London promised 400,000 more homes and all-night tube services on 9 out of 11 lines

George Osborne and Boris Johnson at the Tate Modern this morning, basically repeating the words "long-term economic plan" over and over again. Image: Getty.

The news that London's all-night tube services are to be extended to a much wider swathe of the network than previously thought has left Londoners asking themselves one big question:

What does the British government have against the Bakerloo line?

The original plan, you'll recall, was for the (weekend only) 24-hour service to begin running on chunks of the Piccadilly, Victoria, Central, Jubilee and Northern lines by the end of this year.

But today, the authorities announced that night trains would be extended to cover the Metropolitan, Circle, District, and Hammersmith & City lines – the "sub-surface" network – by 2021. Bits of the London Overground (by 2017) and Docklands Light Railway (by 2021) will be getting all night services, too.

This is obviously tremendously exciting. Still, though, the plans exclude two lines entirely.

Leaving out the Waterloo & City makes some kind of sense: it’s a tiny two stop shuttle, which exists almost entirely to give Surrey commuters a quick route to the financial district, so probably isn’t much use at 4am on a Sunday.

The other, though, is the Bakerloo, which links Paddington to Waterloo via the West End. This probably would be of use on all-nighter – and yet it’s conspicuous by its absence.

So, what’s that about, then?

The all-night tube network, as envisioned before today's announcement. Image: TfL.

One possibility is that it's being blocked by bigger and more exciting things. Today's announcement also included news that the government wanted more detailed plans for a long-awaited extension of the line from Elephant & Castle into south east London. But even if that happens – far from guaranteed – there’s no way it’s happening quickly enough to get in the way of all-night trains in 2021.

Another possibility is simply that the line isn't up to it. It uses the oldest trains on the network, dating to 1972, and the intention is to replace these with something newer and shinier. The ageing trains might, for reasons we're not entirely clear on, be a barrier to running all night.

The explanation TfL gives is more prosaic. "The major reason is that we don't think there will be demand for it," says a spokesman. So, there we are. 

The all-night tubes is part of a broader "long term economic plan for London" announced today by mayor Boris Johnson and chancellor George Osborne. As you’d expect, given the timing, much of it is fluff: empty promises to grow faster than New York, £10bn of infrastructure spending that we basically already knew about, promises to make London a centre of something or other.

But it does contain a pledge to build another 400,000 homes over the next 10 years. That'll mean some planning reforms, the establishment of a "London Land Commission", and the creation of nine designated "housing zones". All of which looks like good news, although as Labour's Lord Adonis points out, those nine housing zones are barely scratching the surface of the problem:

There'll be feasibility studies for various big transport projects, too: not just the Bakerloo extension, but Crossrail 2, the Old Oak Common redevelopment, and a series of bridges across the Thames in east London.

Anyone would think there was an election coming up.

Here's the key part of the statement.

The plan aims to:

1)   secure London’s strong economic future by setting the ambition to outpace the growth of New York, adding £6.4bn to the London economy by 2030. This is equivalent to £600 more per person if London’s productivity grows at the same pace projected for New York

2)   create over half a million extra jobs in London by 2020 by backing businesses, attracting world wide investment and continuing to raise standards in schools

3)   solve London’s acute housing problem, the number one challenge facing the city, by building over 400,000 new homes – including through a London Land Commission to identify and support development of brownfield and public sector land

4)   deliver £10 billion of new investment in London’s transport over the next Parliament including new tube improvements, better roads, more buses and cycle lanes and identifying the next big infrastructure investment after Crossrail

5)   make London a centre of the world’s creative and commercial life, with new investment in science, finance, technology and culture. This will include a new feasibility study to develop a world class concert hall for London which will be led by the Barbican Centre

6)   give more power to Londoners to control their city’s future, with new powers for the Mayor of London to support economic growth, boost skills in the capital and have more control over planning powers



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).