In December two years ago I reported on the disquiet in London at the impending closure of the second oldest “Tube” line, The East London Line on the 22nd December 2007 until 2010. Part of this disquiet related to the Line being more widely used with its connection to the extended Jubilee Line at Canada Water as well as its long standing connection to the District Line at Whitechapel. In truth the East London Line has always been somewhat unique being the only Underground Line which doesn’t go through Central London, having two termini only 600 metres apart and having the oldest tunnel on the system, the Thames Tunnel designed by Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel dating from 1843 which along with the Tower Hill subway was the first sub-aqueous tunnel in modern times – there is reference to a tunnel in Babylon, but no archaeological evidence. More importantly it was the tunnel where modern tunnelling methods were developed and though underground is a listed building!
See the full story and history of the Line here;
This spring, the route formerly known as the East London line will make a bold return, now co-opted into the orange livery of London Overground, and extending past its original, curtailed route to the giddy northern heights of Dalston and the southern climes of Croydon. London Overground anticipates in 100,000 people will use the Phase One trains every day during 2011, many of them cutting the time of journeys they make at present and also travelling more cheaply as a result. About one billion pounds has been invested in the project, whose origins lie way back in the 1990s (a fact that highlights the significance of Mayor Johnson’s mothballing of other infrastructure development work at TfL.)
Not often mentioned, this – it’s a pre-Livingstone project, which he had the good sense not to can on inheriting it. It’s also a PFI, but a working one. There are lessons to be drawn from that, particularly since Boris’s party seem to have taken violently against PFI recently, despite inventing it. The extensions are planned in two phases. Phase 1 sees trains running between Highbury & Islington in the north and New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon in the south. Phase 2 includes the fourth branch via Peckham Rye to Clapham Junction in the south.
Funding arrangements were agreed for this phase 1 which is scheduled to be in place fully for June 2010, comfortably before the possible Olympics in East London. It will have a soft opening with a reduced timetable from 15th April 2010. On 5 September 2006, the Mayor moved the northern section from Dalston Junction to Highbury & Islington from Phase 2 into Phase 1. However, this extra link will not be delivered for about 18 months after the line has opened as far as Dalston Junction.
Without the extensions, demand would rise to 11.6m passengers per year in 2011; with the original Phase 1 to Dalston Junction and Croydon, this increases to 35.4m, and with the original Phase 2 to Clapham Junction and Caledonian Road, to 50m. The original Phase One was estimated to cost around £1bn, which is being spent by Transport for London as part of its five-year investment programme based on loans backed by the Treasury. The original Phase Two would cost around £275m, the northern section comprising £200m, and the southern section to Clapham Junction comprising £75m (excluding stations at Brixton and Loughborough Junction).
The refurbished line has a rebuilt New Cross depot and the new control room, a gleaming modern building whose exterior looks for all the world like a giant Meccano set and the reopened line boasts sleek new trains. The route runs the same 378 models recently introduced to the North London line, albeit in four-car configuration rather than three-car, and there’s a distinct sense of vertigo to be had looking the length of the walk-through carriages as the vehicle is in motion.
In the maintenance building next door at New Cross the new trains stand in gleaming expectation. The ELL is the biggest addition to the capital’s transport network since the Jubilee Line in 1999. Around 130 drivers have been recruited, two-thirds of them brand new “off the street.” Representatives of the operator LOROL, the Chinese company which has the contract to operate the line, speak of their eagerness to work and learn. As part of the deal to operate the ELL this most historic of Underground Lines was taken out of London Underground’s control and it does seem strange that Chinese companies and German State Railways are operating parts of the rail system in the country which invented railways. It will be noted that there are no British companies operating trains in China or Germany.
The Overground is operated by a private company, LOROL. Following a model similar to that already used for the Docklands Light Railway, TfL invited tenders for operation of the Overground. Unlike National Rail franchisees, TfL would set fares, procure rolling stock and decide service levels. The operator would take an element of revenue risk: TfL take 90% of the revenue risk, 10% of revenue is retained by the operator, and the operator is responsible for revenue collection.
Aside from the new orange-trimmed roundels, regulars on the old East London line will see little difference at platform level: but at street level Shadwell is entirely transformed, with an additional exit on the north side of the ticket office meaning access to the nearby DLR station is much easier (welcome news to anybody who recalls the miserable side street that had to be navigated in the past).
At Shoreditch High Street, a colossal grey battleship of a station is parked on the old Bishopsgate Goods Yard. The platform is long enough to accommodate up to eight carriages (not that a train of such length is ever likely to pull in), and the spacious ticket hall reflects the expectation that – with an optimum location and excellent access to Spitalfields, Shoreditch, Old Street, and the City – this will be one of the more popular stations on the network. The final part of the new line goes along the viaduct toward Dalston Junction and back, offering new vistas of Kingsland Road and affording the more eagle-eyed trainspotter a glimpse of the original Old Street station.
TfL expect around 100,000 people to use the service daily once it is fully operational, and in offering a link between parts of the capital that have long been ill-served by transport connections, the line should be a success. It does, however, pose a significant hazard to pub quiz-masters and Underground trivia hounds: should London Overground be counted as a proper Tube line or not?
The section between New Cross Gate and Dalston Junction is currently scheduled to open in April 15th and the full service is due to welcome passengers on May 23rd.
When the extended East London line links up with the Richmond to Stratford line at Highbury & Islington in 2011, the beginning of an orbital railway around the Capital will be created. Transport for London will complete the orbital railway by extending the East London Line from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction. This work is due to be completed in 2012. With four new, air-conditioned trains per hour, it would take less time to get to Canary Wharf and Broadgate.
It is a pity to see this Line move out of the Underground Network but there is no denying that since Transport for London took over the dismal North London Line and the appalling Silverlink services there has been a huge improvement with Underground standards of station improvements including lighting, CCTV, Ticketing including being part of the Oyster Card network and the London Zone system. More importantly there has been a phase shift in security and staffing at the stations and increase frequency of reliable services with brand new rolling stock.
This reopened link will also be an important contribution to the Olympic transport arrangements as the North London Line – will become part of “London Overground” and will see new rolling stock as well as new terminating platforms at Stratford serving the Olympic Park and an increase in services. Orbital routes are hugely important in a large World City like London giving an important alternative to the congested radial routes through the centre and linking the neighbourhoods of London.
But for railway aficionados who admire the scale of the raw Victorian engineering on the Line with deep cuttings lined with engineering brick and buttressed by cast iron girders leading to the unique Wapping Tunnel it will be a joy to see it come back to life to meet the changing transport needs of this great World City and its natives and visitors. The integration of this Line into the ambitious but much needed and appreciated Overground Network means this former Cinderella Line has at long last found its rightful place at the ball!
For the history of the unique East London Line see;
For more background on the worlds first Underground see;
Robert Hulse, director of the Brunel Museum, takes us on a tour of the Thames tunnel, described, when it first opened in 1843, as the eighth wonder of the world.
On the 14 / 15th March pedestrians were allowed to walk through the restored tunnel under the Thames for the the first time in 148 years!
Here is TfL’s promo on the new line with excellent aerial shots which make sense of the route decisions;
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