What would London's new orbital rail link look like?

Image: Nick Hall on Flickr, re-used under creative commons.

Yesterday the mayor's office released its £1.3trn (yes, trillion) London Infrastructure 2050 plan. The document contains all sorts of goodies for the sort of people who get all excited by the prospect of new transport infrastructure (i.e. us), so we'll no doubt be writing about it rather a lot.

Perhaps the most striking proposal it contains, however, is the one for a new orbital rail link, which would connect a string of existing lines to the Overground Network and which, according to the Guardian, is referred to by officials as the 'R25', after London's orbital motorway.

Sadly, though, the map in the report is a bit on the vague side...

...so thought we'd flesh it out a little.

We can't promise that what follows is an entirely accurate reflection of City Hall's plans: In a few places we've had to guess where the new line would go, based on the jagged twists and turns on its own map.

We've assumed, though, that TfL would prefer to use existing lines wherever possible, and so would only construct new track where it had no other choice. (We've marked these bits using hollow tramlines.) We've also resisted the impulse to add new stations willy-nilly, and only included them where it seems almost certain the powers that be would do the same. (These are marked with ticks rather than interchange roundels.) Even so the project is just a teensy bit on the ambitious aide. 

 

As you can see, the new network swallows up the Gospel Oak to Barking line and the Bromley branchline; takes in large chunks of the North London Line, the Wimbledon-Sutton loop (currently part of Thameslink), the Kingston loop (currently South West Trains); and uses chunks of assorted other lines. It also means bringing the long forgotten Neasden spur back into passenger service.


Most ambitiously of all it implies several new tunnels - in Wimbledon, Bromley and, biggest by far, under the Thames from Barking down to Sidcup. You could run this latter section above ground - but only if you were willing to bulldoze large swathes of Kentish suburbia.

The whole thing looks distinctly like London's answer to the Grand Paris Express plan, which will see four new orbital lines built over the next two decades or so. But the Infrastructure Plan stresses that this project is "not included in the costings": even if the engineering challenge could he met, how much all this would cost remains to be seen.

So, it may well never happen. But you can forgive the authorities for dreaming big once in a while.

 

 
 
 
 

Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.


There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).