So, one of the jobs performed by Network Rail, the public agency which looks after Britain's public rail infrastructure, is to produce long and largely boring reports looking at what we need to do with said infrastructure to stop it breaking. Last month it produced a draft of its Anglia Route Study, looking at the future of the rail network to the north east of London, for public consultation.
The reason we mention all this is because Table 5.7, buried on page 80 of a 145 page report, caught our* eye. The table looks at ways of adding extra platforms to London's Liverpool Street station, so you can run more trains on the Great Eastern Main Line to Essex and beyond. Here are the options it offers:
New platform 0 located within the shopping area to the west side of London Liverpool Street Station, but potentially requiring platform 1 to be shortened
Okay, fair enough, we can live without that Starbucks.
- Three new platforms between the existing platforms 10 and 11, one adjacent to platform 10 and two within the taxi rank area
Those who want taxis can drag themselves up on to Bishopsgate with everybody else.
Remodelling of the existing platforms 1-10 within the westernmost train shed to allow provision of an additional three 12-car length platforms or an additional two 12-car and two 10-car platforms
Sounds a bit of a pain while they're building it (where will the trains stop?), but I guess it'd help in the long term.
- Creation of an additional terminus station to the north of London Liverpool Street within the area of Network Rail owned land adjacent to Shoreditch High Street station on the East London Line. This would potentially be utilised by services from the West Anglia route.
This isn't just building a few extra platforms. it isn't even building a new station. It's building a new rail terminus, London's first since Marylebone began life under the faintly optimistic name of Great Central in 1899. We’re basically talking about London Liverpool Street, London Paddington and London King’s Cross and so on being joined by London Shoreditch.
So, what would this theoretical new London rail terminal look like?
Well, it'd sit on the site of an earlier terminus, known initially as Shoreditch, but soon renamed Bishopsgate on the grounds that it sounded more like the sort of place City commuters would like to go. (How times change.)
That stopped being a passenger terminus in the 1870s, when the more central Liverpool Street opened, and became a goods station, much of which burnt down in the 1960s. For the last half a century, the Bishopsgate Goods Yard has been derelict, and everything that isn't listed as a site of architectural importance has been demolished.
Until relatively recently no one much cared: London was for a long time littered with derelict sites that remain vexingly undeveloped (increasingly insane land prices mean that is, gradually, changing). But over the last 15 years, Shoreditch has changed rather a lot: first into a fashionable district full of bars and people with asymmetrical haircuts, then into the heart of the city's nascent tech industry. Suddenly Shoreditch is exactly the sort of place people would commute to, and there's helpfully already a station there.
Here, courtesy of those nice people at Google, is a map. The red box marks where the new station would go. Note the lack of, well, basically anything there at the moment:
There are a number of reasons why it'd be the West Anglian lines (those that run north through Hackney, towards Stansted and Cambridgeshire) that would use those routes. They arrive on a separate set of tracks and so are more easily segregated. What's more, from next year, the suburban services on those lines (to Enfield/Cheshunt/Chingford) will be taken over by Transport for London under its London Overground brand. It'd thus be less inherently baffling to terminate these services at the London Overground-run Shoreditch High Street station than it would, say, the mainline to Norfolk.
It'd still mean turfing a bunch of commuters out at a station which currently has no services into any of London's major commercial districts, of course: from Shoreditch High Street, you can get trains north to Dalston or south to Croydon, but you can’t get trains heading west. It won't be much use as a terminus unless they put in some platforms on the Central Line which conveniently runs underneath it.
This is already such an obvious interchange, in fact, that one might ask why they haven't already done this. The answer seems to be that this bit of the Central Line is already so crowded that everyone thinks that making it easier for passengers to change to it from the East London line is a terrible idea.
The arrival of Crossrail, due in 2019, should sort that out, at least a bit. It'll also, by the way, take a chunk of services that currently terminate at Liverpool Street out of contention, sending them instead onwards through new tunnels beneath the West End. It's a mark of how fast passenger numbers are going that, even though this is happening, Liverpool Street will still too small to meet the demands upon it within a few years.
Shoreditch terminus will very probably never happen. Building a new station and plugging it into the underground is an expensive business. Plans are already afoot to redevelop Bishopsgate Goods Yard, and a major new rail terminal is conspicuous by its absence.
More likely seems to be some combination of new platforms at Liverpool Street and better signalling, to allow slightly more trains to force their way through the limited entry paths available. The Network Rail report says that the final cost of additional platforms at Liverpool Street would be between £15m and £35m in 2023 prices. The cost of a whole new station isn't specified, but, if it means new platforms on the Central line, I think we can safely assume it'd be more.
There is another possibility raised in the Network Rail route plan: diverting some of the West Anglia services down the Lea Valley to Stratford. This would, oddly enough, cost more than expanding Liverpool Street, but it would be more convenient for Docklands and does at least include a link to the existing Central line.
Anyway, if there's just one thing to take away from all this it's as follows: avoid Liverpool Street in the 2020s, eh? It's gonna be a nightmare.
*Technically it actually caught the eye of our colleague, the New Statesman science correspondent Ian Steadman, to whom, kudos.