This blog looks at the Windsor lines, around Twickenham, Richmond and Putney, in South West London, outlining a proposal that would dramatically improve transport in the area.
Windsor lines around Richmond
The Windsor lines are the route from Waterloo to Staines and on to Windsor and Reading in South West London. The key problems that they suffer from are a large number of level crossings and a low frequency service.
Level crossings are a huge problem to the modern railway. They are a real accident problem given the relative safety of the rest of the network. Eliminating level crossings is now considered a key railway safety issue.
However, in South West London, the issue with level crossings is less about safety and more about congestion. These are heavily built up areas where car ownership and use is high. Over recent years, the level crossings have become a battleground, with vocal campaigners resisting increases in the rail service because it would mean the barriers at level crossings would be down more and more. The prime case of this is at Egham, where the Airtrack Heathrow rail proposal was heavily opposed as it would increase the amount of time that the crossings were blocked.
This blog is focussed on Twickenham to Clapham Junction however. Here, there is a four track railway from Waterloo to Barnes with no level crossings (there is a short 3 track section in the Battersea area, but that is relatively simple to fix). Beyond Barnes, the railway splits, with tracks going via Richmond/Twickenham and 2 tracks via Brentford/Hounslow. Both of these lines have level crossings, but the Barnes to Richmond section has 4 in less than 3 miles.
Although Barnes to Richmond does benefit from a number of bridges, the level crossing barriers are still a problem. Increasing the rail service frequency would cause the barriers to be down even more, and that would not be acceptable to the local residents. As it is, traffic flow in the area is poor, especially considering that the parallel road is the A205 South Circular trunk road. The congestion also affects local buses.
The current frequency of service is 4tph (trains per hour) slow all stations on both the Hounslow and Richmond routes, creating 8tph from Barnes inwards. In addition, there are semi-fast and fast services down both lines. All types of service are restricted by the available lines, both from the level crossings, and the mixture of slow and fast services west of Barnes (east of Barnes, the fast trains have two dedicated tracks).
The effect of these constraints is that it is impossible for anyone to board the train at Wandsworth Town during the high peak period - the trains are full. By comparison, the South West Main Line has 18tph slow all stations to Wimbledon, emphasising how poor 8tph is for a similar population density.
Widening the line to 4 tracks is not possible, as the section from Richmond to Barnes has houses just a few metres from the track on both sides. Building bridges or underpasses is similarly difficult, requiring major demolition. Lowering the track would require closing the railway for 18 months, which would affect the journeys of travellers over a large area. Thus, solving this combination of problems is not easy and not cheap.
The Richmond crossing proposal consists of a step-by-step approach to the problem.
Step 1 - Build a new 2 track tunnel from east of Barnes to east of Twickenham. The tunnel would be designed for the fast services and would have no stations (an underground two platform station at Richmond may be desirable and is an optional part of the proposal).
Step 2 - When the tunnel opens, the line between Richmond and Barnes would be closed for 18 months. During that time, the railway would be lowered into the ground, removing the level crossings and effectively creating a cut and cover box along the key section between Barnes and North Sheen. The stations would be rebuilt. The new tunnel would take most of the trains during the closure, so only stations between Barnes and Twickenham would be directly affected (use of the District line or bus would be required for this period). It may also be possible to run a Richmond to London train reversing at Twickenham during this period.
Step 3 - Reopen the line and enhance the service.
The end result would be the equivalent of a 4 track railway all the way from Waterloo to Twickenham - 2 fast tracks (including the new tunnel) and 2 slow tracks (including the cut and cover box). There would be no level crossings on the key section through Richmond, and no conflicts betwen fast and slow trains. The net effect is the ability to run a much higher frequency service with greater reliability.
For example, here is a possible service pattern.
- 8tph slow all stations Waterloo to Hounslow via Brentford, 4tph continuing on to Whitton and Twickenham, 2tph continuing on to Staines, 2tph terminating at Hounslow
- 8tph slow all stations Waterloo to Twickenham via Richmond, 4tph continuing on to Whitton and Hounslow (forming a loop) and 4tph continuing on to Kingston
- 4tph semi-fast Waterloo to Shepperton (stopping at Clapham Junction, Putney, Twickenham and then all stations), replacing the current Shepperton via Kingston service
- 4tph fast Waterloo to Windsor (stopping at Clapham Junction, Twickenham and then all stations)
- 4tph fast Waterloo to Reading (stopping at Clapham Junction, Staines and then all stations)
This gives 16tph slow all stations from Waterloo to Barnes, 8tph on both the Hounslow and Richmond slow lines, and 12tph fast to Twickenham. 12tph would use the new tunnel and 8tph the cut and cover box.
The proposal is by no means cheap, probably between £500m and £1bn. However, on the benefit side it does radically enhance the rail service, as well as relieving congestion and enhancing local buses. On completion, the new lines would not be full, so further increases in frequency (to tube levels) would be possible if demand warranted.
This proposal outlines a proposal that uses an express tunnel and reconstruction of the existing track to dramatically improve the transport system of the Richmond area. While not cheap, it is perhaps the cheapest scheme that can deliver this degree of benefits.
If you back the proposal, or have any other opinions, why not leave a comment!