially come to pass.
Whilst TfL and the DfT should be criticised for failing to make an official decision for this long (having already ensured that the passage of time had effectively scuppered any remaining chance of plans proceeding), Kensington and Chelsea arguably deserve more criticism for not so much missing the writing on the wall as closing their eyes each day as they walked past it. Their reasons for doing so aren’t entirely clear, but the proposal had long formed a point of contention between the incumbent Conservate majority on the Council and the Labour opposition, so it may well be the case that political, rather than practical, points were a key force behind its continued promotion.
As Seen in Heathrow, Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook
So with Kensal Crossrail now finally put to bed it can perhaps be hoped that attention will turn not just to Old Oak Common, but also to other transport improvements that might benefit a Borough that, despite its upmarket public image, actually contains some of London poorest areas.
In that regard, it is heartening to see Sir Merrick’s letter mention that both the DfT and the Mayor may look more positively on future local transport suggestions. There is, however, perhaps an element of warning to be found within there as well. For as Kensal Crossrail showed, it is dangerous to become overly fixated on highly public, and perhaps politically appealing, solutions to transport problems at the cost of more practical schemes.
With that in mind, Sir Merrick’s assertion that:
…the Department of Transport would be glad to work with us on “alternatives” that might include some form of Heathrow-style monorail
Should perhaps be something the Council might want to mull over carefully. For whilst Mr Hammond and Sir Michael may well be monorail fans, it may not quite be the kind of local transport scheme that the wider DfT, or indeed the Mayor, had in mind…
Yesterday saw a plethora of headlines hit both the London papers and the web about the Jubilee Line, as it was revealed that closures would be required in order to allow work to address problems of acid damage to the tunnel wall segments along a 90m section of the line.
This is not a new issue, with the need for repair work having been identified for some time now. Indeed the “Baker Street to Bond Street Tunnel Reconstruction” project has been on both TfL and Tube Lines’ books since at least 2011, but the overrunning Jubilee Line signalling upgrades (with which relining could not be run concurrently) and the ultimate takeover and restructuring of Tube Lines meant that it is only recently that the project has begun to move forward in force.
The work will require a number of short closures on the line between Finchley Road and Waterloo over the remainder of 2013 and into 2014. The full list of closures can be found at the foot of this article, but they mainly follow the normal closure pattern used by the likes of TfL and Network Rail – total closure over the Christmas and Easter periods, coupled with late Sunday openings and isolated weekend closures.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, much of the press (and political) coverage has followed the now-traditional “transport chaos” pattern. The Evening Standard and Metro were arguably the biggest perpetrators of hyperbole, aided by a spectacularly misleading and uninformed quote from Manuel Cortes, head of the TSSA:
This is all we need. Now it’s the wrong sort of water. Jubilee line passengers and businesses served by the line have already suffered more than their fare [sic] share of disruption without more on the way.
Their fires suitably stoked, both papers led with “THE WRONG SORT OF WATER” with others, such as the Independent, following a similar theme (the Evening Standard also, rather oddly, seems to have opted with a photo which suggests the Jubilee Line has been unchanged since about 1979).
Coverage has also focused on the total cumulative closure time (approximately thirty days) rather the particular timing of them, something which again makes good copy but is something of a sleight of hand. Comments by a number of London Assembly members have also added to the confusion. Caroline Pidgeon’s question as to whether a block closure strategy had been considered was arguably a fair one, but veiled suggestions by herself and others in the Assembly that this work represents a failure to deliver on promises of an “end to Jubilee closures” was less fair – and, as with Manual Cortes’ comments – a case where those making such comments should really know better.
So with points political being scored, and hyperbolic headlines being written, it is perhaps worth us stepping back and taking a look at what the actual issue on the Jubilee is, and what will actually happen to fix it.
To do that we must at both the details that have already begun to surface about the project, and also take a brief trip into a rather fascinating (but largely forgotten) moment in the Northern Line’s recent past.
London: A City Built on Clay. Except When it Isn’t
It’s easy to think that London is a city, at least to the north of the Thames, built on very uniform ground. The key role that the rich deposits of clay to be found beneath our feet played in the construction of the Tube network is largely public knowledge. A relatively friendly (and non-fatal) material to tunnel through, particularly when you are just learning the art, its presence helped the Deep Tube take shape, and its absence limited progress south of the river Thames for some time.
As is the case with most things, however, the truth is more complex than it seems. General histories – and the beautifully coloured-in strata most LR readers will remember drawing in Geography classes – tend to imply a more strict demarcation between geological layers than actually exists in nature.
In reality, London is far more geologically diverse than one might initially think. Chalk and sand can all be found in layers beneath our feet and, as generations of Tube builders and workers have long discovered (sometimes at fatal cost), even the widest layers of clay can hold lenses of sand and imperfections.
A Certain kind of Chemistry
It is these discrepancies that make maintenance of the tunnels through which the Tube runs such an interesting exercise. Chemistry, like death and taxes, is something that cannot be avoided, and pushing a large iron tube filled with air through a diverse mix of subsurface elements and compounds can, over time, have interesting effects.
Although extensive details as to the cause of the acid problem on the Jubilee Line have yet to emerge, it seems likely that they are broadly similar to that discovered on the Northern Line at Old Street some years back.
In 1945, engineers noticed that a section of the Northern Line just south of Old Street station had begun to show signs of damage from sulphuric acid attack.
The cause of the acid attack, which affected both running tunnels wasn’t initially clear. The tunnel section continued to be monitored though, and when cracks began to appear in the tunnel lining in the 1960s London Underground began to further investigate.
What eventually became clear was that the geology of the Old Street area was far more complex than had previously been realised. Here, it emerged, a layer of London Clay met the Woolwich and Reading beds (composed of a mix of clay and sand). Between these two was a lens of sand, through which the Northern Line tunnels actually passed. Further analysis of this sand layer showed that it was full of iron pyrites.
For millions of years water, seeping down through the clay above, had come to rest in this sand and come into contact with these iron pyrites, with no effect. The arrival of the Tube, however, changed the chemical mix. Now, each time a train passed through the tunnel, minute quantities of air were forced out between the tunnel rings, this was something to which the wet pyrites had not previously been exposed, and they reacted with the air to produce, amongst other things, small quantities of sulphuric acid. Locked into the sand lens, like the water, over time this had built up and begun to attack the tunnel itself.
Although full details have yet to emerge as to the causes of the acid damage on the Jubilee, it seems likely that they are broadly similar to those that affected the Northern Line as well. As it was not until boreholes were drilled in the eighties that the problem at Old Street was fully understood, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that such issues have ultimately manifested elsewhere on the network.
To Block or Not To Block
Whatever the cause of the acid damage, the solution for the Jubilee will ultimately be the same as that taken for the Northern Line – where damaged, the tunnel will need to be relined.
It’s a simple answer, but one that requires a complex engineering solution. Although Caroline Pidgeon may have questioned why a block closure approach was not being sought, the fact is that on pure passenger numbers a process of short closures and work within engineering hours, if practical, will ultimately affect fewer passengers. For although much has been made of the disruption to businesses that might be caused by a loss of weekend and non-peak traffic, the reality is that the route of the closure is actually well served by alternatives where the key leisure destinations are involved, whilst preserving a more direct service for commuters is arguably more useful.
Indeed this was equally true for the problems at Old Street. By the late 1980s it had become clear that relining the Northern Line tunnels here was necessary and, even with lower passenger numbers on the network at the time, a similar decision was reached – short sharp closures would be less disruptive to traffic than one long closure.
Rethreading the needle
With the “what” and the “why” out of the way, we can thus finally turn to the “how” – how do you reline a whole section of running tunnel, in engineering hours, without disrupting or closing the whole of the line?
Sadly although we know where the answer to this question can currently be found, much of the detail remain unclear. The where, it appears, is beneath Charing Cross.
Possessing now-disused tunnels built to the same pattern as the rest of the central section of the Jubilee Line, Charing Cross presented a perfect test bed for the engineering solution. It is thus here, over the last few months, that engineers have been working to put together a machine that can carry out the relining process.
New ring replacement machinery at Charing Cross
A view which gives a wider view of the process
So far, the pictures above represent our only guide to the process that will be used. It does appear, however, to be similar to that taken on the Northern Line, so we can arguably head back to Old Street once again to get some idea as to what the process is likely to entail.
Returning to Old Street
From the 1960s onwards, London Underground put into place various measures at Old Street to try and correct or mitigate the continuing problem of acid damage. In 1963 almost 2500 gallons of sodium hydroxide was pumped into the ground around the affected area to try and neutralise the acid. The sheer levels of acid in the area, and the composition of the surrounding earthworks, prevented this from being effective though.
Vertical metal strapping was added to affected tunnel segments to give them more strength, and for a time this seemed to be effective. By the late eighties, however, it was clear that degradation was still continuing, and a more permanent solution was required. Investigations into what such a solution might be began, and its need was further reinforced when drillings carried out as part of the investigations themselves caused further cracking to appear in a number of tunnel segments.
Strapping on the Northern Line south of Old Street in the 1960s, note the evidence of acid damage at the bottom of the tunnel
Soon it became clear that the only solution was effectively to start again. The existing lining over a 90m section of both running tunnels would need to be entirely removed and relined, this time with chromium duplex steel segments designed to resist the acid build up (indeed the resulting order for 750t of chromium duplex steel represented the largest in the world at that time).
Examples of the new tunnel segments, stacked before installation
In order to lay those new tunnel segments Underground engineers faced the same problem as those on the Jubilee do today – they needed the ability to get into the running tunnels, get set up quickly, carry out the work required and then vacate before trains began to run again. Accepting that it was impossible within engineering hours to both remove and replace a tunnel segment, they also realised that their supporting machinery would need to remain in place during regular running, and then be returned to during the next engineering period or closure.
The result was the creation of a custom tunnelling shield. This could be manoeuvred into place around the section that needed to be replaced, and would support the surrounding tunnel wall while replacement took place. During operating hours, the shield would be left in place and trains would run through it.
Moving the Shield into place
It was a clever solution to the problem, and the photos of the work currently underway at Charing Cross, along with the limited information that has emerged so far from TfL, seem to suggest a broadly similar approach will be taken with the Jubilee.
Moving the Mess
One luxury that those working on the Jubilee line will not have, however, will be in the area of spoil removal and site access.
On the Northern Line it was identified at an early stage that site access – both for people and material – would prove problematic, especially given the limited period in which work could take place. Luckily, however, there was a solution. Running parallel to the tunnel sections in question was a disused siding tunnel. By sinking a shaft in the car park of a nearby school and building a connecting tunnel, the siding could be accessed and used as an entry and exit point.
Just what solution to this problem will be found for the Jubilee remains to be seen. Both men and material will still require access, and a new more creative solution to this problem will thus likely be required.
More than just a soundbite
Overall, as can be seen from the above, the acid issues facing the Jubilee Line represent far more than just a simple niggling engineering issue, or an excuse for another soundbite or emotive headline.
If the previous experience on the Northern Line is any guide, they represent an enormous test of planning and engineering skill. Keeping a running railway working underground whilst relining the very tunnels it passes through is an incredibly complex task, whatever the full extent of the work turns out to be, and it’ll be interesting to see how the challenge of doing so is addressed.
“The Wrong Kind of Water” may make a nice headline, but it’s about as far off the reality as it is possible to be.
The Announced Closures
The closures announced for 2013 are:
- Sunday 16 June and Sunday 6 October
- Bank holiday Monday 26 August
- Weekend of 12 and 13 October
- Entire Christmas period 25-30 December
- Three further Sunday — dates to be announced — when service won’t start up to 11 am.
The closures announced for 2014 are:
- Sundays of 12 January, 15 June, 17 August and 16 November
- Weekends of 1 & 2 February and 8 & 9 March
- Saturday 1 March
- Four-day closure at Easter 18-21 April
- Entire Christmas period 25-30 December
- Further 17 late start to services on Sundays
In part one we recalled the history of St Johns station up to World War II. In that time the the station had already been subject to more change than most stations have in their entire lifetime. After World War II though, it did seem that this had come to an end. The station, and the immediate surrounding area, had now remained largely unaltered, and uninteresting, since 1929 and there was no reason to believe that this would change in the years to come.
A very foggy day in December 1957, however, changed all that.
Another train crash at St Johns
That day, the service had been considerably disrupted and in the confusion the signalman at St Johns forwarded a Hastings train to the next box down the line, Parks Bridge Junction. Whilst doing so he erroneously described it, using the describer apparatus, as an electric train for the Mid-Kent Line.
On the assumption that the train description given was correct, and thus believing it to require a clear path to the Ladywell loop, the Parks Bridge signalman held the Hastings train at a red signal further down the main line.
The Parks Bridge signalman had little reason to suspect that the train description was erroneous, for if the trains had been running in the correct timetabled order then the train in question would have been the Hayes train. Unfortunately, due to the disruption, the Hayes train was actually running behind the Hastings train, and was currently stationary with it brakes firmly applied, due to the rising gradient.
Had either signalman realised the true situation, the Hastings train would have been sent on its way. Whether this would have prevented the subsequent accident, or simply resulted in it taking place at a different location, is something we shall never know. Either way, the number of deaths and injuries would have been dramatically lower – perhaps even avoided entirely.
Indeed the understandable error committed by the St Johns signalman in the confusion of the fog, and the consequent service disruption taking place, should not really have mattered. Nothing irregular had so far occurred, and the stationary trains were each protected in the rear by a bright colour light signal. This should have been sufficient to ensure there was no danger. What should have then happened was that, in accordance with procedure, after a couple of minutes of being stationary the driver of the Hastings train would have phoned the Parks Bridge signalman to ask about the delay. In identifying the train the signalman would have realised the error and then cleared the appropriate route to allow the Hastings train to continue on its journey.
Unfortunately the minor issue of the signalman wrongly identifying the trains never got a chance to be resolved. The driver in the following steam train to Ramsgate had failed to observe two “caution” signals (a double yellow and a yellow) which warned that the signal ahead would be danger (red). With his speed unreduced when the red signal was observed a collision was now inevitable, and the Ramsgate train crashed into the stationary Hayes train ahead at around 35mph.
A rear end collision at slightly under 35 mph by a steam train into an electric multiple unit was always likely to cause a number of fatalities in the rear coaches of the electric train. A tragedy, certainly, but not one that would rank as one of the worst in the history of railways. Unfortunately, it was here that the location of the crash changed everything.
As the Ramsgate train ran into the rear of the train in front, its tender dislodged one of the critical supports of the Nunhead Viaduct. Its support now critically weakened, the heavy metal girder bridge came crashing down onto the carriages of the Ramsgate train. It was believed that 49 of the 90 deaths occurred in the Ramsgate train. Undoubtedly far fewer, if any, would have happened in this train had it not been for the bridge collapse.
Although the collapse of the overbridge was described in great detail in the subsequent accident report the significance of it was limited to one further paragraph. Whilst undoubtedly the immediate cause was the failure of the driver of the stream train to observe signals, no-one at the time seems to have grasped the crucial lesson to be learnt from the failure of the infrastructure involved.
This is not meant to be an article about the human side of at tragedy. It has been written about a number of times. Diamond Geezer, in his own inimitable way, poignantly records the details and the accident report thoroughly covers the factual details of what happened on that fateful day.
The accident report mainly concentrated on factors such as the weather, the good working order or otherwise of the signals, the interviews and recollections of those involved, the subsequent brake tests and such like as accident reports do. Amongst these there are some illuminating details which which are hidden away.
There is a sentence on the first page of the report buried as a part of the narrative. Its significance is very easy to miss. The last paragraph on the first page starts:
At first it was difficult to assess the magnitude of the disaster in the fog, but as the true situation became known, the emergency services were deployed at increasing strength, and many doctors and nurses arrived on the scene;
Nothing subsequently indicates that anything out of the ordinary has occurred – and that’s perhaps significant. Anyone who has read our account of the Harrow & Wealdstone accident – the worst peacetime railway accident in Britain – a little more than five years earlier would be aware of the failure of the fledgling National Health Service to provide immediate first aid from doctors and nurses at the scene in the “golden hour” after the accident. Indeed it was largely because of American Servicemen who acted on their initiative and got a local American army medical unit to the scene that deaths at Harrow & Wealdstone were not higher still than the 112 souls who perished. Since Harrow the NHS, and the Ambulance Service, had begun to move towards a model that placed more of an emphasis, during large accidents, on effective care and decision-making at the scene. Although it is frustratingly light on detail, the above paragraph, if accurate, suggests that this had begun to come into play at St Johns.
From the point of view of lessons for the railway industry to be learnt from the accident, the tragedy at St Johns is actually, for the most part, unimportant. The immediate cause was because of signals passed at danger in thick fog. It was already accepted that some kind of further protection was necessary but that there was a limit to how quickly this could be introduced. The report’s author accepted that lines such as the one from Waterloo to Exeter with higher speeds but still reliant on semaphore signals were more of a priority than the locations in the Southern Region suburban area already equipped with colour light signals. The problem in general of visibility from the cab of a steam engine was not really addressed despite, incredibly, steam engines still being built at the time. The fact that the Hastings train that was unnecessarily halted in front of the Hayes train was diesel-electric shows that there was already a policy to try and remove steam from the Southern Region. Furthermore work for the Kent Coast electrification scheme was already well underway and phase 1 was implemented less than a year after the report was published. It is not therefore surprising that the report emphatically has amongst its conclusions that “[t]here is, therefore, no need to make any alteration to the siting and spacing of the signals on this line.”
Although they could not have known it at the time, there was also the fact that dense fog would become much less of an issue in future with the coming of natural gas and the benefits of the Clean Air Act a few years later. A further reason for this was, of course, the eventual elimination of steam railway engines and their emission of soot-laden smoke.
The second significant part of the report is a solitary paragraph about the collapse of the bridge:
102. It is a stroke of great misfortune that the collision took place under a heavy rail overbridge and that one of the supporting columns was knocked away, thus precipitating the girders of the bridge on to the train below. The design of the bridge and its supports was sufficiently strong to carry all normal loads with an adequate margin of safety, and I know of no other case in which a bridge has collapsed in this way, but in view of the serious consequences of this accident the problem will be considered in future bridge design. I understand that, where practical, safeguards will be included to reduce the risk of collapse if the supports of an overbridge are struck accidentally.
With the benefit of hindsight this does seem to be a remarkably complacent attitude. The railway inspecting officer seems to accept that a single point of failure can produce a catastrophic failure yet he is suggesting it is enough to “reduce the risk where practical”. There was no suggestion that bridges should in future be designed so that the collapse of one support column would not cause the collapse of the entire bridge. He also appears to be failing to offer recommendations for the future, which is surely the purpose of the report, and is merely commenting on the current school of thought in engineering circles.
One would have thought that at the very least an investigation of sites where something similar had a high risk of happening would have been recommended. This would be with a view to implementing damage mitigation measures. Is this a case of the inspecting officer, Brigadier Langley (Royal Engineers), being too reluctant to criticise his own profession? It would take a disaster at Eschede in Germany in 1998, which also led to a bridge collapse, for the world to fully wake up to the danger of this – but something good could have come out of the disaster at St Johns in 1957 if only people had realised it.
Facing the Future
In 1957 before the calamitous accident, St Johns station was probably quite pretty and the sort of photogenic spot that railway photographers like. Even afterwards it still was – provided that the new bridge was out of shot. Indeed the cover of the Middleton Press volume “Charing Cross to Orpington” features a steam train passing St Johns with a field of flowers in the background.
The accident, however, was the start of the station’s descent from attractive to harsh in architecture and landscaping. It was necessary to replace the bridge pretty quickly as at the time it was used by a busy and vital freight route that connected South East England to places north of London. A very ugly temporary military bridge was erected. Given the disaster that had happened here and the need to quickly replace this important bridge this was to be no slender graceful object. It was to be a very heavy duty girder construction made available by the army and set in masses of concrete. There was to be no repeat of this disaster. The “temporary” bridge remained for decades until it was finally officially decided to designate this bridge a permanent feature – to the surprise of nobody. It is now sometimes referred to on railway documents as “the military bridge”.
Siding fulfil one last major use then are closed
The sidings at St Johns play a disproportionate part in the history of the station, despite fulfilling no apparent intended useful purpose. Part of the investigation of the accident involved testing the brakes of the Ramsgate train as the driver implied that they were not working as they should. For that purpose the carriages that were not severely damaged were shunted into the sidings at St Johns (almost certainly the one very long siding) and tested. The brakes on the carriages were found to be fully in order.
In 1960 the continental sidings opened at Hither Green and the sidings at St Johns were abandoned. This does strongly suggest that the purpose of the sidings was as an overflow area for the previous continental sidings, located on an extremely cramped site just to the south east of Blackfriars Bridge. The usage, however, must have been extremely limited. The St Johns sidings would have been insecure, so mainly of use for empty wagons and vans, and the arrangements to get them from and to the Southwark sidings must have been extremely awkward with no means of getting the engine from one end of the train to the other. There do not seem to be any photographs in existence of the sidings actually being used for freight wagons.
The station was by now (1960) just a two island platform station on a four track railway.
The 1970s bring changes
By the early 1970s St Johns station was very lightly used. Trains would rarely, if ever, stop at the southernmost island platform. Space was needed for a new flydown (we have covered this in a separate article). Consequently the almost-unused southernmost island platform was demolished in October 1973. In the same month an unattractive open-to-the-elements utilitarian footbridge replaced the previous one with a protective roof. A new embankment for the flydown was being built to allow trains from Lewisham to cross over the military bridge and subsequently join the main line. Unfortunately on 10th December it collapsed and killed two workmen in the process.
During the Easter weekend in April 1976 the flydown came into use. At the same time St Johns signalbox ceased to be operational and all train movement was transferred to the new large signalling centre at London Bridge.
The 1976 arrangement with the flydown built over the former location of the sidings (not shown). It has a single bi-directional track. This diagram extends further to the west than the previous ones in order to show the flydown.
With the reorganisation of train services to London Bridge from Easter 1976 St Johns got an improved train service but it was nothing like the major improvement seen by some lines. Basically the off-peak service went from a half hourly one to a twenty minute one. This was still not sufficient to be regarded as turn up and go. Announcements for down trains at London Bridge would seem to invariably be announced either as “fast to …” or would be followed by the warning that it was “not stopping at St Johns”. Only the Hayes trains via Lewisham escaped this otherwise compulsory mantra. Despite the fact that hardly any trains stopped there, the station was often printed on tickets to south east London suburbs many of which bore the legend “via St Johns”.
Decline in the 1980s
The 1980s were a period when the British Railways Board felt that it was necessary to be seen to be making economies. Many of them did not actually save much money but, importantly, gave the impression to the government that everything possible was being done to cut costs. So it was that the station was closed on Sundays and at one point on Saturday evenings as well. Given that the station then, as now, was often left unstaffed, it is difficult to see what significant real saving was being made.
By this period one got the impression that as far as the railway management was concerned St Johns station was just a nuisance. By Southern suburban standards it hardly had any passengers, especially off-peak. Those that were to be had only made short journeys and contributed little to the revenue stream, but used the railway at its busiest stretch on the approaches to the London terminals. Moreover it was the only station stuck on a critical two track stretch of line leading to and from Cannon Street, so any train that stopped there reduced track capacity. Most likely, management just hoped that they could close it in a few years time.
One would have thought it couldn’t get much worse, but then around 1990 the station’s one redeeming architectural feature – the booking office – was burned down in an arson attack. The management seemed to be in absolutely no hurry to replace it. Maybe they were hoping if they left it long enough the station would be closed and it wouldn’t be required. After all, Lewisham station was only a short distance away.
Entrance to the station and site of the former booking office at the start of the recent works
It is difficult to imagine now, but the scene in the picture above would probably have been quite attractive 100 years ago. Since the picture was taken the roadway has been barricaded off for construction work. We cannot be sure how this scene would have looked as there do not appear to be any photos available of the front of the booking office.
The 1990s and yet another tragedy
In 1992 the platforms were extended in an abortive plan to lengthen the suburban trains to 12 cars. To do this it was necessary to replace the arched bridge at the London end of the island platform so that the platform could be extended. Unfortunately the demolition contractors seemed to be quite clueless as to the internal forces present in a multiple arched bridge, and did not adopt a safe means of demolition.
There are essentially two ways to safely demolish a multiple arch bridge. The first is simply to ensure that no-one is located in any position where their safety is at risk – i.e. that no-one is anywhere near the bridge when it collapses. The second is to safely remove it by reversing the procedure used to build it in the first place. Unfortunately, instead the contractors decided to begin demolition by “pecking” at the arches from the top without any support under the bridge.
If they had known the history of construction fatalities at this location due to collapses they might have investigated the risks more carefully. An intriguing comment by Unravelled suggests that it is possible that they would have got away with their unsafe approach to the work it were it not for a sudden downpour that occurred prior to the work starting. Another comment suggests that the situation may have been made a lot worse by reversing a lorry onto the bridge after the structural integrity had been destroyed.
The sudden collapse of the bridge led to the third occasion at St Johns where a construction accident had resulted in the death of two of the workforce. As in the 1864 accident, there were other workers who were injured as well.
The replacement bridge (covered in a previous article) enabled the platforms to be extended. It may well be the case that after this the management woke up to the fact that if they attempted to close the station now, questions would be asked about why the bridge had been needlessly and expensively replaced both in terms of cost and lives lost. Eventually a new small ticket office was built on the platform facing the steps down to it.
A surprising revival
That really ought to be have been the end of the story, with the station continuing in use serving a small number of passengers and rather sidelined compared with other stations. It seems, though, that whenever St Johns has appeared about to enter into a “steady state” the next change comes along.
The only street sign to help you when you leave the station.
In recent years St Johns has seen a remarkable increase in station usage. One can be suspicious of the accuracy of the official figures but by any measurement or simply anecdotal evidence the station usage seems to have at least more than doubled in the past five years. A major factor has without doubt been the demand for travel to nearby Lewisham College. There are also various parts of Goldsmith’s College for which St Johns is the nearest station. The traffic delays on Lewisham Road, making bus journeys less attractive, probably also play a part as does the multi-occupancy of the surrounding Victorian houses.
What has really changed though is the train service. Instead of a half-hourly grudge service there is a train every ten minutes to/from Cannon Street during the day plus two extra trains an hour that do not fit into the even interval service. This means that the service has become a “turn up and go service” for many and for others there are now direct trains to many more destinations. During the evenings and on Sundays there is a still a half-hourly service which is to/from Charing Cross at present.
Doubling of the flydown
The other change, as regular readers will be aware, is the doubling of the Tanners Hill flydown. This is now in service, although the full benefit of it will not be made until the timetable changes to take into account the opportunities provided by the revised layout.
The rebuilt bridge at St Johns. The metal frame is quite adequate to take the weight of the bridge.
Something that should now be apparent is why it was necessary to envelope the metal frame support to the modified road bridge in masses of concrete. It is not there to hold the bridge up. It was quite apparent during construction that the metal frame was quite adequate to hold up the bridge. The reason is because, finally, a lesson has been learned at St Johns from that accident so long ago at the other end of the platform. That a single point of failure is a very dangerous thing, and the railways can be a very fickle mistress indeed.
In order to take into account the possibility that the train could knock the metal supporting structure down it is encased in concrete.
Diagram of the track layout today. The facing crossover on the brick viaduct (marked in light grey) is currently out of use but has not yet been removed.
St Johns today – not pretty but functional
We started part one of the article by saying that St Johns is not a pretty station. It is also a station that is needlessly difficult to access, with an indirect route to the platforms from the road that involves a descent to where the booking office was once located, followed by a flight of steps up. Indeed it seems to have the worst of everything: a colour scheme that is almost unmitigated battleship grey, platform paraphernalia on a scale unmatched elsewhere, an ugly military bridge that lacks any grace and a more recent replacement bridge for the road that just looks like a bodged solution, with an asymmetrical shape and clearly consisting of two non-matching portions bolted together. The join isn’t even located above the intermediate support. To make matters worse the older part of the bridge is heavily graffitied on the faded green background and contrasts with the new portion.
To add insult to injury, the contractors have re-erected the station totem without even bothering to give it a clean, let alone remove the fading dog-eared Network SouthEast sticker that adorns it. The station really has a feeling of being unloved, as if it was chosen by the late unlamented Silverlink trains as a showpiece for their corporate standards. To some extent one is constrained by history and the infrastructure present, but one can always dream and imagine what London Overground would do with it if they were ever able to take over responsibility for this station.
The station is but a shadow of its former self. It is not strategically placed. It is unstaffed for much of the time. It is not a welcoming place and any architectural merit that it had is gone. And yet is almost certainly busier than it has ever been previously and, as we have seen, a long and often tragic history that eclipses many stations far larger and better known. It also has a service that users of most stations can only dream of and it fulfils a useful transport need for the local community.
One can hanker after the good old days, but for St Johns they were often anything but, and the reality is that in practical terms and functionality it perhaps now really is “the best of times”.
Thanks once more to Swirlythingy for his diagrams. Also to Unravelled for his incredible set of pictures of recent developments at this site. His set of St Johns pictures at the time of writing contained over 600 photos and can be seen here.
Some railway stations are more worthy of a visit for their own sake than others. History, architecture, location, current operation and future plans, all contribute in their own way to give you a reason to explore a particular station. Within that station the rail enthusiast may also have a favourite spot they feel enhances that perception – the Sir John Betjeman statue at St Pancras, for example, or the new overbridge at King’s Cross. Perhaps it’s the delightfully restored platforms of Mornington Crescent, or next to the old water tower in the peace and tranquility of rural Chesham.
Whereever that spot is, chances are it won’t be the country end of the single island platform at St Johns. Yet this station has seen development, change, death, destruction and enhancement throughout its existence on a scale that may well be unequalled anywhere else in Great Britain – certainly well beyond that which one would expect for a minor London suburban commuter station.
At the end of the single island platform looking towards Lewisham
The area around St Johns is steeped in railway history and since the above photo was taken it has undergone its latest change. Unfortunately, as can be clearly seen, it is not at all photogenic. Even if the graffiti was not present it would be a brutal landscape of concrete, an unattractive trestle overbridge and cluttered unsightly railway paraphernalia.
St Johns is located between New Cross and Lewisham on the SouthEastern lines into Charing Cross and Cannon Street. It has a single island platform that normally only serves trains to and from Cannon Street for most of the day. The station is surrounded by a mish-mash of railway structures and a road overbridge – none of which are original. It is in a deep cutting. The complete lack of co-ordination of the surrounding features gives a clue to the many changes that have been made in this area and the drab features include the functional, but uninspiring, station which is painted in SouthEastern’s house colours and does nothing to indicate its sense of history. Indeed it is almost as if it is a metaphor for the place, with its history being painted over.
The coming of the railway – but not a station
In 1849 when the railway opened the layout could not be any simpler. Just two through tracks and no station.
The view prior to the latest changes. When originally built the bridge in the centre and the elevated track to the right would not have existed. Note how the middle two of the current four tracks almost align with the original alignment in the distance. The middle two tracks (to the immediate right of the platform) would also line up with original double bore of Tanners Hill tunnel, situated not far up the line from the other end of the platforms.
The railway line here was originally opened as a two track line as part of the North Kent Line of the South Eastern Railway (SER) in 1849. To the west was New Cross station (opened 1850) and a short distance to the east was Lewisham Station. There was really no point in building a station here because there were few buildings in the area. Even the church, which dominates the area and was to give the station its name, had yet to be built.
The railway is widened – at the cost of two lives
In 1864 the line to Sevenoaks was under construction. Rather than provide a junction at the point of divergence, the original line between St Johns and London Bridge was duplicated so that it was four track (at least) between St Johns and London Bridge. One reason for this decision may well have been the crude signalling available at the time, which would have severely limited capacity on a busy two-track railway. As part of that work labourers were employed “on a deep cutting on the North Kent line between the New-cross and Lewisham stations” so that the railway here could consist of four tracks. It should have been a straightforward task to cut through the chalk which was thought to be the only component of the subsoil in the area. Unfortunately it wasn’t and on the 1st September 1864, whilst excavating the cutting, a landslip occurred causing around 80 tons of debris to come crashing down. It buried four workers.
Two of the men buried in the debris were pulled out and survived, although one of those had to have a leg amputated. The other two men, however, could not be saved.
In fact, the reports in the local press don’t actually state that this accident occurred at St Johns. This is probably because the locality had yet to acquire that name – or indeed any established name. Another account, however, states that “Near Lewisham the railway is being widened, and about half a mile from the station a deep cutting was being enlarged”. There thus seems little doubt that St John’s station had an association with death before the station even existed.
It does seem rather strange that the location of the above incident was not given more exactly in relation to the local area. It would have appeared even by then to be an established community with attractive Victorian villas for the better off in society. Today it is part of a conservation area. Prior to the existence of the station no reference is made to the area as “St Johns” even though the church of that name was completed by 1855. Until the station was built it just seems that the area did not really have a definitive name. Indeed “Deptford New Town” appears to have been the most common description at the time.
In 1865 the railway here now has four tracks and is on the main line to Sevenoaks. There is still no station. Here and subsequently new additions are shown in red and any track abandoned since the last diagram shown in grey.
In 1865 the new main line was opened as far as Sevenoaks. Finding out exactly what was on the ground at the period in history is difficult to ascertain, but it appears that there was no physical connection between the two lines in this area and no indication that there was a signal box. The road that crossed the railway, and which is now called St John’s Vale, was certainly already in existence by 1871. This multi-arched bridge supporting the road would probably already have been in this configuration and would remain unchanged for the next hundred years.
A station at last – but not St Johns
A station was built and opened six years after the opening of the line to Sevenoaks at St Johns but it is not the station we are currently talking about.
Just to the south of the new viaduct was Lewisham Road station which opened in 1871 and was ideally sited on the main road. However the route into Ludgate Hill was not very direct and so it was vulnerable to competition.
In 1871 the rival London Chatham and Dover opened their Greenwich Park branch line from their station at Nunhead as far as Blackheath Hill (ultimately to Greenwich). One of the intermediate stations was called Lewisham Road and was located only a short distance from the current St Johns station. Its name would at first sight appear to be one of the all too frequent cases of railways giving their stations inappropriate names, as it is nowhere near the present day Lewisham Road.
The station building was in fact situated in a road called Loampit Hill. Today we can pinpoint it as the location where the current A20 changes from Loampit Hill to Lewisham Way. Before being called Lewisham Way, however, the road was known as Lewisham High Road and before that it was Lewisham Road, so in fact it was a reasonable name for a station at that time. The situation described is far from unique. The very next station along was called Brockley Lane but was situated in what today is called Brockley Road.
To continue from Lewisham Road station to Greenwich the line has to pass on a bridge over the SER lines in the cutting at St Johns. By this means they could provide a service, albeit a bit circuitous, between Greenwich, Nunhead and central London. One cannot really imagine the service being a success and, if the line was built for a rational reason, then that reason was probably not passenger traffic – at least not regular passenger traffic to London.
A curious fact concerning Lewisham Road station was that in the space of less than thirty years from its opening three of its station masters committed suicide although not when on duty and not at the station. The coroner presiding over the inquest of the third case refused a request from the jury to even consider that this was anything other than a coincidence.
St Johns Station is finally built
It is not completely clear why St Johns Station was not built at the time of the widening of the cutting, as just eight years later a station was deemed necessary. One could argue rationally that this prosperous area had probably now built up sufficiently to justify a station at St Johns. Alternatively the case could be made that Lewisham Road station showed that there was a demand, and a station on the direct SER line to London Bridge and Charing Cross probably had much more potential than one that went to Ludgate Hill by an indirect route. More likely it was the obsessive rivalry between the two railways, as documented in a recent article on this site, that led to an SER station being built two years later. They called it St Johns after the large nearby church with a substantial spire, even though Lewisham Road station was probably actually nearer to the church.
Having decided to build a station, the SER clearly did not do things by halves. Two island platforms, a booking office and a suitable footbridge would have been more than adequate given the fact that there was nothing there previously. This the SER provided and more. To this they added a third island platform and consequently the up Sevenoaks line became double faced. On the other side of this third island platform there was a terminating track with a set of buffers at the country end. Quite what rational purpose this third island platform served is hard to imagine. Indeed when referring to the six platform faces one is tempted to parody “If I Were a Rich Man” from “Fiddler on the Roof” and refer to two going Up and two going Down and two going nowhere – just for show.
Having finally decided to build a station the SER did not do things by halves. This is the arrangement believed to have existed in 1873.
Initially it would seem to be the case that the terminating platform had a run-round loop for the engine. Accessible from the run-round loop was a short siding. The purpose of this short siding is not obvious, but it might have been a cripple siding in which to park broken-down locos or wagons away from the main line until such time that they could be repaired or recovered.
It is extremely hard to think of any rational explanation of how the terminating platform could be useful if trains were to run to Charing Cross or Cannon St, as the only intermediate stations before London Bridge would have been New Cross and Spa Road. It would also seem to be an unlikely location for a private platform for those wishing to charter their own train and certainly not one that would justify this extravagance. The only other explanation that comes to mind is that maybe someone thought this would have been a convenient station to terminate through trains from the northern suburbs via Farringdon, Blackfriars and London Bridge – a sort of 19th century Thameslink. Such a service did actually exist for a number of years terminating at Woolwich Arsenal.
On the St Johns 1895 track plan on the Kentrail website a track arrangement is shown that is not conducive to terminating trains at St Johns due to the point layout to the west of the station (not shown on our diagrams) consisting only of sets of trailing points. This would suggest that it would have been pretty difficult to use the terminating platform in normal day-to-day operation.
Further tragedy at St Johns
The Lewisham Rail Crash of 1857 meant that the St Johns area was already familiar with deaths on the railways, even excluding the previously-mentioned deaths during construction work in 1864. On 21st March 1898 a fatal accident occurred at St Johns station and fog, which was prevalent in the area, contributed to cause – sadly not the last time fog would be a factor in fatalities here.
The 21st March must have been very foggy because the signalman could not even see the length of the platform, despite being himself located at one end of it. Confused, he became convinced that he had forwarded a train to New Cross (towards London) when in fact it was still standing in the platform. He then accepted a train from Parks Bridge signal box located further down the Tonbridge line. With sad inevitability, this thus collided with the train still standing in the platform.
In terms of the development of railway signalling practice, this would prove to be a significant accident because, as the accident report would later highlight, the collision made it clear that a signalman should not be able to clear a block section merely by restoring the relevant home signal to danger. It must be the train itself that frees the signalling apparatus to allow the signalman to set a block section to clear.
As the accident report stated:
The occurrence under consideration strongly confirms an opinion frequently expressed by the inspecting officers of the Board of Trade that the train itself should release the block intrument on passing over a “treadle” and going forward into the next section. At St John’s the release is effected by the signalman putting his signals back to danger, which does not ensure the train having passed!
A subsequent letter in The Times also highlighted that rescue of people in the crushed wooden carriages was made more difficult because British trains, unlike those in the United States, did not at the time carry emergency apparatus such as an axe and a short ladder for use in such situations.
Only three people died on this occasion, but it was the continuation of a St Johns death toll that would sadly continue to rise in the following century.
Incredibly those injured at St Johns were taken to hospital by, it seems, shunting the damaged carriages into the sidings and then allowing the rest of the train to continue to London Bridge, so that the injured could get treated at Guys Hospital! This must seem extraordinary to us but this would not have been the first time that trains were used to take the injured to hospital in central London. Indeed this happened at the 1857 fatality at Lewisham when trains (on that occasion not the ones involved in the collision) were used to take the injured to St Thomas’ Hospital, then also located next to London Bridge station. Having grown up in the age of the motor car, it is also perhaps easy for us to forget that at the time this would have been the most expedient way of getting the injured to hospital, with speed being of the essence.
Carriages from the St Johns rail crash.
The above picture was almost certainly taken on 21st March 1898 – the day of the crash – and shows the damaged carriages in the run-round loop and siding at St Johns. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, then you may be able to actually read the name “St Johns” on the station running in board.
St Johns becomes a Junction
By 1906 the main line to Sevenoaks had become four tracked. As a result St Johns was now a true junction. It also led to a second signal box being provided at St Johns. It was located between the diverging tracks. This four-tracking probably probably led to the start of the long lingering death of the island platform on what would now be known as the “through” lines. Any trains calling at St Johns would probably be running on the “local” lines and call at the island platform that remains to this day.
By 1906 the Sevenoaks route was four-tracked. For a short period there was actually an up main loop but by 1913 it had been disconnected at the eastern end and buffers installed.
As part of the four tracking scheme the southernmost platform was served by an up fast platform loop line. The run round loop was converted to a siding and it is believed that the other two sidings were added then. The up platform loop clearly was not a success. It is difficult to see what great benefit this offered and it was converted to a long siding. This can be seen on the revised plan for 1916 on the Kentrail website. It would seem that the other sidings were very short and this was necessitated by the need to provide a shunting neck.
With the original line into the terminating platform effectively a siding there were, in effect, now four sidings. Given that they would not easily be accessible by road – the nearest road running parallel was not called Cliff Terrace for nothing – the only real use could be for storing vehicles. This would normally be goods wagons but on at least one subsequent significant occasion it was used to store passenger coaches – as in 1898. The sidings were almost certainly built on a worked out chalk pit and it was probably more a case of putting them there because the land was conveniently available, rather than any identified operational need. Access must have been inconvenient as the only way in was to carry out a shunt manoeuvre from the up main (Sevenoaks) line.
This picture taken in July 1913 shows the overbridge taking the Greenwich Park branch over the SER main line.
If one could imagine standing at the country end of the current island platform 100 years ago the scene would have been very different. The massive metal bridge taking two tracks over the main line would not have been there and neither would the track on a gradient (the “flydown”) be present. The location of the latter would have at that time be the aforementioned sidings – flat and level with the running lines of course. Between the current platform and the sidings would be the two further island platforms. It is unlikely that there would be anyone present on them. The overbridge of the Greenwich branch would be just beyond the end of the platforms and at approximately at right angles to it. Steam trains would still be using it. From a passing train you can still see the railway embankment to the north which is now a nature reserve.
Services on the Greenwich Park branch beyond from Greenwich to Nunhead were withdrawn at the end of 1916 as a wartime economy. For that reason the date of final closure of the line beyond Lewisham Road station is generally given as 1916 or 1st January 1917, which was the first day of no service. This is, however, in a sense misleading as many lines that closed as a wartime economy measure did subsequently reopen – sometimes years later. Although the line was not maintained and left to fall into disrepair it was not formally abandoned either and was still in a state such that it could have been restored when the time came.
This is the sorry state of Lewisham Road station building today. Tarpaulins cover the roof. Until a few years ago it was distinctly recognisable as a former station building.
Yet More Expansion
By 1924 the newly created Southern Railway owned both the former South Eastern Railway and the disused Greenwich Park branch including the abandoned trackbed between Nunhead and Lewisham Road station. Just two years later the running lines through St Johns, but not the sidings, were electrified and it was at that time that the fairly useless third island platform was abandoned. The terminating track on the outer edge remained as a fourth siding. Electrification also meant that an enormous power distribution station was built just to the north of the track between St Johns and Lewisham. To this day this is a major location where electricity is taken from the grid to be distributed as appropriate to the substations on the electrified railway.
One of the problems that the newly created Southern Railway faced was the problem of extreme congestion at Borough Market Junction just west of London Bridge station. The primary cause was the large amount of steam-hauled freight traffic destined to locations north of London and routed via St Johns, London Bridge, Blackfriars, Farringdon and King’s Cross. Now that all the railways in the area were owned by the same company the proposal was made to re-open the abandoned section of the Greenwich Park branch between Nunhead and Lewisham Road and, with a new viaduct, join that section to the existing junction at Lewisham. Once this line was open it would be possible to re-route freight via Elephant and Castle and Blackfriars thereby bypassing Borough Market Junction.
Prior to building this new freight link it was desirable to remove the railway overbridge to Greenwich Park. This was done in 1927. It is this date then which can be taken as the date beyond the point of no return for the Greenwich Park branch, although the line was not formally abandoned until 1929.
The track layout as at 1929. This would remain unaltered for the next 30 years.
By 1929 the ramp, a new bridge over the main line and a new curve to join the abandoned trackbed that led to Nunhead had been built. In order to complete this work it was necessary to move Lewisham signal box a few yards as it was blocking the line of the new route. This route was intended only as a freight route so, despite the tracks being two of the four closest tracks to the main power distribution point for the railway in this area, the line was not electrified. For the same reason the idea of re-opening Lewisham Road station was not even considered.
Fortuitously, by 1929 colour light signalling was now sufficiently mature to be commonly used on main line railways. In fact the first installation in the world of four aspect colour light signalling had been installed earlier that year between Holborn Viaduct and Elephant & Castle. It made sense to replace both St Johns boxes and the one at Lewisham with a single modern signal box. Now that the Greenwich Park branch had been abandoned and the bridge abutment on the north side of St Johns station demolished, there was ample space to build what for the time was a modern signal box.
The not unattractive new flyover as drawn from the main line tracks to Tonbridge. The new St Johns signal box can be seen through the opening on the right. St Johns station would be just out of sight around the bend.
Until now, the history of the station (and the area, in railway terms) had been one of change. The next twenty five years, however, would prove to be somewhat more stable. Indeed the only event worth recording here is the electrification, in 1935, of the freight line to Nunhead. This enabled a Dartford to Holborn Viaduct service to be introduced. This period of peace, however, was not to last and in the second part of our narrative we will thus look at the dramatic changes that have taken place from 1957 onward, and which have continued to take place culminating with the latest change to the track layout in the surrounding area which was installed during Easter 2013.
Many thanks to considerable amount of work done by Swirlythingy for drawing, and re-drawing many diagrams, not all of which have ultimately been used, illustrating the various changes that taken place in this area. Any errors that there may be are the author’s and not his.
Crossrail have released another batch of photos related to their current tunnelling operations. Interestingly, these seem to focus more on activites beyond the main tunnel drives than the previous batch. It includes, for example, photos of Sophia – the first of Crossrail’s Slurry TBMs – and both Crossrail’s Thames Tunnel and Cable Tunnels at Liverpool Street.
The pick of these images are included below.
Tunnel Segments at Plumstead
Sophia, one of two Slurry TBMs, at Plumstead
Crossrail’s Thames Tunnel
Digging platform tunnels at Whitechapel
A spotlight casting shadows in the platform tunnels at Whitechapel
The scale of the platform tunnels at Whitechapel
Machinery at Stepney
Working on cable tunnels at Liverpool Street
Working on Liverpool Street station tunnels at Finsbury Circus
Inside a working TBM, looking back from the cutting head section
Maintenance work on a TBM
Given the amount of money generated by the fare box, it is easy sometimes to forget that this is not the only source of revenue for TfL. One of the more interesting things lurking in the last TfL Board Papers was the suggestion that the opportunity was there to radically increase TfL’s non-fare income. Currently, the organisation draws in approximately £233m a year from various sponsorships, advertising and retail activities, but TfL have indicated that they wish to increase total non-fare revenue by £1.1bn, cumulatively, by 2022.
Some of TfL’s recent commercial experiences have not necessarily garnered a great deal of praise. The sponsorship deals with both Emirates for the Cable Car and Barclays for the cycle hire scheme came in for criticism from various quarters, including the London Assembly, largely for the lack of transparency surrounding the contracting process and their award. TfL and CBS Outdoor, responsible for much of the advertising on the Underground, also found themselves engaged in a long-running battle over the timing of upgrade works and the value of the advertising contract. TfL also came under criticism for payday loan company Wonga’s sponsorship of free travel on New Year’s Eve last year.
With all the above in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that in recent months TfL have been looking to overhaul their approach to both sponsorship and retail. The remit for doing so largely falls to Graeme Craig, TfL’s Commercial Development Director, who yesterday appeared before before the London Assembly’s Budget and Performance Committee. The resulting session can be found here, and is well worth a watch, as it provides quite a detailed insight into just what TfL are looking to change and do. A summary of the key points raised, however, can also be found below.
What’s In A Name
One of the overriding themes of the session was the need to formalise and improve TfL’s approach to sponsorship. With a new three-person TfL sponsorship team now in place, the goal is not only to identify more opportunities for sponsorship, but to ensure that previous issues of transparency and a perceived poor choice of partners is addressed.
Craig asserted that, broadly speaking, there were ultimately three areas over which TfL would be looking to increase its corporate sponsorships and partnerships. These were assets, such as the Cycle Hire Scheme and the Cable Car, ad hoc sponsorship of particular events, and finally broader corporate sponsorship across multiple areas perhaps aligned to specific themes such as sustainable transport (something Craig described as the “Champions League” approach). In all areas going forward, he asserted, there needed to be an increased focus on more than just the bottom line, and must always be in the “public interest”:
“Sponsorship shouldn’t be that someone gives us a cheque in response to their name being on something,” Craig explained, “or their brand being on the side of something. It should be something that’s much more of a partnership where there is much more of a tangible improvement in service as a direct result of two organisations whose brands align. Whose aspirations for that service come together and they are working jointly in order to deliver a tangible improvement or a tangible saving – something that the public can see the benefits of.
“If TfL were seen to be, simply, selling off the family silver, or devaluing the brand I think we’d get fairly short shrift from the travelling public for doing so. I think we have to be in a position where we can articulate what the benefits are of the sponsorship arrangement, and it has to be more than just a simple advertising deal.”
Just what kind of assets might find themselves open to sponsorship was naturally a subject that the Budget Committee were quick to enquire about – and just how the definition of “public interest” might be applied. If a company offered to provide enough money to allow a fares freeze, Committee chair John Biggs asked, would they be able to acquire the naming rights for an Underground station?
“Personally, I think no.” Replied Craig.
“You think no?”
“Well I speak to a lot of people about these sorts of issues. There’s a very strong sense in which people feel that it’s their system. I think if we were looking to hawk round the name ‘Oxford Circus’ to, say, Oxford Landing who have approached us before, about selling the name of a tube station simply for the sake of a pun then I’m not sure that people would see that as being a TfL who is interested in the long term reputation.”
Biggs was quick to ask whether this might have been one of the failures with regards to the Emirates Cable Car deal . Craig, however, asserted that there was a clear difference between between existing infrastructure and new.
“You could sell off naming rights for the Crossrail stations then?” Asked Biggs.
“I personally think that the idea of doing, as they’ve looked at in some other cities around the world, of going along the line and selling off the name of tube stations is something about which I am instinctively uncomfortable.” Replied Craig. “I think we’ve got fantastic heritage, we’re in the 150th year, and we do need to find funds to innovate, transform and expand the network. Personally though I’m not sure that I’d feel comfortable, myself, doing that by selling off station names that have been in place for a long time.”
Given the sensitive approach that clearly needed to be taken with regards to sponsorships, the Committee was keen to know where, ultimately the buck stopped when it came to decision making. Craig admitted that the ad hoc nature of previous deals had left this unclear, but asserted that the new strategy would lead to a clearer governance process, and any large sponsorship deals would likely be signed off by mayor, in his role as head of TfL. He was also keen to stress that the number of sponsorships and partnerships that TfL would engage in was intended to be relatively limited.
“There is, apart from anything else, a market appetite. What we would look to do is get the maximum value for those assets and that, I think, will always limit us to a relatively small number of sponsorship deals.”
He was also keen to stress that there’d need to be more to them than just the attachment of a high-value brand to an existing asset. It couldn’t just be a case of selling space to the highest bidder.
“When it comes to assets if we have… I don’t know… it could even be a local institution or a museum which wants to drag some of the excitement that surrounds our stations into the station itself.” He continued, “Or wants to look at what more we could do in terms of customer information or something – if you’ve got an organisation or institution which is keen to see improvements on the transport system and is willing to invest their intellectual and financial capital in order to do so, I’m not averse – let’s be clear about that – to improving our existing assets and working with others in order to improve those assets. What I don’t see it being is an auction for naming rights for long-cherished stations.”
Did this mean, the Committee asked, that the emphasis would be on businesses that could claim some relevant link to stations already – “Knightsbridge for Harrods” being suggested by Richard Tracey in particular, or attractions like Madame Tussauds.
“I think there are some examples of… associations… that could be seen to be both commercially viable and potentially attractive to the public.” Craig accepted. “I think there are some that would be seen to be absolutely tacky. ”
Just what an association might constitute, Craig admitted, was something that still needed to be documented. Not least because, as the Committee rightly highlighted, there was a potential overlap between the quest for such associations and the need to highlight certain attractions for ease of passenger experience. The O2, for example, currently do not pay for their presence on station signage, yet directions to the venue are clearly marked. Should they pay? Should these be removed if they don’t?
“Part of the challenge we have as an organisation is that we want to help people move round London.” Admitted Craig “And, you know, as anyone who is a regular user of Piccadilly Circus or Oxford Circus will know, it’s not always easy to tell which exit is the one that you need to be going out by. Particularly if you’re new to London. So there is commercial value, for organisations, in TfL pointing people to that organisation. Sometimes I think it is entirely appropriate for TfL to retain some of that value, working with those organisations.
“In other cases, it’s absolutely the right thing to do for TfL to point out the major attractions nearby at stations.”
Ultimately, Craig asserted, it was key to remember that TfL was emphatically not declaring open season on its assets, or waiting for offers. More that it was now more open to conversations about possible partnerships and needed to get its policies in order to support that.
Picking up on Craig’s point about the existing Tube network being relatively protected, the Committee push again as to where the boundaries would lie with regards to new stations and extensions.
“Would you consider sponsoring the Northern Line extension,” asked Richard Tracey, “because that’s a new piece of kit?”
“We have no plans to.” Craig said. “I come back to the view that the primary purpose of the Underground network is to navigate round and we, at our peril, do anything that gets in the way of smooth travel around the system and that includes geographic naming.”
Picking Your Friends
Moving away from the “what”, the Committee pushed on the subject of “who” with several elephants that had been residing firmly in the room addressed.
“Under the new arrangements,” came the first question, “would TfL still do a sponsorship deal with Wonga?”
“The whole issue of payday loan companies is the Treasury’s.” Replied Craig. “They launched a consultation, 6th March, they are… we know… and working with the OFT, Advertising Standards on the industry to look, more broadly, at advertising of payday loan companies. I think this goes to the point of advertising as well as sponsorship.”
“Here is a clear example of where the government has signalled a consultation that they’re keen to undertake. Quickly, as I understand it, working with the ASA to offer their views on payday loan companies and that will have implications, I am sure, for advertising as well as sponsorship – I just don’t know what the outcome of those things are, pending the outcome of the consultation process.”
The current draft of the documents pertaining to potential sponsors, the Committee highlighted, included a clause that indicated that sponsors should not be engaged in pornography or “immoral activities.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, this led to a brief discussion as to whose morals these would be. Would they be the morals of whichever mayor was incumbent? Boris Johnson’s morals several committee members suggested, perhaps not entirely innocently, might be potentially different to those of his eventual successor. Similarly, Barclays’ banks recent role in the financial crisis could leave it open to accusations of immoral behaviour.
Craig’s answer was simple: “It’s not about defining a small amount of organisations with which we would not work and then work with anyone else.”
Contracts, he explained, would include provisions to allow TfL to terminate a relationship should a scandal strike mid-contract, and as sponsorship will only ever contribute the equivalent of perhaps 5 – 10% of fare revenue, the pressure to maintain a contract in order to meet financial demands should be relatively low.
Moving onto the value of sponsorships, the Committee asked how the potential value of deals would be assessed, and how they would likely be tendered. Craig asserted that all sponsorships would include a value for money assessment, with that done by an independent third party in the case of large deals. In the majority of cases, they would also go to competitive tender.
“In almost all cases we would [tender competitively].” He explained. “Specific examples where we might not do would be if there was something like an event that might be valued in the low tens of thousands of pounds, let say, and we were looking for existing suppliers to help sponsor an event. In a situation like that it may not be – well, I’m sure it would not be – the case that the process of going through an open market competition would cost more than we’d get in terms of sponsorship.”
Getting Smarter in Retail
Moving beyond the topic of sponsorships, the subject turned to other areas of non-fare income. Here, Craig asserted, there was the potential for substantial growth – in part because of the extensive station assets TfL possess, and the huge potential customer base.
“The combined populations of the top six cities out of London,” Craig highlighted, “in terms of numbers of individuals, equates to a quiet weekday on the Tube in February.”
Currently TfL make approximately £23m from retail, and it was clear that Craig believed this was far too low, resulting from the lack of an effective and forward-thinking strategy. It was also clear that Craig believed that TfL’s current approach focused too heavily on the acquisition of upfront capital, rather than developing its retail assets into sources of ongoing income.
“We should be employing an approach that’s similar to the estates like Grosvenor Estate, Crown Estate, and be an organisation that invests in its assets and looks to deliver a long term return from its assets.” He claimed.
Later in the session Craig would go into more detail about what this really meant.
“In the past we’ve entered into arrangements where we’ve disposed of assets, and developers have come in and done what they thought was appropriate. I think the view was to minimise the risk to the public purse, which I understand. But also because TfL has seen developers at being better able, I’m not sure whether it’s to get commercial value or to get the best opportunity from the sites. I think there are lessons, I think I mentioned earlier, that we can gain from people like the Crown Estate, who instead have a tendency to invest in their own assets and work with others in order to get a long term return. So I think moving away from capital receipts and thinking more about a TfL that’s willing to invest, and a TfL that’s more willing to look at recurring revenues, is one that’s more likely – much more likely – to recognise the transport requirements, the broader requirements in terms of sustainable developments, and to sit that alongside commercial activity.”
As several Committee members pointed out, Craig seemed to be advocating an approach more similar, in future, to that now taken by Network Rail at its terminals. Craig confirmed that there was some inspiration there, but ultimately there needed to be more to the strategy than that. TfL had the locations, but just wasn’t putting enough thought into how it used them.
“There’s a variety of factors at play here.” He said. “We have guidelines for retailers but we don’t either sufficiently enforce those guidelines nor do we have the carrot to accompany the stick whereby we, for example, might work with retailers for them to invest in their estate in order to get the return that they could do. It is, as you know, predominantly independent sole traders and we’d be keen to retain independents as part of the estate. But I think there’s also more opportunity for TfL to work with national and international brands in order to provide more… recognisable retail offerings, and more consistency across the network.
“I think fundamentally this is a network with huge footfall, in which the retail on the stations bears little relationship to the people who are using the stations, or very often to retail that’s immediately available outside the stations – and that relates to both convenience but also to places where people can stop and have a coffee as well. There’s a load of places where, you know, very many places where people meet at the station. Too infrequently do those people who meet at the station choose to stay on the station in order to have a coffee. They’re then taking their patronage elsewhere, and I think there’s a fantastic opportunity for us to invest in the stations in order to get a long term return.”
The Committee asked whether a TfL behaving more aggressively in the retail space would represent a threat to the high street, something Craig dismissed. The vast majority of TfL’s retail spaces, totalling approximately a thousand, were relatively small. Their focus, he also explained, should be on something he referred to as “hyper-convenience.”
“London’s transport system should be a place of innovation in retail.” He explained “It should be somewhere where we’re using technology and networks in order to provide the very best retail that we can for, again, the time-poor people that use our services in huge numbers every day.”
Technology, it soon became clear, is key to Craig’s vision of where the future lies for TfL in the retail space – with click-and-collect something foremost in his mind.
“Someone could order something on their way to work, for example,” he said, “and then pick it up at their home station on the way home. Those are the sort of services that we, uniquely almost, can offer Londoners and those are the sorts of things that we should be doing.”
Naturally, the conversation soon turned to the topic of telephony and WiFi on the Underground. Just what role, the Committee asked, does WiFi – and free access to it – play in this? What of voice and data services beyond that?
“This is an increasingly interconnected world.” Craig answered. “The vast majority of people on our services at the moment have a smart phone or some form of tablet device. Giving people a mechanism in order to do what they want whilst on the network feels at the heart of what an innovative transport network should be doing – and it’s a means for us to make money.”
For regular travellers and commuters, he explained, it was important that the current and future WiFi deals were structured so that the cost was picked up by the mobile operators rather than TfL . Visitors, however, were a different issue and could perhaps buy pay-as-you-go. Ultimately it was about seeking a balance between commerciality and keeping things free in support of the broader aspirations for using technology to boost retail.
“From a commercial perspective,” he explained, “the amount of money that we can make from giving people access to services whilst they’re travelling on our network will outweigh any money that we might make from trying to ‘fleece’ people for access.”
On the subject of more general voice and data services on the Underground, however, Craig was less enthusiastic.
“That would be an expensive thing for TfL to undertake.” He said. “I see no likelihood, given the other pressures that I recognise across the transport system, that TfL would choose to invest the very large sums of money in order to put out infrastructure for voice and data on the Underground and then simply to give that away for free. There’d have to be some mechanism in order to ensure that, for example, those mobile network operators who would have access to voice and data underground, I would argue – but then I would wouldn’t I – that those mobile network operators should make a contribution.
“And I think that if we get to a point where voice and data could be put into the Underground at nil net cost to TfL, and wrapped up into packages that the customers on the Underground would pay as part of their deal, then that may or may not be achievable but that would be my aspiration.”
With the example of Network Rail raised, and the suggestion of a more sophisticated and active retail policy on the table, the Committee were also keen to draw out whether this meant the Underground was destined to become a network populated by generic brands at the cost of character and independent shops. If TfL was looking to get more market value for its spaces, for example, would it also commit to establishing a percentage of spaces that should have affordable rents?
Craig seemed keen to make clear that TfL were not looking to take a “one size fits all” approach to station retail, which would mean taking into consideration local needs and local affordability.
“I wouldn’t characterise it as saying that a proportion of the units will have affordable rents,” replied Craig. “I’d say it’s more about looking at the tenancy agreements in order to make sure that we’re working with our existing tenants and others in order to give them more opportunity to invest in their estate. It’s taking more of a view on turnover, so that we’re not looking to maximise return but working with retailers where they’re successful. But fundamentally it comes down to a view on the tenant mix and the merchandising mix for each station so that you have an appropriate combination of brands and independents – an appropriate mix of different types of unit. Those are the sorts of things that any retail landlord would expect to do across their asset base and what we need to be doing.
“So it’s not just focus on affordable rents. It might be that at particular locations there’s not a commercial return, but actually thinking about it from a CSR [Corporate Social Responsibility] opportunity that there is a mechanism to enable, you know, either a start up business or some other means of employing space. Either way if we have space we should be looking to make the best use of it, and that’s not generally going to be simply looking at the best way of maximising the upfront commercial return.
“One needs to have an answer station by station effectively, to gauge the right use of that space. Is it a crèche? Is it a doctor’s surgery? Is it retail? Is it residential? Part of what we need to do is to be willing to take a long term view and understand how around our stations we can build more a sense of community that over time might help retailers and others.”
He also admitted that TfL needed to be more aware of how its retail related to the community than it had perhaps been before.
“In too many cases it can feel, historically at least, that people feel like they’re defending their network from TfL. TfL should be as interested in every station as local residents.”
Given Craigs clear desire to make better use of TfL’s existing assets, it was perhaps no surprise that during the session Murad Qureshi asked Craig how the current situation surrounding Shepherd’s Bush Market fitted in with this vision. The market is a subject which we will cover in more detail in a later post. It is located alongside and beneath the arches of the Hammersmith & City Line and is currently TfL property, but plans appear to be afoot to sell it, possibly for redevelopment.
It was a topic that appeared to catch Craig by surprise.
“I’m aware that we have had discussions,” he admitted, “I don’t know where we are with those discussions, and wasn’t aware that this would be raised.”
“Is it in TfL’s interest to dispose of this lively market which brings in regular revenues?” Qureshi asked. “When I’ve asked before it actually makes money for TfL.”
Craig proceeded to explain, in general terms, the approach that TfL now looked to take with regards to assets such as the market, and what would be considered when looking at their future.
“One – what the ongoing revenues are from existing use.” He said. “Two – what the potential income would be if the site were to be developed. And what capital receipt could be gained from an outright sale. Overlying that would be a decision as to whether strategically this would be an asset that we would look to retain an interest in, or indeed whether it sits outside the portfolio of assets that we would expect to retain. There may be other considerations in discussions with local authorities and others, but essentially it comes down to the strategic fit of the asset and its fit in the portfolio, and an economic view of the existing income and how that would relate to the disposal.
“In general, and across the estate, I am keen to move away from disposal and to understand how we can get long term return from our assets, but part of what we have to do across the estate is understand how, looking across the broader portfolio, one can look to, for example, divest TfL of some assets in order to generate money that goes to be spent on assets that are more strategic. I don’t, as it happens, know exactly where we are on Shepherds Bush Market but I can find out.”
The market is a subject to which London Reconnections will also return at a later date.
With regards to specific assets, the Committee also asked Craig to explain where Lillie Bridge Depot, and its potential sale, fitted into the current Business Plan.
“Lillie Bridge depot – there are assumed revenues in the business plan. Not £200m, as it happens, from development at Earls Court.” Craig explained. “But the business plan doesn’t assume any disposal of Lillie Bridge depot. That’s in part because we haven’t yet carried out the work on – or the work hasn’t been completed – on the feasibility of removing the operational infrastructure and the stabling at Lillie Bridge Depot. So there’s work underway on Lillie Bridge Depot and we should know by the end of this year as to whether it will be developable as part of the wider Earls Court Masterplan.”
Beyond retail space in particular, Craig was also keen to assert that TfL would look to make more use of the airspace over stations. He also indicated that, especially with the arrival of 4G services and small cells, there were potential uses to which existing street infrastructure could be put.
Making the Most of Advertising
As well as sponsorships and retail, the Committee sought to delve into the details of TfL’s advertising deals, past and future. Discussion naturally turned to TfL’s relationship with CBS Outdoor.
TfL and CBSO have not always enjoyed an entirely amicable contractual relationship. At the end of 2011, CBSO threatened to withdraw from their advertising deal if contract terms were not renegotiated. At the time they were unhappy with the overrunning upgrade works and other promised infrastructure changes. Whilst these were the official reasons, however, it was generally accepted that CBSO, who had signed the long term contract before the economic downturn, had likely found themselves sitting on a contract that was far less profitable than they’d hoped. Ultimately the two organisations reached an undisclosed settlement in January 2012, and relations have seemed to be far more cordial since then.
“TfL, having signed a deal at the height of the market with CBSO, had a guaranteed income.” Explained Craig, shedding some light on what had happened. “It’s been a fantastic deal for TfL. CBSO, to be fair to them, are a great bunch of people who invested in the estate. They’ve transformed the estate from what it was not so many years ago with wet-posted sites. We’ve got digital sites now making a significant contribution to the network. They had a very good 2012 leveraging the games, but also working better with TfL than they ever have done in the past in order to maximise the opportunities that came from the games.
“We have a positive working relationship with CBSO and they do a very good job of maximising the opportunities from across our estate – not just on London Underground but on the other contracts they have with us.”
Given that the previous deal was signed in more affluent times, the Committee asked, was there a risk that when the contract came up again in 2015 that advertising revenue would fall?
“I think it’s a racing certainty that we wouldn’t get the same contract again,” confirmed Craig, “and there are assumptions at the moment that the amount of money that we’ll get from advertising will fall. Part of the £1.1bn additional revenues is the mitigations that we could put in place in order to the impact that might otherwise accrue from the expiry of the existing contract in 2015.”
“It was a difficult contract for them to live with.” Admitted Craig, when pressed on what the disagreement (and settlement) with CBSO had ultimately been.
“The settlement was effectively one that gave both of us something that we were most interested in, which was that TfL maintained its [fixed revenue] guarantee and CBSO saw more of a return on digital technology. So, you know, as ever on a contract renegotiation both parties sort to get, and in this case got, what they were most interested in. We’re certainly satisfied with the outcome. CBSO were satisfied with the outcome.”
As the end of the session approached, the committee sought answers on two final key questions. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, should TfL achieve its goal of substantially increasing its non-fare revenue, would the Government seize on this as simply an opportunity to reduce TfL’s grant?
It was something to which Craig had to admit he was unable to provide an answer.
“I think I can only say that within the Business Plan, looking at 2022, there is a not insubstantial increase required in terms of commercial development in order for us to balance the books. I know that there is a huge amount of investment that is required in order to get us to where we want to get in terms of transport for London. Let’s not pretend that I’m party to any discussion about what may happen in terms of long term government grant.”
Finally, discussion returned briefly to the issue with which the session had started: transparency. In all of the above, the Committee asserted, TfL clearly needed to overcome something that had previously proved to be its major failing: a lack of transparency both with regards to strategy and contracts.
Craig’s response was emphatic – as far as he was concerned transparency was absolutely critical to moving forward, especially with regards to sponsorships. That’s why they were coming up with a public policy, and indeed talking to the Committee.
“These things are much more straightforward when everyone understands from the outset that things are going to be transparent,” he asserted, “and I think I said in my letter to you [the Committee] that we will have a presumption of full transparency in anything with us and our commercial partners and an understanding, up front, that we are going to be transparent about this activity. This will mean that we will be open, in the future, with all the activity that we’re doing. I’m nothing if not conscious of the interest that people have in the commercial arena, and I think that there is a large amount that we can do, and that we have started to do.”
Craig’s intentions thus seemed clear. The committee’s final question, however, highlighted how big a change for TfL this may prove to be.
“What success have you had” Asked Biggs as Chair, “in getting Barclays to make more details of the cycle hire contract publically available?”
“Discussions continue.” Craig admitted. “I’m sure that they will be. I’m just not in a position yet to say when that’s going to happen.”
Somewhat out of the blue FirstGroup have announced the sale of eight of their bus garages in the capital. First began a rationalisation of their bus operations last year, and further sales had been expected, but eight garages is more than many expected. The full press release is below.
As part of FirstGroup’s stated strategy to reposition its UK Bus division to focus on those areas that offer the greatest potential for growth, it has today announced the sale of eight of its London bus depots.
The bus depots at Alperton, Greenford, Hayes, Uxbridge and Willesden Junction, along with 494 vehicles and approximately 1,700 employees, will transfer to Metroline on completion of the sale for a gross consideration of £57.5m. Metroline is an existing London bus operator and wholly-owned subsidiary of Comfort DelGro Corporation Limited, a Singapore-incorporated transportation company.
The bus depots at Atlas Road, Lea Interchange and Westbourne Park, along with approximately 400 vehicles and 1,500 employees, will transfer to Transit Systems Group, an Australian transport operator, on completion of the sale for a gross consideration of £21.3m.
Both disposals are subject to the necessary regulatory approvals including contractual obligations with Transport for London.
Commenting, Giles Fearnley, First’s Managing Director UK Bus, said:
“The sale of these operations marks further progress in our programme to reposition our UK Bus portfolio, recover performance and equip the business to achieve sustainable revenue and patronage growth. Our strategy is to focus on those areas of the country which offer the greatest potential and while we have been a key operator in London for many years, our focus going forward is on the deregulated market outside of the capital.
“Today’s decision is a business driven one and does not reflect on the effort, commitment or individual performance of our employees in London and we will be supporting them fully as they transfer to their new employers. Over the years we have enjoyed a constructive relationship with Transport for London and look forward to working closely with them to ensure this transfer goes ahead as smoothly as possible.”