Friday, 9 August 2013

Crossrail 2 - flaws

This is the second post in a series on Crossrail 2. This one focuses on flaws in the current plans. The next focuses on small changes to fix some of the flaws. The last focuses on much better alternative.


TfL have proposed two variants of Crossrail 2, the cheaper £9.4bn Metro scheme based on DLR type technology, and the more expensive £12bn Regional scheme based on Crossrail 1 technology.

Both schemes have the same core. Wimbledon - Tooting Broadway - Clapham Junction - Chelsea - Victoria - Tottenham Court Road (TCR) - Euston/St.Pancras - Angel - Dalston - Seven Sisters - Turnpike Lane - Alexandra Park. The Regional scheme has a branch from Angel via Hackney, plus the SWML (South West Main Line) slow services. Documents show that there was considerable effort drawn up to propose this alignment with numerous options tested. So what could go wrong?

Over reliance on Tottenham Court Road (TCR)

The peak traffic that any London railway line has to deal with is the morning commute. As such, it is vital to consider where the jobs are in London, and how people will get to them. While I've been unable to find detailed figures, I'll work on the basis that the primary job areas are (a) the West End, (b) the City, (c) Canary Wharf, (d) Midtown/Farringdon and (e) Victoria. There are of course numerous secondary job areas as well, but the 5 above tend to dominate.

Crossrail 1 has a very simple route through the centre of London. It serves 4 out of the 5 primary job markets listed above via Bond Street, TCR, Farringdon, Liverpool St and Canary Wharf, with only Victoria not served. Thus, this route allows commuters to get on the train and get off at a location where they can walk to perhaps the majority of central London jobs. This is highly efficient in distribution, avoiding crowding on the tube.

By contrast, the proposed Crossrail 2 simply does not achieve this. Instead it serves just 2 major job markets - Victoria and the West End (via Tottenham Court Road). This is a particularly big problem, because for historical reasons, many commuters on the SWML work in the City and Canary Wharf, rather than the West End or Victoria.

The official line from TfL seems to be that commuters from the SWML should change at TCR to Crossrail 1, for services to the City and Canary Wharf. Firstly, it should be noted that this is no better than today, simply substituting a change at Waterloo with a change at TCR. However, I would argue it is in fact much worse.

For the sake of argument, lets say that 60% of SWML passengers work in Midtown, the City and Canary Wharf, 15% work in Victoria and 15% in the West End. This means that 75% or more of the passengers from SW London will be getting off at TCR. That is a very large number of people, potentially 1100 people every 2 minutes just from the south. There have to be real questions over the ability to clear that many people from TCR station, particularly if Crossrail 1 has a fault. This is especially significant as Crossrail 1 is expected to be full by 2031, thus there actually won't be any space for Crossrail 2 commuters to change into.

This also impacts on dwell times. In order for there to be a train every 2 minutes, the train has to spend less than 2 minutes in the platform. In fact, with signalling constraints, door opening and closing, the train will need to empty out 75% of its passengers in perhaps as little as 60 seconds. This is a huge ask.

Northern line

The proposed Crossrail 2 interchanges with the Northern line at Angel and Tooting Broadway. The former is barely mentioned in documentation, but the latter is held up as the ideal solution to solving the capacity problem on the southern Northern line. If only that were so.

Looking from the north, a commuter at Tottenham Hale, Seven Sisters or Turnpike Lane may want to commute to the West End or Victoria for which the proposed scheme would be fine. However, they may also want to commute to the City. The most likely option here is to take the proposed Crossrail 2 to Angel, and change to the Northern line to Old Street, Moorgate, Bank or London Bridge. The problem is that, like all tube lines, the Northern line at Angel is pretty full. Thus it seems likely that the proposed scheme will worsen the problems on the Northern line in the north.

Looking from the south, the Tooting Broadway connection is an expensive dogleg that I have already discussed. The claim that it will relieve the Northern line bears closer examination.

Firstly, those travelling from Morden and South Wimbledon are highly likely to have a seat. If they change to the proposed scheme, then they will be joining a busy/full train and no longer have a seat, something probably not captured in TfL models. Secondly, the proposed route would make no difference to journeys to the City or Canary Wharf. Those commuters might as well stay on the Northern line, as it involves less changes. Experience suggests that there are more City/Wharf commuters than West End commuters from south of Colliers Wood.

Finally, the link to Tooting Broadway is bi-directional, allowing SWML commuters to join the Northern line. TfL clearly do not believe that many will do this, yet for anyone working in Elephant and Castle (university), Borough, London Bridge and even Bank, changing to the Northern line is likely to be their best option (given that they will no longer have a service to Waterloo).

In both cases, the Northern line interchanges don't stand up to scrutiny.

Changing commutes

As recently shown with the Wimbledon loop Thameslink trains, and previously with the failure of the Crossrail 1 Richmond branch, changing peoples existing commutes is fraught with risk. A political campaign can easily be created with significant pressure to bear. The proposed scheme is particularly vulnerable to this in the South West. (In the North, the scheme is mostly adding new options, rather than taking existing ones away)

In the South West, the sensible approach to utilising the available train paths with the proposed scheme in place is for Crossrail 2 to have exclusive use of the routes to Chessington, Epsom and Shepperton. But this means that there would no longer be any services to Waterloo from those locations and points in between. While Network Rail has not confirmed this, it is clearly being considered.

Replacing a Waterloo terminus with Victoria or TCR will be good for some, but probably worse for others (the TCR problems are discussed above). Bear in mind that a large number of people walk or cycle from Waterloo, which won't be possible to many destinations in the same way from TCR.

It is also the case that the proposed scheme makes it hard to reach Waterloo. There is no cross-platform interchange that allows the existing Waterloo commute to continue. As such, passengers will have to trog around either Wimbledon or Clapham Junction stations from the new underground station to the old main line station. This will likely add 10 minutes to the journey time to Waterloo, potentially a 50% increase in commuting time from Raynes Park.


Related to the changing commutes problem is the Earlsfield problem. While Network Rail have yet to be clear on the topic they have said that other benefits (to long distance commuters) can only occur if there is a "significant reduction" in the residual services into Waterloo. Thus, it is highly likely that the service at Earlsfield will drop from 18tph (trains per hour) to 12tph or lower.

Earlsfield will also have fewer services to other London centres. There will probably be no through trains to Epsom and Kingston for example.

Northern branches

The Regional scheme includes two Northern branches. Documentation shows that the Alexandra Palace branch must have 20tph or more to be credible in its goal of relieving the Victoria and Piccadilly lines. This leaves just 10tph for the Lea Valley and Hackney. I suspect that many in Hackney who are supporting the scheme would be surprised that they will be getting at most one train every 6 minutes, and less outside the peak. Especially when the already well served Seven Sisters will be getting 20tph!

The proposed scheme fails in the North by trying to do two things, rather than focussing on one. As a result, it has a branch to Hackney that departs from the main branch south of Dalston, which is certainly odd. It then means that there are parallel tunnels one heading for Seven Sisters and one for Tottenham Hale, which is very wasteful. It is hard to see this passing more detailed scrutiny.

Wrong goals

A big part of the problems with the proposed scheme in the North is that they are heavily focussed on capacity relief of existing lines. This is an excessive focus in my opinion, and skews the scheme and the associated scoring.

The Victoria line is already a fast, modern metro line. As such, it is very difficult to build a parallel line that will encourage people to use the new Crossrail line as opposed to the original Victoria line they are familiar with. In fact, the only way to come close is to create a line that has very few stops. Hence Stoke Newington misses out. The proposal simply becomes a way of serving existing stations, rather than serving new areas which the Northern area actually needs.

North-South tension

The problems of the North and different to the problems of the South West. The proposed scheme does not really recognise this.

The Northern area has problems of capacity on existing lines, and serving new areas. This would be best achieved by a Metro-style solution, not a Crossrail one. The faster Metro acceleration and more frequent stops (like a tube line) would better serve the area. (And by Metro here, I don't mean the proposed Metro scheme, which fails to serve new areas).

By contrast, the South West is ideally setup for a Crossrail solution. It has large numbers of existing Network Rail lines to link into, all with existing infrastructure to reuse. The trains are already packed, and simply taking people to their desired destination would make a huge difference to tube crowding generally.

Thus, the proposed Regional scheme ends up as a weird combination. It correctly fulfils the needs of the South West, but is the wrong technology for the kind of purpose it is being used for in the North.


The proposed Crossrail 2 schemes have multiple flaws, far more than Crossrail 1 had. The over reliance on Tottenham Court Road and the lack of distribution of passengers directly to jobs are the prime concerns, but there are many others too.

Feel free to comment if you agree or disagree with the analysis!

Update: Next in the series: Crossrail 2 small changes


  1. what's all this 'midtown' stuff? never heard that expression before applied to london

    1. See . Not that I like it either...

  2. Justin Fiddlewick9 August 2013 at 02:09

    Expensive scheme with too many costly stations underground.

    Grosvenor bridge is wide. Start tunnelling north of that, with a station at Victoria, at TCR and one at Euston-Kings-Cross-Saint-Pancras, surfacing just north of Kings Cross to take up the spare space of that now-4-track and formerly-6-track formation. Stop at Finsbury Park, then another tunnel to link onto the Gospel Oak line (have a three track formation here with one reversible line for freight) and then stops at Harringay Green Lanes (dig a new Piccadilly Line station here if need be) and then via new west-north curves to Seven Sisters, Tottenham Hale and beyond. Lots of permutations possible on that theme in the north.
    In the south, Crossrail 2 ought to take up lines into Victoria, not Waterloo. There's lots of space in and around Clapham Junction for flyovers and jiggling lines around with different permutations possible.
    As for Waterloo lines - your Swanlink is the answer!

    1. Justin Fiddlewick9 August 2013 at 02:14

      and solve the Northern Line issues in the south by putting in a new station at Tooting to make the existing Tooting station into an interchange. Put a flyover in at the complex of junctions in between Tooting and Streatham. Lots of permutations here. Tooting to Blackfriars and London Bridge as at present, or can also add in East London Line as was mooted many years back.
      The fifth reversible line needs to go in between Waterloo and Surbiton too, as per the Network Rail IIP.

  3. Re Justin:
    CR2 includes the 5th track from Surbiton to just south of Wimbledon (i.e. the cheaper section to build) with the tunnel from Wimbledon north instead.
    Unless you rebuild Herne Hill with a flyover there is hardly any extra capacity for Tooting to Blackfriars services.

  4. Hi Stephen,

    Can you outline why wholesale separation on routes to Chessington, Epsom and Shepperton is the sensible option? I guess that the maintained resilience of just having one operator on the line might be a factor, but I'd be keen to know of the others.

    I'm led to believe that at the time of the CR2 consultation phase, Local Authorities had been told by NR that there was "no proposal to end Waterloo services from any station". The London Assembly report contradicted this by saying:

    “We understand that Crossrail 2 would replace some existing inner suburban routes, but the net impact for passengers at affected stations is not clear. Network Rail told the Committee that Crossrail 2 would not mean reduced services on existing routes, stating: 'there will be nothing worse than the current level of service or an increase'. We also know that in order to accommodate Crossrail 2, some stations will lose a direct Waterloo service, although Network Rail expects that most would retain a direct service.”

    My local authority are now following up the issue of Waterloo access with NR, and the local paper has talked to Steven Knight (Lib Dem AM) who addressed the issue in terms of Kingston losing Waterloo via Richmond services.

    I guess that NR's use of "most" could mean just over half the stations, or all bar a few, but by couching the service change in terms of stations and not branch lines, it doesn't look obvious that NR are planning to implement what you describe as the sensible approach of wholesale separation. Any thoughts?

    1. One reason is that it is likely that some of the branches may get converted to overhead electrification. That would make it a lot trickier to run Waterloo services as they would need to be dual voltage. I note that the electrification factor may also mean no more Dorking/Leatherhead to Waterloo services, although that is more speculative at this point.

      The simplicity and resilence aspect is a big factor. Crossrail 1 was obsessed in planning with resilience, as getting 24tph in the core is hard when linking in with NR. And CR2 is planning 30tph, which is obviously even harder.

      One possibility is that Epsom, Chessington and Twickenham via Kingston might be completely CR2 (overhead electrification). Dorking and Leatherhead routed to Victoria via Sutton. Shepperton to Waterloo via Richmond (thus no Kingston to Shepperton services). Sutton to Waterloo via Wimbledon (to serve Earlsfield).

      The above is a speculation, but it could be operated completely on its own tracks with a little work. Its too early for NR/TfL to have a final opinion publicly, although I'm certain there are a few options at the very least in peoples heads in NR/TfL's.

      While I could see Kingston retaining a Waterloo service, I find it unlikely myself that Epsom and Chessington will. I think NR's comments were more about managing politicians than being entirely likely. Metro systems in general thrive on single route single destination simplicity.

      The minimum that SW London should be campaigning for is an additional station at Green Park. That station would provide easy changes via the Jubilee for Waterloo, Southwark and London Bridge where many current Waterloo walkers travel to. Personally, I still think that a cross-platform interchange at Wimbledon is by far the best solution for rail users though if CR2 must go via Victoria (Crossrail SSW).

      I do intend to publish my full alternate proposal soon.