Saturday, 6 October 2012

Five tracks into Waterloo?

I read with interest the plan in Modern Railways to run - at an unspecified time in the future - five tracks from Surbiton to Waterloo. This allows for 32 fast trains per hour (tph) in the peak - and not only that, the train lengths can expand to 12 car (even though the current plan is only to 10 car). So overall, that's a capacity increase from 8 car to 10 car, and 24tph to 32tph. 67% more capacity on fast trains. Waterloo's capacity issues solved, right?

WRONG. What will we do with all the people once they reach Waterloo? I'm minded (with apologies to Ray Davies) to think "whenever I gaze on Waterloo Sunset, I can't see it for all the perishing commuters". If all the said commuters worked on the South Bank or the Old Vic there wouldn't be an issue, but many of the them are heading for the City (via the Drain), Canary Wharf (via the Jubilee Line) and the West End (via the Northern Line).

So if the people don't want to go to Waterloo, why take them to Waterloo?

Firstly a bit of history. If we had a clean sheet and we were building railway stations in London for the first time, we'd probably do things very differently. When the railway reached Waterloo in 1848, this was intended as an interim terminus before the railway reached the City. This has never happened in the intervening 164 years. Let's hope we don't have to wait another 164 years before we take people where they want to go.

In defence of the early railway companies, the first underground railway from Baker Street to Farringdon only opened 15 years later in 1863, so the thought of transporting people from Waterloo across a crowded London to the City was perhaps a little optimistic. Along what is now the Ring Road or the A501, we see a lot of terminals which are not where the commuters want to go. This is a legacy of the early Victorians being innovative in bringing their railways to London, but being restricted by the technology available at the time to the Ring Road.

So in 2012 does it make sense to bring more people to where they don't want to be? Of course not!

Maybe I'm being a little harsh

Or maybe not. Next paragraph.

Regional express versus regional metro

In the original proposal for Crossrail, the benefits of running trains from far afield through an East-West tunnel was assessed compared to trains from the London suburbs. The result was a higher benefit to cost ratio on the regional metro, which is why we are building Crossrail 1 as a fast all stops service. But even though it may open that way, there is nothing stopping us running a Swansea to Norwich service through the tunnels in the future. To anyone changing at Paddington, it's a train across town like any other. For the hordes heading for the West End or The City, it's a train which takes them where they want to go with a walk at the end of their journey. Radical, huh?

We maybe need to think the same way regarding Waterloo. And Victoria and Euston. The tube stations are full. Bringing more people in makes them fuller. You can create more space so that the wait is less unpleasant, but what has been gained overall?

Possible solution

There has to be joined-up strategic thinking. The Victoria Line is full, so Crossrail 2 seems to be the most important London scheme not yet committed. But its current form seems to be looking at regional metro only, as below courtesy TfL. Why would you not run Edinburgh to Southampton or Brighton trains, for example?

 We seem to be forever putting Londoners first, whereas there is a way of satisfying both the regional and the express market. Build the central tunnel as four tracks to Euston. Extend a line from Clapham Junction to join the Brighton Line. Run the fast trains from Manchester and Liverpool to Brighton and Southampton. That way you don't need Crossrail 3 - the objective should be to transport people to Clapham Junction, not Waterloo.

Thoughts welcome.


  1. Spelling alert: "hoards" = hordes

  2. Edinburgh to Brighton, or Swansea to Norwich, is not practical, as its a completely different market with different trains (narrow doors at the ends) that take too long to unload at stations.

    The real question is between a Thameslink style option (longer distances, but within London commuting distance) and a Zone 3 to 9 style option (TfL also has a tube-line option, but we really don't need that.)

    You are right about the tube at Waterloo (and elsewhere) not coping with more inbound trains. Thats why I put forward Swanlink as relatively cheap route option

  3. Hi Stephen, apologies for delay in replying. You may be right about running long distance through the core not making sense as things stand, but we could run longer trains with more doors than we do today to compensate - if it made sense to do so on a case by case basis. I'm sure the Bedford to Brighton market has grown because it can be done without a change.

    As for Swanlink - I'll reply on your blog. As you have hinted yourself, HS2 is what is driving a scheme to relieve Euston as the next major scheme.