Friday, 11 May 2012

Anglia relief line

London's rail network is in many places absolutely full, yet there is still a need for capacity growth of 40 to 50% in the next 20 years. One of the most congested areas is the north-east segment of the London area - the Anglia lines - and this blog looks at a possible radical intervention.

Anglia lines of north-east London

The Anglia lines form are those mainline rail services into and out of Liverpool Street. These naturally form 4 sub-groups of services:

  • Great Eastern slows - all-station services via Ilford and Romford
  • Great Eastern fasts - fast services to Shenfield and beyond, including Chelmsford, Colchester and Southend Victoria
  • West Anglia slows - all-station services via Hackney Downs, Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale
  • West Anglia fasts - fast services to Harlow and beyond, including Cambridge and Stanstead Airport, although Hertford East could be included in this group

The infrastructure currently has 4 tracks on the Great Eastern route - 2 tracks for slow and 2 tracks for fast. On the West Anglia route, there are 4 tracks between Bethnal Green and Hackney Downs, but there are only 2 tracks via each of Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale, with Tottenham Hale being the faster route. There are only 6 tracks on the entry to Liverpool Street station as well, which tend to be allocated as 4 tracks for Great Eastern and 2 tracks for West Anglia. There is also a 2 track section from Tottenham Hale direct to Stratford.

There is current investment in the area through Crossrail. This is intended to take most of the Great Eastern slows away from Liverpool Street and into the new tunnel. Unfortunately, there is not enough capacity on Crossrail (due to the eastern branch problem) to remove all Great Eastern slows in the rush hour, thus it is intended that a "residual" service of 6tph (trains per hour) will still run into Liverpool Street.

There is also a potential plan to widen the section from Tottenham Hale to Brimsdown on the West Anglia route. This would be used to run more slow services on that route, but only to Stratford (not Liverpool Street) via the direct route from Tottenham Hale to Stratford.

The problem is that the Crossrail and Tottenham Hale investments are not really sufficient to fix the capacity problems of the area. The main problem is with the fast services, although the slow West Anglia services also have issues.

On the Great Eastern route, the fast services are at 24tph today and the London and South East RUS (the official document examining capacity constraints) suggests that any further increase in number of trains is difficult. The issue is that the 2 fast tracks from Liverpool Street serve 2 branches beyond Shenfield - the main line to Norwich via Chelmsford, Colchester and Ipswich, and the line to Southend Victoria (with London Southend airport). The effect of taking trains from 2 busy lines and merging them into 1 pair of tracks is congestion - trains often crawl through the junction at Shenfield.

On the West Anglia route, the fast services have to run on the same tracks as the slow services. This greatly reduces the frequency of the slows, something which the potential 4 tracking of Tottenham Hale to Brimsdown would help with. The fast services are also not especially quick, which is significant to Stanstead Airport, with its long 45 minute journey time to London.

When looking at the problems and constraints, it seems like a radical solution may be necessary.

Anglia Relief line

The Anglia relief line is an outline approach to the capacity problems in the area, detailed here as a high level proposal. The key aim is to produce a single scheme with widespread benefits to boost the business case.

The core of the Anglia Relief line is to recognise the need for a new fast line to serve the area. This is vital, as the 2 fast Great Eastern tracks are full. London is heavily built up, so adding a 2 new tracks obviously requires a tunnel. When looking at the problems of both West Anglia and Great Eastern together, one route made sense.

The Anglia Relief line is thus proposed to be a tunnel from Stratford to a location alongside the M11. From there, the line would continue beside the M11 with either a branch or routing via Epping. After Epping the line would split - 2 tracks to reach the West Anglia route east of Harlow and 2 tracks to reach the Great Eastern route south of Chelmsford. The junctions at Epping and Harlow east would be triangles to enable flexible routing (Chelmsford south could also be a triangle, but that would be mostly for freight to go from east London to Cambridge and the north). New stations would serve Chipping Ongar and Harlow South.

This new line would allow a recast of services:

  • Most West Anglia fasts from Stansted/Cambridge would be diverted via the new line (faster journey time)
  • Some Great Eastern fasts from Chelmsford would be diverted via the new line (assuming comparable journey time)
  • More Southend services could be run on the Great Eastern route via Romford
  • More slow and semi-fast services could be run on the West Anglia route via Broxbourne
  • A fast service can be added to Epping, relieving the Central line
  • Direct service from Colchester and Chelmsford to Stansted

One conceivable timetable would be:

  • 6tph first stop Epping with 3tph continuing to Harlow and 3tph to Chelmsford
  • 4tph Stansted Express (not stopping at Epping)
  • 4tph West Anglia fasts to Cambridge and beyond (not stopping at Epping)
  • 6tph Great Eastern fasts to Chelmsford and beyond (not stopping at Epping)
  • 3tph Colchester and Chelmsford to Stansted

(This timetable is an initial guess. It may be that there need to be more West Anglia fasts, or more Great Eastern fasts, or there isn't room for the Epping slows, more detailed work would need to establish that.)

However, the big issue with the scheme isn't the routing or the potential service gains, it is the perennial problem of where the trains can go once they reach London. Liverpool Street is pretty full. Broadgate is an office development. Shoreditch will soon be an office development. Stratford has been built over without thought of further rail expansion. All in all, a big problem.

I'm open to suggestions on this aspect. Perhaps the Anglia Relief line would have to link to a new tunnelled line through London, possibly Stratford - Canary Wharf - Lewisham - Brighton Main line (as opposed to through the zone 1 core).


This proposal outlines a concept proposal to route a relief line to both West Anglia and Great Eastern via a tunnel and alongside the M11, with a raft of benefits. However, the biggest problem is not the scheme itself, but where the trains go when they arrive in London.

If you think the concept proposal has merit, or have any other opinions, why not leave a comment!


  1. 2 thoughts:
    1) could this link into Crossrail 2 via Hackney Downs?

    2) Could the new junction at Epping allow either a connection to the Central line, or replace the central line allowing an efficiency improvement there? The last few stations on the central line must be pretty inefficient in terms of passenger km, carrying empty(ish) carriages over long(ish) distances.

    1. While it is possbile that it could link to Crossrail 2, it would seem unlikely that is the best choice. Crossrail 2 (as currently defined) is a London-centric scheme that aims to relieve the Victoria line and has lots of stops. The Anglia relief line by contrast is a fast long-distance service. As such, a Crossrail 3/4/5 type central tunnel would be appropriate, with enhanced access to Stratford and Canary Wharf (to grow the London central economic area) being a viable routing.

      I don't think Epping is that unused - 2.8m vs 6.8m for Morden annually. It acts as a railhead for a large area, including up to Harlow (causing local parking issues). One benefit of this scheme might be to get proper parkway stations in south Harlow and Epping. But yes, I do think that a connection to the central line would be essential (exact details open to discussion).

  2. Hi, we discussed Crossrail thoughts on my blog a while back, that comment above struck me instantly that the talk of Crossrail 2 is to head out onto the outer Central line.

    This is a fascinating proposal and very timely as there is a current push around Westminster for the Stansted in 30 ambition to get from Liverpool Street to Stansted airport by train in 30 minutes - something we can all support as an ambition and this strikes me as a very neat way of achieving that and many other benefits besides (particularly as well a rail access from Chelmsford and the east into Stansted)

    the capacity relief is absolutely crucial and this appears a much more innovative way of relieving capacity across a broader spread than just building new lines following existing routes and using widening alone.

    The Cambridge-London fast services and capacity enhancement are also a key ambition for all of us and this would be most welcome. Again the focus on connectivity with Stratford as well as Liverpool Street is crucial. I am conscious that Transport for London have a strong focus on beefing up the strategic interchanges around London (not just the termini but major transport nodes in zone 2 or 3) and connecting into Stratford must be an ambition before heading into zone 1.

    perhaps additional to this could be the development of the route from stratford through central london as an alternative crossrail route? or else 4 tracking the inner london part with 2 for liverpool street and 2 to become a new crossrail alignment towards the south west or north west?

    Alex (Transport Womble)

    1. I think Stansted in 30 is a good goal (especially if we end up with more runways there...) The Chelmsford access is a nice bonus from the proposal, as would be an alternate freight route to the North that by-passes the flat junctions at Stratford. Its the combined benefits that appeal to me, hopefully boosting the business case.

      I think that this route does suggest Stratford then Canary Wharf. Whether it then went to London Bridge and Waterloo/CharingX for the South West Main Line, Lewisham for the Sevenoaks route, or Croydon for the Brighton line is an interesting question (and one that unfortunately bumps up the cost!) It could go via the Swanlink route, but only if that didn't link to the Great Eastern slows...

  3. Further refinements to this would be 4 tracks on both GE and West Anglia main lines from Liverpool Street to Bethnal Green.This was I believe planned as part of Liverpool Street rebuilding in 1980's but shelved.East London Line extension from Shoreditch High Street northwards also allows for this I gather.Then reopening of Lea Bridge junction to Hall Farm North junction together with extension of Chingford branch in tunnel to Loughton and cutback of Central line to Loughton also worth considering.

  4. To continue my previous post.... I have just been reading the latest proposal from BML2 which suggests a northward extension to Canary Wharf then Stratford and on to Stansted which can be found at:-

    This ties in very well with Stephen Colebourne's comments above.

    1. The BML2 proposal did come to mind when I thought of Stratford - Canary Wharf - Lewisham - "somewhere south". While far from an ideal route through the city, it could work in combination with the fast Crossrail connection. But I think it would require the full 24tph from both Stratford and the Wharf (as seen in Swanlink).

      I also doubt that Epping commuters would be happy with trains that didn't go to the City of London, but perhaps if they kept the Central line as an alternative choice it could work.

  5. Interesting proposal Stephen, particularly as a combined passenger-freight route.

    A new N-S link through East London is certainly required, and there's a discussion here which links in the BML2 stuff: This resolves your Liverpool St problem, and there some route options, e.g. Canary Wharf Crossrail? Wood Wharf? the DLR Bow branch?

    South of the river, the other option is onto the SLL to Clapham Jn. There is a significant passenger demand from the SWML to Docklands, which currently crams onto the Jubilee. The SLL could be reconfigured to provide Fast lines via the Brixton-avoiding route, and with a new underpass east of Clapham Jn this could take Windsor Line trains.

    1. I think that Stratford - Canary Wharf (link to Crossrai) - Lewisham is a viable route. I need to investigate and write more about Lewisham too.

      My take on Waterloo to Wharf is Swanlink. I think the SLL is always going to be too slow to be a viable choice. And there would still need to be a tunnel from Surrey Canal Road to the Wharf (a route I think suites DLR).

  6. Interesting, but wasn't the WAML quadruple track from the 4-way junction at Clapton (just south of Tottenham Hale) to Broxbourne Junction? While I appreciate some of the alignment has been built on, wouldn't it be a lot cheaper and easier to purchase the land back, make the necessary bridge rearrangements and just quadruple track it?

    1. True, and TfL is already looking at putting the tracks back. But this still leaves the congested section at Clapton, and a slower/longer alignment. More seriously, there is a need for three-levels of service on West Anglia - slows, fasts and semi-fasts (to Hertford and Harlow for example).

      If the Anglia Relief Line were built and connected to Canary Wharf beyond Stratford, there would still be a market for direct fast trains to Liverpool Street, thus the re-four-tracking would still make sense.

  7. There's plenty of capacity at Liverpool Street if the West Anglia inners are removed or reduced.

    - East London Line extension from Whitechapel to Bethnal Green in tunnel and then on to Hackney Downs. Takes over stoppers to Tottenham Hale via Rectory Road and new curve to South Tottenham.
    - Chingford line via Stratford and into Crossrail, or maybe Chingford becomes Central Line (or Victoria Line!) and Crossrail to Epping.
    -Crossrail Two surfaces north of Kings Cross. New curve from Finsbury Park to Harringay Green Lanes takes trains towards Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale, taking over the Liverpool Street inners totally.

    Bobs your uncle.

    1. If the West Anglia slows are removed, there certainly is more capacity at Liverpool Street. However, I don't think that the ELL Whitechapel to Bethnal Green is a good connection (even if it were possible in engineering terms, which I doubt). That link would split the London Overground (ELL) service that has just been created, reducing the service to Hoxton/Dalston. That could only be done if the Overground was diverted somewhere else, but that seems like shifting lines for the sake of it. The West Anglia trains are best off heading in a tunnel from Bethnal Green towards the West End or maybe the London Bridge area.

      I agree that Crossrail 2 surfacing near Gospel Oak or Finsbury park and routing via the GOBLIN to Seven Sisters/Tottenham Hale would be a good option, however the GOBLIN currently has too much freight for that to work.

  8. Don't think your ELL comments are right - there are at present 12tph to Dalston. The capacity on such a line has to be more than that through the central section - and will all of those southern destinations too. Including New Cross which doesn't need to interact with any mainline trains.

    There's plenty of freight on the North London Line at present with a commuter service alongside. In any event, pathing a freight one per hour on the mere 1.5 miles of overlapped GOBLIN oughtn't present too many issues. For the worriers, there's space for a four track of that bit too.

    Thanks for providing a great blog. And for commenting and allowing commenting!

    1. The next phase of the ELL to Clapham Junction will take the line up to 16tph in the core, but its already severely over-capacity at Surrey Quays. Since platforms cannot easily be extended at some stations, an increase in frequency may be the best option (if trains can be bought). In all scenarios, splitting the service at Whitechapel would reduce the service to Hoxton/Dalston, which would be a false economy given how jobs in the city are slowly expanding north.

  9. As a member of the Wealden Line Campaign and supporter of BML2, the discussion over putative destinations is one which has surfaced frequently with the BML2 proposal. The 'Is this where passengers want to go?' argument overlooks one major advantage of both new proposals, and that is CHOICE. What percentage of passengers currently regard Liverpool St/Fenchurch St as their final destination? Probably about the same as Victoria or London Bridge.

    Even with the completion of Crossrail, the tube is still likely to be heaving at peak times, and the opportunity offered by the Canary Wharf link to reduce the number of passengers needing to negotiate the labrynthine underground will release capacity and greatly speed up through journeys hitherto blighted with the dreaded cross-town interchange.

    Neither the Anglian nor the BML2 proposed services should be seen as discrete route options, but adjuncts within the available rail network. From the south, yes, Canary Wharf is the objective of the proposed new unfrastructure, but this needn't mean ALL BML2 services will be routed via there, or that ALL Southern/FCC/Gatwick Express services need then serve only Victoria/London Bridge/Thameslink. The same consideration, of course, applies north of the river.

    For those of you who've not yet found us, we're at http:\\\ and 'Twitterable' at @BML2INFORMATION . Success to BOTH our campaigns !!

    1. I think you are right that not everyone wants to go to Liverpool Street, but where they do want to go depends on who "they" are. a fair amount of commuters will want Canary Wharf, but most leisure travellers still want the West End. The trouble with serving two destinations is that the frequency of service to each is halved (a problem that Southern has long faced), and frequency is what rail needs to really attract passengers.

      So, yes, Anglia - Stratford - Wharf - Lewisham Junction - south makes sense. Whether that "south" part is BML2 is an open question for me at this point. Can the Lewisham to Elmers End line be widened to 4 tracks? Does a new Croydon station out of town make sense? Does BML2 help get more trains to Gatwick? That said, I think the Brighton to Uckfield direct section of BML2 is definitely a good one.

    2. The issue of clearances for 4 tracks has come up before Stephen, and the route has been checked and compared with existing 4-track formations with restricted clearances in NR use within London and the proposals found to be workable.

      Similarly, the issues involving Tramlink in the Croydon area are taken into account, with the proposed diversion actually serving a larger proportion of the catchment area, whilst greatly improving existing facilities at East Croydon itself (whilst leaving a certain allotments unscathed, be it known!).

      The service frequency/destination issue is obviously as old as the hills, but provision of direct interchange facilities at East Croydon, Lewisham and Stratford together with the improved routing options, plus of course Crossrail, seem to me to far outweigh any problems. Quite what travel patterns emerge I doubt anyone knows. I've noticed a 'Can't be Measured' indicator in TfL documentation applicable for journeys using travelcards/Oyster Cards where no exit reader is available to accurately track usage, especially where multiiple travel modes are used. The one sure thing is that Docklands represents a destination of growing importance which simply didn't exist 25 years ago, and that it allows the 'two cities seperated by the river' to be joined to the benefit of all.

      As regards the 'traditional' West End attractions, while these remain, quite what the Olympic legacy will mean for the hitherto 'less attractive' East End remains to be seen, but the swathe of bombed out derelict and run down housing and infrastructure we've all automatically thought about is changing fast, and yesterday's assumptions no longer hold true.

      I'm reluctant to post my private email address on an open forum, but any questions along the lines you've raised can be answered by contacting the BML2 Project Team via the email address on the website. Most of the issues are dealt with in the two downloads, 'A Strategy for Growth', dating from before the Docklands link proposal, re-issued following increasing interest in the proposals, and the more recent 2012 4 page document 'Why the south desperately needs BML2'.

  10. Having seen this scheme come up a few times on London Reconnections, I've had a look at the route... can only think that the number of Epping passengers are due to it being a convenient railhead, which in turn is probably not so convenient for the good people of Epping. There isn't really space to build a new line or interchange station in Epping, however there is plenty of space to the East of the Central line through Theydon Bois for four additional lines. There is masses of space to the East of Theydon Bois station, allowing an interchange there from the Central for those starting from Epping.

    I would also change Harlow South to Harlow Parkway and align it for easy road access from J7 M11. If the fares were set sensibly, this would prove a better railhead than Epping, further relieving the Central line and adding new journey possibilities for those in North Essex reliant on a car.

    There are, of course, many service patterns possible but I can see nothing not to like about a fast service from Liverpool St to/from Cambridge calling at Stratford and Stansted Airport only – I know much less about GEML usage, so will refrain from comment there.

    Of course, as many people have pointed out, there are various options for linking to other routes from Stratford and it makes no sense not to add provision for these at build time at minimal cost. That these options look likely to link in nicely is great, but most importantly, this looks like the basis for something that would provide benefits as a standalone scheme without the "btw this requires another couple of £20bn rail projects to make it work..." proviso that comes with so many other suggestions.

    1. I agree that at the current Epping station isn't really viable, but a new Epping station slightly further up the line nearer to Coopersale may well be. Or Theydon Bois as you suggest.

      By Harlow South, I was looking at the parkway site by the M1 as the major option. To run a Cambridge service via Stansted would require further work to make the airport line a through one, but that is certainly possible, and would make a very good route/service.

    2. I was wondering if making Stansted a through line would make more sense. A high speed line that parallels the M11 approaching Stansted from the south. Linking this to a high speed line to Gatwick and Brighton following M23/A23 via Stratford, Canary Wharf and East Croydon to create Thameslink 2 sounds like the congestion busting long term solution that both Anglian and Brighton Main Lines will require.

    3. The Sussex equivalent is here: and would likely be linked via Canary Wharf. (I propose Bromley, not Croydon, as Croydon would have enough capacity on the existing lines if other services were removed.)

      Going via Stansted is possible, but is more new build and thus more cost. If the line were to be continued even further such as towards Norwich, that cost would have to be paid for by a couple of prime Suffolk housing locations.

    4. If money was no object, it would probably be good to have two new build routes north of Gatwick that serve sub surface platforms at both Bromley South and East Croydon. Perhaps an eastern Thameslink route (Bromley) to Stansted/Chelmsford via Canary Wharf and a western Thameslink route (Croydon) to either HS2 or an electrified Chiltern Main Line via Clapham Junction. It's gotta be more beneficial to have through services than terminating trains in central London. Are you theoretically suggesting linking your Sussex and Anglian proposals together Stephen?

    5. Theoretically, you could connect the Sussex and Anglia relief lines together, as it avoids the problem of central London terminus. It does put pressure on Crossrail however as the main way to reach the City and West End. I don't think there will ever be the money for two new lines from Gatwick (unless Gatwick ends up with 4 runways!). A key reason for going via Bromley (or Sutton) is that the Brighton-Gatwick-Croydon corridor is already well served and a new line would not save much time.

    6. Thanks Stephen. I think a new line via Bromley makes for an attractive alternative although routing via East Croydon seems to be favourable among proposals by both Wealden Line Campaign (BML2) and Railfuture. However, since your blog was posted, both groups still seem to have very little or no detail yet on how additional services would be routed north of Stratford. Obviously four tracking Coppermill junction-Brimsdown through Tottenham Hale would help if you could "resurface" somewhere just north of Stratford but if they're both proposing a Thameslink style service with a maximum throughput, then a new line scenario will surely be needed.

      I think the same applies to Gatwick as I don't believe there can be anymore train paths available on either slow or fast BML tracks south of Croydon so surely new tracks will be needed to create the "Stanwick" connection that the BML2 campaigners are envisaging.

      Maybe having two new routes north of Gatwick is a bit extreme but perhaps combined with a new build line coming up from Brighton-East/West Coastway......would be nice to serve both the east and west end of London. Not as if anyone is going to finance any of that ofcourse although a second runway at Gatwick might swing a new line in favour into at least one single preferred option.

  11. Fascinating proposal, especially if going on from Stratford to Canary Wharf and even BML2.

    I'm really interested in its implications for potential Crossrail2 routes. So I've a couple of questions - please excuse my ignorance.

    1 - Presumably the route couldn't use the Leyton to Epping part of the Central Line, the route safeguarded for CR2?

    If it did would that rule out that route as a CR2 option?

    2 - Would the reduced number of trains on the Lea Valley lines effect the business case for choosing that route?


    P.S: Presume the Epping and Ongar Heritage railway could co-exist with this?

    1. The Epping part is there for two reasons - providing benefits to the locals who will suffer disruption (something HS2 fails to achieve), and providing good transport links for journeys other than to/from central London. Taking over a section of the Central might look appealing, but it would require too many trains-per-hour on the new tunnel that should be focussed on longer distance services. It doesn't stop CR2 taking over the section either.

      I think the Lea Valley route is going to be full anyway with all the new housing planned there.

      The Epping to Ongar route is planned to be reused, so the steam service may not be able to continue. I don't see reopening old railway lines to a proper modern service as a negative.

  12. Thank you for your reply.

    Depending on the route of the tunnel, perhaps it could be shared with London Overground? That would allow the NLL at Stratford to link up with Goblin so the NLL could extend to Barking and beyond - east or south

    1. The proposed tunnel is intended to be full on day one with fast services, so there would be no opportunity for slower Overgound links.

      In my view, the best way to get 6tph from Stratford to Barking is to get 24tph on Crossrail from Stratford, which needs the Swanlink plan.

  13. You seem to lack variety in your crayon box. I can't distinguish between colours on the map.