As part of Transport for London’s £10bn Investment Programme, the East London Line is being extended and will open in May as the East London Railway
Written by Ian Brown BSc, FCILT, managing director, London Rail, Transport for London.
On 11 March 2010, Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, escorted a party of railway builders through the Thames Tunnel, culminating in a modest buffet at Rotherhithe. 145 years earlier, Isambard Kingdom Brunel did the same with a grand celebration dinner in the tunnel to raise funds to complete the project and guests were entertained by the Coldstream Guards as they were this time around. On completion fairs were held in the tunnel and it became a popular tourist attraction – within a year more than two million people had experienced walking through the first underwater tunnel. In 1865 the tunnel was handed over to the East London Railway with the first passenger trains passing through the tunnel in 1869. Here began the tunnel’s long association with railways, connecting south and north London.
In 1948 with the nationalisation of the railways, the line became part of the London Transport railway and until December 2007 it was part of the London Underground East London line from Shoreditch to New Cross and New Cross Gate.
The second re-incarnation on 23 May 2010 sees the Tunnel as the key element of a brand new railway for London when the TfL East London line project is completed and the line opens as part of the London Overground.
The scheme is a big one for London, costing £1bn. The intention is to introduce a fully integrated high frequency, metro service from Dalston Junction in north London, via the Thames Tunnel with direct trains to New Cross Gate, West Croydon and Crystal Palace. Operating a fleet of brand new London Overground trains, the Electrostar 378, these high capacity electric trains are designed specifically to operate this high density route. The trains feature wide gangways and walk-through carriages, longitudinal seating similar to the tube, CCTV surveillance, on board audio and visual passenger information. The fleets also boasts strong environmental credentials, including regenerative braking, so recycling electricity generated from braking at regular intervals for the many stops on the route.
This line is unique in that it integrates a former London underground line (the erstwhile East London line), a derelict National Rail route (the former Broad Street Railway), four new stations at Shoreditch High Street, Haggerston, Hoxton and Dalston Junction with the high density National Rail from New Cross Gate right down the Brighton main line, serving intermediate stations to West Croydon.
Another important aspect of the railway is interchange and its connectivity with other transport modes and it ability to provide for far more cross-London journeys while avoiding the busy central London terminal. The key interchanges are at Whitechapel, initially with London Underground’s District line but also directly with Crossrail in the future; Canada Water with LU’s Jubilee line and Shadwell with the Docklands Light Railway as well as plugging directly into South-eastern and Southern National Rail services at New Cross, New Cross Gate and Croydon. This connectivity provides passengers with quicker journey options and for example passengers travelling from Croydon to Canary Wharf will have much quicker and easier journey options; avoiding central London.
The effects on regeneration and house prices in south and north east London are already apparent, even before the line opens. Headings in the National and London press, such as “The East End is on an upward curve” and “Over the Moon about Overground”. The project was able to develop a robust business case due to the improved access it will provide for jobs in some of the most deprived areas of London.
The opening of the London Overground East London line is part of the strategic plan to provide links to the Olympic site at Stratford which will come about when the line is, linked in with the North London line at Cannonbury and Highbury & Islington from the following year. It is also part of the Mayor’s strategic vision of an orbital railway around London, which will be completed by 2012 when the final section of the East London line opens from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction. Jointly by the DfT and TfL the final part of the jigsaw will convert the South London line to Overground standards and offering a direct service from Dalston to Clapham Junction. This development is being planned closely with government, to be complementary to Thameslink Programme, which moves into its next phase in 2012 with a serious reconstruction of London Bridge station.
London’s tube network has been relatively static in recent years with the last new line being completed being the Jubilee line to Stratford in 1999. The London Overground concept moves to a new dimension, in effect extending the reach of Underground-style services into a wider London area, using the infrastructure available of both systems. It is a hybrid but a model for the future in providing value for money extensions to the rail transport network of London. The model is quite pertinent to other large cities, striving to extend the reach of cost effective rail public transport from the inner core into a wider catchment area as cities have grown.