What other National Rail lines could TfL take over?

An extract from the map of TfL's rail network as it expects it to look in 2026. Image: TfL.

Last weekend, Transport for London (TfL) took over a new swathe of the capital's rail network, swallowing up most of the suburban lines into Liverpool Street.

 It’s taken over the line to Shenfield, which will form part of Crossrail, and which for the moment it’s rebranding “TfL rail”. It’s taken over the lines to Chingford, Cheshunt and Enfield Town, all of which will become part of the London Overground. It's now going to deep clean those trains and the stations they serve, give them new branding, and ensure they're staffed at all times.

It's the same model it's followed on the earlier waves of the London Overground and it has, so far at least, been a bit of a success. Passenger surveys suggest satisfaction is high, and there's likely to be calls for TfL to take on more routes. Like this one, yesterday, from Green party London Assembly member Darren Johnson. 

The obvious question, then, is – where next? Theoretically, which other routes could be added to TfL's rail portfolio?

What works

There are a number of characteristics that would make a line a good candidate for joining London's fledging S-Bahn network.

a) You want services that primarily serve suburban stations within London itself, and terminate at most a few miles outside the city limits (Transport for London can run trains to St. Albans; it shouldn’t run them in Bath).

b) You'd want them to be all-stops services, rather than the sort that speed through minor stations (a proper suburban train line shouldn't just try to get to stations where ticket prices are higher as quickly as possible).

c) And you'd want them to have their own tracks, wherever possible. This means you can muck around with timetables and so forth without having to worry too much about cocking up long-distance services. It should make it easier to separate out the suburban bit of the existing franchises from the regional bit, too.

That's a lot of variables to consider. And we're quite lazy round here.

So it's lucky, on the whole, that someone else has already done the work for us. To be specific, NERA Economic Consulting, who produced this report for TfL London Rail in 2011. (Hat tip: The very fine London Reconnections website.)

Here's what they came up with:

This map is a bit out of date – in the west, it only shows Crossrail extending as far as Maidenhead, rather than to Reading – but it gives some sense of the possible scale of TfL’s ambitions here.

What's in

Being dedicated CityMetric readers, you can no doubt identify any railway line in London, even from a map as blurry as this. But just in case you can't, here's a brief rundown of the lines shown in purple to idenfity them as potential targets, with some close ups so you can make out the labels. Starting in the north and moving clockwise, we have:


1. Thameslink's more suburban services, from Luton and (one day) Welwyn Garden City, across town to various destinations in south London, Surrey and Kent;

2. The Hertford loop line, from Stevenage into Moorgate;

3. The Lea Valley lines into Liverpool Street. Most of these came into TfL's hands over the weekend, but this map suggests the route from Stratford to Hertford, via Tottenham Hale and Cheshunt, as another possible candidate;

4. The lines currently operated by South Eastern trains, from London Bridge or Victoria out to Dartford, Sevenoaks, Orpington and Hayes;

5. The Southern routes, to Croydon, Sutton, Epsom and beyond;

6. The South West Trains suburban network from Waterloo, to the Surrey suburbs.

Which is potentially rather a lot of trains.

What's out

So what isn’t included? Mostly the lines in grey are the slightly longer distance trains, that exist primarily to serve commuter towns rather further from the city itself.

But all the lines into two entire mainline stations – Fenchurch Street and Marylebone – are also left out of the fun. At first glance, that seems a bit unfair.

Actually, though, what those two lines have in common is that their suburban services are already run by TfL – were swallowed up by the District and Metropolitan lines respectively, well over a century ago – leaving them only with longer distance trains.

That means that there are a few London stations – places like Dagenham Dock and Northolt Park – that are exceptionally unlikely to ever join the orange revolution. There are a few other stations in the outer reaches of south London – Sanderstead, Coulsdon South – that would excluded, too, purely because they’re on branches only served by longer distance trains. Which is kind of sad, but, them's the breaks.

Perhaps the oddest exclusion is the branch line from Ealing Broadway to Greenford. That's well inside the city boundary, branching off a line that's on course to become part of Crossrail – yet for reasons we can't quite fathom looks set to remain outside TfL's hands.

Were all this to go through, the result would be that every station in Greater London would be served by TfL trains, with just 13* exceptions. 

This map, as noted, is four years old. It’s already out of date. A few of the lines marked as targets have now actually joined the Overground. And TfL has already tried to take over the suburban services provided by Southeastern, but was rebuffed after opposition from Kent MPs.

Nonetheless, this is a pretty good guide to what London's transport authorities could one day run, if a government was so minded. We can but dream.

*For those who are wondering: Drayton Green, Castle Bar Park, South Greenford, Wembley Stadium, Sudbury & Harrow Road, Sudbury Hill Harrow, Northolt Park, Dagenham Dock, Rainham, Sanderstead, Riddlesdown, Upper Warlingham, Coulsdon South.


Seville has built its entire public transport system in 10 years. How has it done?

Just another sunny day in Seville. Image: Claude Lynch.

Seville, the fourth largest urban centre in Spain, was recently voted Lonely Planet’s number one city to visit in 2018. The award made a point of mentioning Seville’s impressive network of bicycles and trams, but it neglected to mention that it’s actually their ten year anniversary. The city’s metro opened just two years later.

This makes now an excellent time to look back on Seville’s public transport network – especially because almost all of it was completed in the middle of the global financial crisis. So, is it a good model for modern public transport? Let’s find out.

Cycle Hire

Seville, like any good metropolis, features a cycle hire scheme: Sevici, which is a clever portmanteau of the words ‘Seville’ and ‘bici’, short for bicicleta, the Spanish for, you guessed it, bicycle.

The service, launched in 2007, is run as a public-private partnership. Users can pay a flat weekly fee of €13.33 (£11.81) for unlimited rentals, as long as all the journeys last 30 minutes or less. For the fanatics, there’s a year-long subscription for €33. This makes Sevici cheaper than the London equivalent (£90) but slightly more than that of Paris (€29).

However, the reason why the bike hire scheme has gained particular praise in recent years is down to Seville’s network of cycle paths, snaking around the town centre and into the suburbs. The sheer scale of the scheme, 75 miles of track in total, has prompted comparisons to Amsterdam.

But there is a meaningful distinction between the two cases. First, cycling culture is such a big deal for the Amsterdammers that it has its own Wikipedia page. In Seville, cycling culture is a growing trend, but one that faces an uphill struggle, despite the city’s flatness. Around half of the cycle paths are on a pavement shared by pedestrians; pedestrians often ignore that the space is designed specifically for cycles.

A Sevici station in the town centre. Image: Claude Lynch.

Surprisingly, cyclists will also find exactly the opposite problem: the fact that bicycles enjoy the privilege of so many segregated spaces mean that, if they dare enter the road, motorists are not obliged to show them the same level of respect – because why would they need to enter the road in the first place?

This problem is only compounded by the Mediterranean driving style, one that takes a more cavalier attitude to objects in the road than that of the northern Europeans. While none of this makes cycling in Seville a write-off – it remains the cycling capital of Spain – budding tourists should bear in mind that the cycle paths do not extend far into the old town proper, making them a utility, for the most part, for budding commuters.


The metro system in Seville consists of a single metro line that travels from Ciudad Expo in the west to Olivar de Quintos in the east. It has three zones, which create a simple and straightforward fare system, based on the number of journeys and number of “saltos” (jumps) between zones, and nothing more.

The need-to-know for tourists, however, is that only three of the metro stations realistically serve areas with attractions: Plaza de Cuba, Puerta de Jerez, and Prado de San Sebastian. Given that a walk between these is only a few minutes slower than by metro, it shows the metro service for what it is: a service for commuters coming from the west or east of town into the city centre.

Some of the behaviour on the network is worth noting, too. Manspreading is still dangerously common. There are no signs telling you to “stand on the right”, so people queue in a huff instead. Additionally, there is no etiquette when it comes to letting passengers debark before you get on, which makes things precarious in rush hour – or if you dare bring your bike on with you.

On the plus side, that’s something you can do; all trains have spaces reserved for bikes and prams (and they’re far more sophisticated than the kind you see on London buses). Trains are also now fitted with USB charging ports for your phone. This comes in addition to platform edge doors, total wheelchair access, and smart cards as standard. Snazzy, then – but still not much good for tourists.

Platform edge doors at Puerta Jerez. Image: Claude Lynch.

The original plan for Seville’s metro, launched in the 70s, would have had far more stations running through the city centre; it’s just that the ambitious plans were never launched, due in equal measure to a series of sinkholes and financial crises. The same kind of problems led to Seville’s metro network being opened far behind schedule, with expansion far down the list of priorities.

Still, the project, for which Sevillanos waited 40 years, is impressive – but it doesn’t feel like the best way to cater to an east-west slice of Seville’s comparatively small urban population of 1m. Tyne and Wear, one of the few British cities comparable in terms terms of size and ambition, used former railways lines for much of its metro network, and gets far more users as a result. Seville doesn’t have that luxury; or where it does, it refuses to use it in tandem.

You only need to look east, to Valencia, to see a much larger metro in practice; indeed, perhaps Seville’s metro wouldn’t look much different today if it had started at the same time as Valencia, like they wanted to. As a result, Seville´s metro ends up on the smaller side, outclassed on this fantastic list by the likes of Warsaw, Nizhny Novgorod, and, inexplicably, Pyongyang.

Seville: a less impressive metro than Pyongyang. Intriguing. Image: Neil Freeman.


The tram travels from the high rise suburb-cum-transport hub of San Bernardo to the Plaza Nueva, in the south of the Seville’s old town. This route runs through a further metro station and narrowly avoids a third before snaking up past the Cathedral.

This seems like a nice idea in principle, but the problem is that it’s only really functional for tourists, as tram services are rare and slow to a crawl into the town centre, anticipating pedestrians, single tracks, and other obstacles (such as horse-drawn carriages; seriously). While it benefits from segregated lanes for most of the route, it lacks the raison d'être of the metro due to the fact that it only has a meagre 2km of track.

The tram travelling down a pedestrianised street with a bicycle path to the right. Image: Claude Lynch.

However, staring at a map long enough offers signs as to why the tram exists as it does. There’s no history of trams in Seville; the tracks were dug specifically for the new line. A little digging reveals that it’s again tied into the first plans for Seville’s metro, which aspired to run through the old town. Part of the reason the scheme was shelved was the immense cost brought about by having to dig through centuries-old foundations.

The solution, then, was to avoid digging altogether. However, because this means the tram is just doing the job the metro couldn’t be bothered to do, it makes it a far less useful service; one that could easily be replaced by a greater number of bike locks and, maybe, just maybe, additional horses.

So what has changed since Seville’s transport revolution?

For one thing, traffic from motor vehicles in Seville peaked in 2007 and has decreased every year since, at least until 2016. What is more promising is that the areas with the best public transport coverage have seen continued decreases in traffic on their roads, which implies that something is working.

Seville’s public transport network is less than 15 years old. The fact that the network was built from scratch, in a city with no heritage of cycling, tunnels, or tramways, meant that it could (or rather, had to) be built to spec. This is where comparisons to Amsterdam, Tyne and Wear, or any other city realistically fall out of favour; the case of Seville is special, because it’s all absolutely brand new.

As a result, it’s not unbecoming to claim that each mode of transport was built with a specific purpose. The metro, designed for the commuter; the tramway, for tourists; and cycling, a mix of the two. In a city with neither a cultural nor a physical precedent of any kind for such radical urban transportation, the outcome was surprisingly positive – the rarely realised “build it, and they will come”.

However, it bears mentioning that the ambitious nature of all three schemes has led to scaling back and curtailment in the wake of the economic crisis. This bodes poorly for the future, given that the Sevici bikes are already nearing the end of their lifetime, the cycle lanes are rapidly losing sheen, and upgrades to the tramway are downright necessary to spare it from obsolescence.

The conclusion we can draw from all this, then, appears to be a double-edged one. Ambition is not necessarily limited by a lack of resources, as alternatives may well present themselves. And yet, as is so often the case, when the money stops, so do the tracks.

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