Here's why TfL wants to rebuild London's Camden Town tube station

An artist's impression of the proposed second entrance to Camden Town station. Image: TfL.

Station buildings are a bit, well, dull really aren't they? I mean, sure, they're quite useful to get you from the street to the station platform, and some of the older ones are quite pretty if you like that sort of thing.

It’s just that they're just not that much fun to read about. Or write about, to be frank. They don't even come with a map.

But needs must, and even though it's only a building, the rebuilding of Camden Town tube station is a pretty an important project. More to the point, it probably will change the tube map, probably to something like this:

(Yes I know that’s a bit scrappy. It’s Friday afternoon, what do you want from me.)

Rebuilding Camden Town, on the Northern line, has been on the Transport for London (TfL) to do list for some time. It's an old station, first opened in 1907, and although the branch to Bank didn't arrive until 1924, the station complex has remained largely unchanged for 90 years.

Thing is, though, the area around it has changed rather a lot. Camden has become a bit of a tourist attraction, with its bars and its markets and its suspiciously pervasive smell of weed. On Sunday afternoons these days, the station gets so overcrowded that it becomes exit only: if you want to get on to a train, rather than off, you have to wander down to Mornington Crescent or up to Chalk Farm.

This problem is getting progressively worse, so they're thinking of doing the same on Saturdays too; and at random intervals TfL close the station entrances entirely to prevent a crush.

Which is great.

And so TfL has long been planning a rebuild. The first attempt, which would have involved demolishing the Electric Ballroom and one of the local markets, was canned back in 2005, on the grounds that people quite liked those places and didn't want them demolished. Since then, though, the number of people using the station has continued to rise – it’s up 60 per cent in just 10 years – so TfL is trying again.

Take 2

The new version of the scheme will create a second exit from the station, on Buck Street, and add in more escalators, to prevent overcrowding. More importantly, it'll also provide more space at platform level, so that more people can switch trains.

This last point may not sound very exciting, but it is actually the key to the whole project. That’s because another idea TfL has been toying with for a long time is to split the Northern line in two: one route will run from Edgware through the West End, and ultimately terminate at the new Battersea station; the other will run from High Barnet through the City and on to Morden. (One of these, if London’s transport authorities have any sense of humour at all, should be known as the “Southern Line”.)

At first glance this split looks like it'd be a pain in the backside for anyone trying to get from, say, Hampstead to Moorgate. But segregating the two lines should actually improve things for everyone, by allowing a more reliable and more frequent service. Once trains no longer need to wait for each other to move out of Camden Town, TfL will be able to increase the frequency from 24 to 30 per hour trains per hour across the entire line.

How trains move through Camden, now (left) and after the possible split in the Northern Line (right). Image: edited map from Wikipedia.

Doing this at the moment, though, would be impossible – because it would require a lot more people to change trains at Camden Town, where there just isn’t room for them.

For the same reason, the semi-official interchange between Camden Town and the Overground station 500m away at Camden Road isn't shown on the tube map, even though your ticket will allow it: TfL is simply terrified about giving people any more reason to squeeze into a station that just can’t hold them.

Rebuilding the station should remove these barriers, and enable London's tube map to finally admit to the world that it's served not by one line but by three. See. I told you this was important.

TfL is consulting on its plans until December. You can tell them your views here.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.