Looking East to the GEML – Not As Simple As It May First Appear

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At first glance, the Great Eastern Main Line out of Liverpool Street would appear to be a doddle in RUS terms. Mentally, this author had expected to write a short paragraph on the lines out of Liverpool Street, something along the lines below:

One area where Crossrail really comes into its own is to the east out of Liverpool Street and beyond Stratford. Here there will be a massive freeing up of paths into the terminus meaning that nothing needs to be done here as there will be sufficient capacity for the foreseeable future.

On further investigation, however, this South Londoner realised that there is a bit more to this sector of London’s transport system than the eastern outreaches of the Central Line.

So what issues are there for the lines into Liverpool Street?

In this instalment let us first consider the Great Eastern Main Line (GEML), and leave West Anglia for another day. The GEML is defined as “the routes from London Liverpool Street to East Anglia”. Basically this is anything that currently goes through Stratford and the core route running up to Shenfield. After that it either branches towards Southend Victoria or Colchester. Shenfield features prominently in railway operations. We had the ground-breaking post-war London-Shenfield overhead electrification scheme and of course Shenfield will be a Crossrail terminus. Without wishing to offend the inhabitants of Shenfield, all this does seem to give the place an importance it does not have. It is basically a suburb of Brentwood and the last station before reaching the green belt.

As indicated earlier, however, it seems that despite Crossrail, there will be an expected “gap” between what could be provided and what is expected to be necessary. How can this be?

Crossrail, it appears, will solve the problem of inner suburban services for many years to come, but there will still be an issue with outer suburban services (to Chelmsford for example) and having a few extra inner suburban platforms free at Liverpool Street is not going to provide the complete solution.

The obvious first solution would be to run additional trains, but unfortunately the whole line is already running at full capacity. To quote the RUS:

Operational analysis has identified that significant infrastructure enhancement, focusing on the main constraints at London Liverpool Street, Stratford, Shenfield and elsewhere, will be required to provide for around three additional services.

The second solution is to implement ERTMS (management of the train signalling). We mentioned this earlier when looking at capacity out of King’s Cross. As always this comes with the proviso that “Service increases which could be delivered with ERTMS are not currently proven“ so that is only a hope for the future and not part of the plan.

If this were Private Eye then the next line would be “Er … that’s it”. However, in the absence of anything obvious then next best option seems to be to look at what is preventing the running of three more trains, as proposed in the first option to increase the peak service from 24tph to 27tph.

Unfortunately this author’s familiarity with this area of railway territory is limited, and thus we can do little more than quote the RUS as to what this involves. Hopefully this is something that our ever-informative commenters will help build upon.

The first issue is that the trains need to start from somewhere without fouling the existing services. This would mean a bay platform or an additional loop. The implication here is that there is nowhere currently available.

The second issue is that you would need an extra platform at Liverpool Street for outer suburban services. As these will be 12 carriages in length this means they will need to be able to access platform 15 which is 12 cars long and can be vacated as a result of implementing Crossrail. This in turn will involve alterations to the approaches to Liverpool Street.

The third stated issue is that there will need to be “layout alterations” to allow for the platform capacity to cater for the increased frequency at both Stratford and Shenfield station. The RUS does not make this clear whether this is referring to platform layout alterations, or track layout alterations and one suspects the wording is deliberately non-specific.

The fourth and last issue is a delightfully vague and precautionary “potential further infrastructure changes to mitigate the performance risk of running this high frequency of service.”

As with other areas the RUS has tackled it admits that even this “would not, in isolation, fully resolve the gap” but points out that goes a significant way towards it.

“Best we can do “ in other words.

There is a further complication, however. In another part of the RUS (which we will cover in a future piece) there is the issue of some West Anglia services via Tottenham Hale currently terminating at Stratford, and the desire to extend these into Liverpool Street utilising capacity freed up by Crossrail. Obviously if this capacity gets taken up by the increased frequency of the GEML services then it cannot be used to extend these other services so a choice has to be made as to what to do with this potential future capacity.

I have to say, as someone not from the area I find all this a surprise. It seems that every time I visit Stratford Station there are more platforms and I would have thought Crossrail’s 12 trains per hour would have had a dramatic effect on capacity, and yet it seems that there will still be a problem albeit a small one. And finally, it seems that there may still more work to be done at Stratford. Will this station ever be finished?

Written by Pedantic of Purley