Diving Into The Fleet: Jubilee Line Derailed, 1974-1979


The waters of the Fleet (Line) became considerably murkier in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. To recap, Fleet Line Stage 1 costs to Charing Cross had risen from an estimate of £35m in 1971 to £90m upon completion, an almost threefold rise in costs, but this was in line with the high cost of living inflation during the decade.

There was no reason at the time to believe the rampant inflation would abate in the 1980s, so any cost estimate was viewed through this lens. At outturn prices this was just under £15m per single track mile, with 7 deep-level platforms, and station reconstruction and enlargement at Bond Street, Green Park and Strand/Trafalgar Square (the latter two were combined to become Charing Cross tube station).

Summary of the case for the Fleet / Jubilee Line

As we covered in Part 1 of this series, one of the reasons the Fleet Line was originally planned via the City to Lewisham in the 1960s was to alleviate the severe over-crowding on peak hour BR Southern Region (SR) trains from south-east London into the central area, which was expected to worsen with continued population growth. By providing an attractive alternative route to central London, the Fleet Line would syphon off passengers at New Cross and Lewisham, releasing capacity on SR trains into London Bridge, Charing Cross, and Cannon Street.

Completion of the Fleet/Jubilee Tube to Charing Cross in 1979, however, came after a 13% decline in SR peak passengers between 1967 and 1977, as well as a decline in the number of the “economically active population living in south London”. The consequence during the 1970s was that any tube extension beyond Charing Cross became increasingly dependent on whatever case could be leveraged by Docklands developments.

Jubilee Tube Alternative Proposals – express and dead tunnels

Due to the inflationary and national budget pressures of the 1970s that were forestalling progress of Stage 2, in 1974 London Transport (LT) came up with an alternative proposal to build the Stage 2 Tube tunnels bereft of rails and stations from Aldwych to Fenchurch Street for about £10m. As fitting out stations was (and still is) the most expensive part of Tube line construction, they would have been added later when affordable, but at least this would safeguard the route underground. The proposal, however, was not approved.

Two years later, in 1976, LT Director of Transportation Policy (later Chief Secretary) Paul Garbutt noted that the Fleet Stage 2 safeguarding situation was becoming urgent, but by that time LT no longer favoured building dead tunnels all the way across the City from Charing Cross. In fact the Fleet tunnels had been constructed approximately 950m eastwards of Charing Cross station almost to Aldwych as part of Stage 1. Instead, LT proposed tunnels only be constructed from east of Cannon Street to Fenchurch Street, where the greatest risks arose from deep foundations for new office towers. The then-vacant site on Royal Mint Street east of Fenchurch Street would be the works site, with construction proceeding westward. This proposal did not find favour either.

The GLC started proposing many Jubilee line alternatives in the second half of the 1970s to try to find some way to start construction of Jubilee Stage 2 that was acceptable to the Government, DTp and Treasury. Shovels in the ground were seen staking a claim on the land (or under it). The other major consideration was the period’s high inflation, which threatened to run the costs out of contention. It was well understood that a pound spent on construction now could save a pound and a half a few years later.

GLC Policies and Funding for Jubilee Stage 2 and 3

In 1976 the GLC intended its (Money) Bill, by way of the Transport Policies and Programmes bid (TPP – a formal investment plan and bidding document for Government funding through Transport Supplementary Grant), to include £10m for the start of Jubilee Stage 2 works, and £6m for a single bore Woolwich tunnel for a passenger service from Stratford, to be used later as one bore of a future Jubilee line. The Labour Secretary of State at the Department of the Environment noted:

Although nationally it should not be a matter for Government concern if GLC went ahead and paid for extension of the [Jubilee] Line out of their rates, it was not an issue from which the Government could be dissociated. Whatever the source of finance, it would become part of the Government’s public expenditure programme and, if it were built, offsetting savings which would have to be sought from other parts of the Department’s national programme for transport expenditure. It would be difficult to allow the powers in the LT Bill to be granted and expect to control the expenditure solely through the GLC’s annual Money Bill.

Nonetheless, anxious to get the next Fleet/Jubilee extension started, the GLC funded LT to conduct surveys, site investigation and planning for the desired Jubilee extension to Wapping, Milwall, Custom House, Woolwich and Thamesmead. These were carried out between 1976 and 1978 in anticipation of applying for Parliamentary powers for Stages 3 and 4 in 1979 and 1980 respectively.

Authorising the Jubilee Stage 3 powers to keep Stage 2 alive

The GLC was pushing hard for Stage 3 to support Docklands regeneration and to keep Stage 2 alive, as the Jubilee’s second stage added little on its own to London’s transport issues. According to the Labour Government:

London Transport and the Greater London Council agree that an underground extension from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street only would give a very poor return on the related investment.

Stage 2 therefore required authorisation of Stage 3 for its continued existence – Stages 2 and 3 were a package deal.

Jubilee Line Stub to Cannon Street

The Docklands redevelopment vision and plan were stated in the published London Docklands Strategic Plan (LDSP) of 1976 as a fairly unexciting mish-mash of individual borough ideas, without much high-density development that might have helped to underpin a Tube business case. Marriage of transport and major land use changes can still struggle at times in the 2010s; the 1970s was certainly not the decade to see joined-up thinking put into practice – although the early Woolwich Tunnel was an interesting example of such thinking to try to stimulate Docklands development.

Another option discussed in 1978 was to build the Jubilee only as far as Cannon Street where it would terminate at a new interchange with the District Line, which was planned in the full Jubilee Stage 2 build. However the cost savings of this truncated Jubilee line were insufficient to compensate for much reduced passenger demand that would result.


1979 Map of Docklands Transport Spine options, from the Parliamentary Bill

Docklands Jubilee alignment proposals

Consideration was also given to a northern Jubilee Stage 3 routeing on the surface through the Docklands, which might be considerably cheaper than the all-tunnel southern route. However the conclusion was that an all-tunnelled southern route via Wapping, Surrey Docks, Millwall, North Greenwich and Custom House would provide the best ridership, which was confirmed by public opinion at consultations. Not all of this route would have been tunnelled – certainly not through the Royal Docks area, and possibly not all the way to Thamesmead (for example, in one option part of the BR Custom House-North Woolwich line might have been used, just as Crossrail is using it now).

The London Transport Executive separately proposed to Parliament in 1977-78 to re-align the Fleet / Jubilee Line Stage 3 between Fenchurch Street and Surrey Docks stations to allow for a station at St Katharine Docks.

Another detailed GLC option proposed in 1978 was for a longer ‘express’ Jubilee Line extension to open in phases, as funding became available, to safeguard the full Jubilee Line route including Stage 4 to Thamesmead. The objective was to create a visible transport infrastructure to attract development, jobs and housing to the Docklands. This proposal consisted of three segments:

  1. From the existing Stage 1 Jubilee tunnels near Aldwych to Surrey Docks, omitting stations at Aldwych, Ludgate Circus and St Katharine’s Dock, and a simpler station at Cannon Street excluding subterranean interchange with the Northern and Central Lines), for £107m. The Wapping and Surrey Docks areas were deemed to have office and service industry development potential and a large housing development.
  2. Surrey Docks to Millwall in the Isle of Dogs, Custom House and Beckton, with no station at Greenwich North, plus a link to the proposed Woolwich Tunnel and the North London Line (NLL), estimated at £62m. This was to encourage development at the Isle of Dogs, Royal Docks and Beckton.
  3. The third and final segment would be Custom House to Thamesmead for £75m.
    The central London infill stations could be built later for an estimated £36m, and the further Docklands stations for £4-5m each.

Ten days of talks between London Transport and the Government were held to find workable alternatives to these segments, which came up with the following additional suggestions and estimates:

  • it may well be feasible to extend the [Jubilee] Line to Surrey Docks and perhaps Millwall in the Isle of Dogs without the need for a depot and maintenance facilities at the eastern end, but there would be higher associated operating costs;
  • costs of an extension from Charing Cross to Surrey Docks would be about £90/95m and to Millwall about £110m if stations at Aldwych, Ludgate Circus and St Katherine’s Dock were dropped; [This presumably excluded an eastern depot, as Charing Cross-Surrey Docks was £107m in the original GLC estimate]
  • an extension into Docklands from Fenchurch Street only is almost certainly not worth further consideration. It would not provide adequate service or operational links with the rest of the Underground. [Not stated was that a line starting eastwards from Fenchurch Street would need a depot in its own right if it did not link up with another line.]

The memo went on to re-state the GLC thinking that Surrey Docks and Wapping were the most favoured areas for developing new job opportunities in offices, commerce and service industries, which was the 1970s Docklands development context. Notwithstanding the considerable effort undertaken for this proposal, the Government remained unconvinced.

The GLC in September 1978 noted that the Parliamentary bill for the first half of Stage 3, from Fenchurch Street to Woolwich Arsenal would be presented in the 1979 Parliamentary session, which if unopposed would become law in August of that year. This Bill was drafted such that construction would proceed in sections to allow for the Woolwich tunnel under the Thames to be built ahead of other sections and to allow the BR-served NLL cross-river line to proceed – see the discussion below. The GLC also noted that a Bill for the second half of Stage 3 was being prepared for submission to Parliament in 1979, ideally for enactment in August 1980.

High inflation in the 1970s means that it is hard to make a simple value comparison between different schemes at different dates, or even similar schemes at different dates. To attempt to rationalise this, we propose a simple comparative cost measure– the cost per single track mile, in the following table of the Fleet / Jubilee extension variations proposed.

Date Sponsor Line Main Routeing Cost £m £m/stm GLC Govt
1974 LT Tube tunnels only Aldwych – Fenchurch Street 10 2.4 Lab Lab
1976 LT/GLC Tube tunnels only Cannon Street – Fenchurch Street Unknown Unknown Lab Lab
1978 LT/DTp Jubilee Stage 2-3 Express Aldwych (no station) – Fenchurch Street – Wapping – Surrey Docks 107* 14.3 Con Lab
Jubilee Stage 3 Express Surrey Docks – Millwall – Custom House – Beckton 62* 6.1 Con Lab
Jubilee Stage 4 Express Custom House – Thamesmead 75* 7.9 Con Lab
Jan 1979 GLC/LTE Tube tunnels only Aldwych (no station) – Fenchurch Street 70* 16.7 Con Lab
Full build Aldwych – Ludgate Circus – Cannon Street – Fenchurch Street 103* 24.6 Con Lab
1979 LT/GLC Aldwych (no station) – Fenchurch Street – Wapping – Surrey Docks (implied no depot) 95 12.7 Con Con
Aldwych (no station) – Fenchurch Street – Wapping – Surrey Docks – Millwall 110 11 Con Con
Study of Lower Cost Alternatives to the Jubilee Line in Docklands
Jubilee Stage 2-3 Express Aldwych (no station) – simple Cannon Street – Fenchurch Street – Wapping – Surrey Docks – Millwall – Custom House -Beckton 200 11.3 Con Con

Table 1: Fleet / Jubilee extension options 1974-1980 (*These project estimates include rolling stock.)

Since 1977 the GLC was held by the Conservatives, led by Horace Cutler. The Minister of Transport from 1976 to May 1979 was Labour’s Bill Rodgers. Norman Fowler replaced him as the Conservative Minister of Transport upon the change in Government. The post was re-graded in January 1981 to control of a full Department separated from Environment, with a Secretary of State status, although Fowler only lasted in the position until September 1981.

More about the politicians in Part 3, but it is worth noting in advance here that the 1980s’ segregation of Transport from Environment at Government level was on the face of it unlikely to assist the case for a railway extension intended to support new land uses. In reality, and with hindsight, the separation did help – because of the personalities on the Environment side and new political initiatives for Docklands, not because of the Jubilee Line project nor the initial DTp stance.

BR Woolwich Line as Jubilee Docklands pilot route

In conjunction with the Jubilee ‘express’ Tube proposals, in 1978 the GLC also put forth the idea of boring a single 1½ mile long main-line gauge tunnel under the Thames betwixt Woolwich Arsenal and Silvertown for a new British Rail (BR) service from Stratford and Custom House to Woolwich Arsenal, and possibly onwards to the North Kent Line, for eventual takeover by the Jubilee line on its way to Thamesmead.

A Joint Working Party consisting of BR, LT and the GLC was formed in 1978 to investigate and evaluate the alignments, gauges and costs. It found that a 5 metre diameter tunnel suitable for BR rolling stock, 4km (2½ miles) from east of Custom House (not Silvertown) to Woolwich Arsenal, would cost £23m. Electrifying the line and the connecting BR track works were estimated at £5m, which would allow a direct rail connection between Stratford, West Ham and Docklands cross-river to Woolwich, with new rail interchanges at West Ham and Woolwich. The alignment would approximately parallel the North London Line’s (NLL) Connaught Tunnel, but pass deep under the surrounding docks and the Thames.

1978railimprovementsDocklands Rail Improvements schemes, from the 1978 LT Annual Report

When the Jubilee Tube would be extended to the Docklands, this Woolwich tunnel would be taken over as one of the Jubilee tunnels, and a second tunnel built alongside, to take the Tube line to Woolwich and Thamesmead. The NLL would then be cut back to Custom House, as only one tunnel would be built to BR gauge.

The very idea that one would build a main-line sized tunnel for through trains from North London and Stratford via Docklands to Woolwich, grow passenger usage and then abandon that through service when a Jubilee Line turned up, suggests some desperation by the GLC to get some early development and regeneration under way on the back of whatever transport scheme was to hand. The NLL route via Hackney to Stratford and Docklands was already being targeted for reopening (1979) and electrification (1980s) as the next steps in developing orbital railway links across inner North and East London, associated with diversion of Richmond-Broad Street trains to Docklands.

With the risk of continuing delay to the full Jubilee Line extension, the GLC hoped that this Woolwich line would have provided a tangible transport connection for developments, as well as providing a passenger rail link between north and south of the river to provide workers with more job opportunities and employers with wider labour markets. In addition, three new surface passenger stations were to be provided on the then freight-only BR Dalston-Stratford link, funded separately as part of the NLL scheme (Dalston Kingsland, Hackney Central, and Hackney Wick; a fourth was opened later, at Homerton, with electrification in 1985).

An initial diesel passenger service on the NLL route via Hackney would be a maximum 3tph and more typically 2tph, connecting to the NLL electric service. A higher frequency could be operated when electrified and also if a cross-river tunnel were opened. However the ‘Transitnet’ traffic assignment model predicted a maximum 1,200 passengers northbound per AM peak upon opening of a Woolwich tunnel, with the then planned Docklands redevelopment. Even if this was a gross under-estimate (transport models aren’t always reliable for reopening passenger lines), it pointed to the limitations of the low-density redevelopment then foreseen for Docklands, and the difficulties of justifying large-scale transport infrastructure on a conventional business case.

The GLC also suggested the line as a cross-London freight corridor, but studies showed that this would be of small benefit at best. Consideration was given to building the tunnel to ‘international’ gauge diameter to allow trains to and from the then-mooted Channel Tunnel to transit the line. However it was noted that a number of existing tunnels on the North Kent and North London lines were at the smaller BR gauge, so this idea was not pursued.

The GLC was prepared to fund this tunnel and line itself out of the Jubilee Line extension pot which it was building up, and the Secretary of State (SoS) noted at the time that he could not block it. Nor would he petition any Act that the GLC would promote for this line, so as to not appear publicly to be against Docklands regeneration. He did repeat his objection however to the Woolwich tunnel and Jubilee Stages 3 and 4 on grounds that they were not justified on the current and prospective transport needs, driven by projected land uses, nor on a value for money basis. The Woolwich tunnel in particular was projected to cost £30m but return only £1m per annum, a very poor benefit cost ratio.

The Labour Secretary of State for the Environment further stated that he viewed the Jubilee Line as making “little contribution to the industrial strategy for the Docklands [our emphasis], and that a programme of road construction and improvements to the existing railways was to be preferred” to keep Dockland industries alive. As such, he refused the Transport Supplementary Grant (TSG) of £10m to the GLC to start the Jubilee Stage 2 to Fenchurch Street. At least on this occasion, the Government had a valid basis for rejecting the allocation of grant, as the GLC’s own LDSP focused on low-density mixed uses and didn’t change the land use allocations to increase densities or prioritise housing and office volumes.

Other Stage 2 safeguarding

Safeguarding Fleet Stage 2 was becoming expensive (£5m to September 1977, equivalent to a third of a mile of tube not built!) as the London Transport Executive (LTE) had to compensate land owners considerably not to use, build or develop their basement levels. However this was not considered to be cost-effective as it was not always respected – the City Corporation of London had ignored LTE’s safeguarding request and granted planning permission for an office block at 86-108 Cannon Street with foundations in the Fleet Line alignment.

The Parliamentary safeguarding was supposed to prevent this. Perhaps the ambivalence to authorise Stage 2 led to confusion and a lack of will to mount much of a defence of ‎the safeguarding of the alignment, which the City took advantage of.

But safeguarding was effective in the case of Bush Lane House nearby at 80 Cannon Street, which was designed with a unique cantilevered foundation structure so that the Fleet Line tunnels, which were planned to pass directly beneath the building, could be constructed at a later date. The foundation work for this eight storey office building was estimated to cost £1.25m. This building has since been renamed and the unused railway area beneath the building has been renovated into restaurant/retail and office facilities as a glass box slipped beneath the original building.

At the same time there was a desire to safeguard a passageway between the Jubilee Line escalator and the Cannon Street District Line platforms before Stage 2 was funded. This passageway would have traversed the basement of Lloyd’s Bank Computer Centre at 78 Cannon Street, once the Centre was to move out in mid-1979.

A January 1979 GLC/LTE £103m proposal provided a more detailed breakdown than usual, with £50m for tunnelling, construction and tracks, £30m for finishes and equipment, and £10m for land. The remaining £13m was for additional rolling stock, ideally to be ordered as a follow on option to the Stage 1 train order should Stage 2 be approved forthwith.

Also in January 1979 (by which time it was the Jubilee Line) the GLC – who were LT’s policy and funding master – proposed another Stage 2 plan to omit Aldwych and Ludgate Circus stations and to build a simpler Cannon Street station, for approximately £70m. By doing so it hoped to make the Stage 3 Jubilee extension to the Docklands more attractive for government funding. The further implication was that it was not vital to serve Aldwych and Ludgate Circus by a Tube line, so this proposal in turn put greater reliance on the development and regeneration merits found within Docklands.

Parliamentary process

The LT Act 1977 renewed the land powers for the Fleet/Jubilee Line Stage 3 from Fenchurch Street to New Cross for 5 years. The following table lists this and the other Fleet and Jubilee Line enabling Acts, with their funding status.

Date Powers Stage Main Routing Funded?
1969 Parliamentary 1 Baker Street to Charing Cross and overrun tunnels to near Aldwych Yes
1971-76 Parliamentary 2 Aldwych and Cannon Street to Fenchurch Street No
1977- 31 Dec 82 Parliamentary
1977-31 Dec 82 Land
1978 Parliamentary 3 Fenchurch Street to Woolwich Arsenal, with a branch to Beckton

Powers to safeguard the route alignment were sought in the LT Bill

1979 Alignment Safeguarding
1978-31 Dec 83 Land

Table 2: London Transport Fleet/Jubilee Railway Bills

The key of course was funding, which wasn’t forthcoming.

The London Transport Bill proposed to Parliament in early 1979 before the May election included authorisation for Stage 3 of the Jubilee Line, from Fenchurch Street by way of Custom House and the Docklands under the Thames to Woolwich Arsenal, with a branch to Beckton.

For Stage 2 of the Jubilee line, 24tph were planned from Charing Cross to Fenchurch Street, and 16tph east of there for the subsequent stages. The am peak hourly ridership per segment per direction was projected to be:

Charing Cross – Aldwych 6,000
Cannon Street – Fenchurch Street 11,000
Surrey Docks – Millwall 9,500
Woolwich – Thamesmead 3,000

This was estimated to add 6 million new passenger miles to London Transport, as well as 4 million new passenger miles to British Rail, totally 10 million new passenger miles annually.

Jubilee Line Stages 3 and 4 Projected Benefits

The GLC case and the 1979 Parliamentary Bill cited the following benefits for fully extending the Jubilee Line to Thamesmead:

  • Significantly improve cross-Thames mobility
  • Provide fast direct access to central London
  • Provide fast convenient transport within the Docklands
  • Relief of BR North Kent line
  • Relief of London Bridge BR services
  • Enable thousands of much needed housing units to be built in the Docklands
  • Help contain the growth of car traffic in the area
  • Reduce dependence on oil supplies (a key concern in the 1970s)
  • Serve the remote Thamesmead area (as the planned local employment there quickly evaporated).

However these messages failed to make a base case for changing the underlying propositions behind the Docklands economy.

GLC accumulates its own Jubilee Stage 2 funding

Given the government funding roadblock, Cutler and the GLC over the late 1970’s had started accumulating funds to start construction of Jubilee Stage 2, amounting to £100m by 1979. As noted in ‘London’s Underground’ by John Glover:

denied a capital grant from the (Labour) Government to continue east from Charing Cross, the (Conservative) leader of the GLC said that ‘the line would be built whether the government agrees and helps or not… If we cannot borrow the money we will raise it from the rates and damn the government.

Cutler’s full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes pronouncement, made at the GLC meeting on 13 February 1979, was a surprise to the GLC as well as to LT. But it was not supported by or indicated in any GLC budget or cost estimates. Cutler’s puff about the GLC doing it itself were mere words.

To understand why construction of Stage 2 did not proceed, it is necessary to follow the money, politics and the process. The Greater London Council’s (GLC) plan was to fund construction through its ‘Money’ Bill (that funded its operations and obligations), but national governments of both persuasions had refused to fund Jubilee construction by restricting the amount of the Transport Supplementary Grant provided to the GLC. A government memo before the May 1979 election noted:

If the LT Bill were to go through unopposed or were to be opposed unsuccessfully, the Government would still be able to control the start of construction of Stages two and three of the Jubilee Line by taking actions against the GLC (Money) Bill in 1979 and subsequently. The Schedule to those Bills list the capital sums allocated under various Acts including the Transport (London) Act 1969; a reduction or deletion of the total under this head would directly reduce the total which the GLC was authorised to spend on capital grants to the London Transport Executive and the British Railways Board, which would, of course, include capital sums for the Jubilee Line works.

The Labour Secretary of State for the Environment, Peter Shore, wrote on 7 February 1979 to Sir Peter Baldwin (Transport Permanent Secretary) and Peter Lazarus (Deputy Secretary, Transport Industries and International Policies) to state his support for the Jubilee Stage 3 powers Act, but authorised no funding for construction. Shore stated his position thus:

I remain firmly of the view that the priority transport projects for Docklands are the road projects (including some in your trunk road programme) and rail improvements which you and I put forward in July 1977. But we did not of course rule out that at some stage developments of the Tube system could be helpful.

Roads it is

There was a Labour government from 1974, led by Jim Callaghan from 1976 after Harold Wilson resigned. A Conservative-led GLC from 1977 was not necessarily going to see eye to eye with a different-colour national government. However the biggest obstacle to making progress with the Fleet / Jubilee Line extensions was the state of the national finances, rather than party differences about different city transport options (where Labour and Conservatives quite often had similar views on tube schemes). At that point the Labour government turned down the GLC Jubilee Stage 2 extension proposal, even though the Conservative GLC was well on its way to accumulate all of the funding for it.

The 1974-1979 Labour Government’s preferred Docklands strategy was to invigorate and regenerate the industrial sector of the Docklands. This was also the GLC’s published position, so the Government had a pre-prepared policy to use as a baseline. However the Government believed that the Jubilee line would not support this goal, and that the Tube line was more likely to attract residents to the Docklands to funnel workers into central London to work than to support and grow existing Docklands industries and jobs.

London Transport pointed out that Jubilee line Stages 2 and 3 would be considerably less expensive (£325m) than building roads to serve the Docklands (£450m-£500m), and that the opportunity of building mass transit before major regeneration took place would lessen reliance on cars, especially in the era of energy crises and high petrol prices. As well, the Jubilee line spine linking north and south banks of the Thames would be key infrastructure connections making the Docklands as easy to access as any other part of London.

The late 1970s’ Labour Government aspired for completion of the national Trunk Road Programme, to which they planned to add the (still unbuilt) East London River Crossing, “to complete Docklands’ links with the adjoining parts of the regional and national road system”. Further to this, the Labour Government had set the completion of the M25 motorway as their top priority, under the rationale that it would expedite the flow of goods and freight, and direct through-London traffic around the most congested parts of the city.

It is important to note the Ringways roads were still in the official plans in the 1970s, and that the M25 London orbital motorway had just started construction in 1975, so government thinking was still very much based on the car for non-central London transport.

The Department strikes back

The Transport department (DTp) analysed the late 1970s’ GLC projections and rationale, and estimated the travel benefits from reduced transfers and direct travel to be £15m per annum, a return of 4-5%, when 10% was required by the Government to justify projects at the time because of the poor state of national finances. DTp did not include any benefits from reduced road congestion as they believed this would be negligible. Which is ironic given the Government’s plan for, and reliance on, £1bn of roads for the Docklands.

The full Jubilee line was estimated to provide only an additional £2.5m in revenues per annum due to many passengers switching from bus services, and cause a £4m reduction in BR revenue. To reach the required £25m return on a £250m investment would necessitate an additional charge per passenger mile of 50p, 10 times the contemporary figure of 5-6p. Thus the DTp determined that the Jubilee line extension was not financially viable.

The DTp also noted the GLC’s argument for the Jubilee extension was based more on increasing mobility and therefore employment in the Docklands than on a financial basis. However the DTp also noted that the GLC’s own estimate was that 80% of Jubilee line passengers would be travelling to and from central London, with only 20% for local travel. So the GLC’s planning basis for Docklands development did not sit happily alongside the required business case for the Jubilee extension.

To verify their assessment on the viability of the Jubilee line, the DTp compared the numbers against contemporaneous UK urban rail schemes:

  • Merseyrail heavy rail loop under central Liverpool was estimated to have a return above 10%.
  • The Tyne & Wear Metro’s initial estimated return of 11% was determined in reality to be between 2.5%-4% due to higher capital costs and lower benefits.
  • Even Manchester’s Piccadilly to Victoria mainline stations (Pic-Vic) Tunnel, estimated at £100m, was only projected to have a return of 8.5% rather than 10%, so had not been approved.

There was no way the DTp was going to support a project with a 4-5% return which would have also cost 2½ times the Pic-Vic scheme.

Development effects of the Victoria line extrapolated to the Fleet Line

The final stake in the coffin for the DTp regarding the GLC’s Docklands development argument was that there was little or no evidence of “significant development benefits to Walthamstow and Brixton” as a result of the Victoria line opening in 1971. Conveniently omitted by the DTp was the fact that these two stations were long established residential neighbourhoods, whereas the Docklands was overwhelmingly an industrial and post-industrial area ripe for redevelopment and was in the process of being officially earmarked for regeneration (albeit with low densities as previously discussed).

The South East London Land Use Study of 1973 had evaluated development effects of the newly opened Victoria line (which were very little) and used them to project the development effects of the planned Fleet Line. This study had also predicted not much office development for the first 10 years of the full Fleet Line to the Docklands. Not surprising given the highest inflation in living memory, nor any large-scale local development prioritisation for that type of land use.

Regarding the GLC’s employment forecasts performed in 1978, the DTp calculated that each new Docklands job would cost £44,000, when the average late 1970s’ salary was only around £5,000. They also noted that most of these jobs would merely be resited from other London locations. Capitalised transport benefits of the full Jubilee line were calculated to net less than £9m, leaving approximately £17m to fund.

On 31 January 1979 Joel Barnett, Chief Secretary to the Treasury responsible for public sector finances, had written to Bill Rodgers, the Labour Transport Minister, to provide the Treasury’s views on the Jubilee Stage 3 to the Docklands. He had said:

You will not be surprised to hear that I consider that we should do all we can to prevent the GLC from committing resources to these projects. Neither project is justified in transport terms and the wider economic benefits are small and uncertain… I know you also realise the danger of setting an undesirable precedent for other parts of the country.

But despite all of the options that the GLC presented, what else could they have done to build a case for the Jubilee tube extension at this stage?

With the new Conservative Government of May 1979 there was now a potential alignment with the Conservative-held GLC’s views on transport which could possibly change the landscape. This we will explore in Part 3.

Missed Part 1 of this series? Then read Diving into the Fleet: London’s Lost Tube now.

Written by Jonathan Roberts