Saturday 25 February 2012

Rail demand growth in London

Transport for London have recently given some figures for expected growth over the next 20 years in London, and they emphasise the need for investment in transport.

At the recent GLA transport committee, Geoff Hobbs, Head of Strategy, London Rail, TfL, was asked about various issues, including growth. The committee is a question and answer session, which I've tried to transcribe key sections of. See the Webcast at 1hr 51.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about projected passenger numbers in the next 5 years?

A: What we've observed during the recession is a small decline in 2009 and then some really quite substantial increases during 2010 and 2011, and in the world of railways the recession has not bitten at all. We anticipate that to continue growing.

To pick the next 20 years to put it in the long-run context first, we've got growth in employment and population in the London Plan of roundly 14%, and we anticipate railway growth - rail, National Rail - of roundly 40 to 50%. There's a spuriously accurate number of around 43% if I remember rightly. Its much greater than the growth in employment and population because the sorts of places where the growth is occurring, in London Plan jargon "opportunity areas", often tend to be very close to where railways are. You see round here, More London, the Shard, Paddington, Stratford, all the major stations, Liverpool Street, Kings Cross - full of big new buildings where the growth in employment is happening. And in contrast, the sort of places where population is growing, are journeys well made by rail. Thats why we see that dichotomy.

To take the short run view through the next 10 years, then its about half that, 20% if I remember rightly.

To emphasise that, the official estimate is that capacity on rail (possibly including the tube, its unclear) needs to be increased by 40 to 50% in the next 20 years, with the calculated single figure quoted as 43%. This is a massive rise, and fits with an indirectly obtained figure of a 70% increase in total transport capacity in 20 years.

Now, Crossrail is intended to add 10% to the total capacity of rail in London, and Thameslink probably adds another 4 or 5%. So 15 units out of the 43 are already accounted for there. Longer trains out of various stations account for more, but there will still be a gap the size of another 1 or 2 crossrails. Here is how TfL might address some of that demand growth:

Q: Are those figure leading TfL in the direction of improvements that are needed?

A: Very much so. Working closely with National Rail we did a lot of work on the London and South East RUS (Route Utilization Strategy). That's an important document because it has some status in the world of planning, it gets adopted by the Office of Rail Regulation and its the document that feeds into the Government strategic rail planning process, which cumulates in something called the HLOS (High Level Output Statement) in July this year. And that's the process where the Secretary of State for Transport decides how much she wants to spend on National Rail for the 5 years ending 2019.

For that reason, we put a lot of effort into getting a good evidence base, using computer models to describe how much demand we expect to increase and exactly where, to see what the impacts are against a do minimum case. Now, "do minimum" in this instance is actually "do quite a lot", because it includes things like Crossrail and Thameslink and a whole range of other projects that are coming to fruition right now, but they don't solve every known capacity problem. So, we've come up with a range of other projects on some of the other railways around London that will complement some of the big projects that you see extant on site right now.

Q: What can we look forward to?

A: The question isn't related to whether TfL takes over franchises. This is something TfL would want to take forward anyway even if nothing changes in the world of franchising through the Government railway strategic planning process. What we have recommended, and what is in the London and South East RUS and the Initial Industry Plan are the following projects. Number 1, we'd like to see an increase in capacity on the London Overground, longer trains and electrification of Barking to Gospel Oak. Number 2, we'd like to see a big increase in capacity up the upper Lea Valley, which is the bit between Stratford, Tottenham and further north to places like Brimsdown and Ponders End. Number 4 [sic], we think there will be a need for additional capacity on the line out of Waterloo, the South Western sector, particularly towards Richmond, Twickenham and Staines.

And then there is a range of "making the most of what we've got" type projects, more longer trains on the rout out of Fenchurch Street, out of Victoria towards Bromley, and out of Victoria and London Bridge towards Croydon and further south. Thats it in summary, so we've got a range of projects there.

National Rail: In addition there are all the major station schemes too. In Control Period 4 it tended to get overlooked in the process a little bit, but we're in strong agreement of the kinds of capacity schemes we need as well, Fenchurch Street, Waterloo, but also some of the non central stations, Wimbledon, places like that. So, we're pushing for capacity enhancements at stations like that to enable them to cope with the kind of demand we're talking about.

Q: More ticket gates? More staffing?

More ticket gates would definitely be part of it. You see at Victoria for example, if you get two trains arriving at adjacent platforms you get a big bundle, and some of these things are relatively simple, manual gates that can be turned into the wide aisle gates, some of them need changing retail, moving them around so you don't get blockages. And thats something Network Rail are doing right now at Waterloo for example and you'll see other stations having similar works of that nature.

Congestion at stations is always very peculiar and specific to a location. Lots of small individual actions, moving a telephone booth here, adding an extra ticket gate there, these sorts of things not huge in their own right but can make a big difference. Small changes in layout make big differences in crowding.

I note the explicit drawing out of the Richmond/Twickenham/Staines route I discussed in my last blog and also with Swanlink.

Crossrail 2 is also mentioned in the context of HS2 (although reading the growth projections, its probably needed separately from HS2).

Q: I am quite concerned about the amount of capacity on underground and buses when HS2 hits Euston. And there doesn't seem to be any money, and planning available for that?

Its fair to say that we are too. The point we've made at Euston is, the two places where people go most often having arrived at Euston are southbound towards Bank on the northern line, and southbound towards Oxford Circus on the Victoria line, and they are two very, very busy London Underground lines.

Now, there are various things one can do to mitigate the impact, that get harder to do as HS2 gets bigger in various phases. So, the bit to the West Midlands, the solutions are not too massive, but by the time its stretched all the way up to Yorkshire and Scotland, life gets very tricky indeed. The sorts of things that we would want to see done, and the sorts of things that are now beginning to be reflected in the thoughts of HS2 Ltd, are number 1, lots of works to Euston underground station itself, which is really busy right now.

It is over capacity right now. For those of you with an interest in obscure facts, it is the only underground station that you can only get into through another station. Which means that if you want to get out of Euston you have to go through the concourse of Euston National Rail station, which just leads to more congestion.

Number 2, direct access to Euston Square, because the sub-surface lines will have a lot more capacity in the future courtesy of the upgrade. Number 3, there are things you can do to the northern line to upgrade it further.
Old Oak Common is a big part of the solution, and making the interchange a big part of the solution, and making that interchange as good as possible, as opposed to an enormous hike.
It would be extraordinary indeed if one saves 20 minutes on one's journey from Birmingham if one spends 20 minutes getting out of Euston.

At the end of the day, when HS2 grows to its full extent as planned by Government, we think that there will need to be much more thorough interventions, and what we have in mind by that elliptical language is Crossrail 2. And we've put forward ideas for how that could be made to grow in a staged way so that the cost isn't too enormous all at one time, and that could make a big, big difference. If you built the station between Euston and Kings Cross then thats the obvious place to put it, and run the route through there. We've been looking at the various different routes. North east to south west looks like the most pressured corridor, so we would continue a route something like that.
Its by no means an easy build, and there is an enormous amount of work to do. Happily for at least HS2's eventual to Yorkshire and Newcastle and beyond, we've got a bit of time on our side. Not huge amounts, but a bit of time, and we can work out precisely what the best solution is. And there is a solution, its just not an easy one.

I note how TfL emphasises the importance of a good interchange at Old Oak Common, something that I think is vital. Perhaps those in Birmingham might learn the lesson?


Growth of 40 to 50% in the rail capacity of London is required in the next 20 years, and 70% in total transport capacity. That figure is massive, and emphasises that big money is going to continue to need to be spent in London on transport, even after Crossrail and Thameslink finish in 2018/9.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Richmond Crossing - Improving the Windsor lines

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.

Richmond crossing

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!

Tuesday 14 February 2012

A four track HS2?

The current HS2 proposal (phase 1) is for a new 2 track railway from Lichfield and Birmingham to London. What would be the impact of building the new line as 4 tracks?

A four track HS2?

HS2 is currently designed as a 2 track railway from London to the Midlands and the North. Current plans for services show 18tph (trains per hour) on the first London to east Birmingham section, a level which many rail experts consider to be difficult to achieve.

Widening the railway to 4 tracks between London and the junction east of Birmingham would clearly provide a greater number of train paths, allowing 36tph based on the current plans. However, with twice as many tracks to spread over, it would be more reasonable to plan for slightly less, say 32tph, in order to provide more resilience in the event of disruption.

There would seem to be a variety of options with real benefits that the paths could be used for.

Heathrow. Phase 2 of HS2 is supposed to include a direct link to Heathrow airport. The problem is that there is no spare capacity (in tph) to actually provide any through trains! With a 4 track HS2, there could be 4tph to east Birmingham, with those services continuing once per hour to each of Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham. This approach would make even more sense if the Heathrow line actually continued to somewhere on the South West or South of London.

Europe. The desire for through services to Paris and Brussels is undoubtedly there, but the 18tph limit of 2 tracks does not allow these through services in the peak without compromising services elsewhere. A 4 track HS2 would provide enough paths for at least 2ph direct from the continent.

Aylesbury. A link could be built from the HS2 line to the existing line at Aylesbury. This would solve a key problem HS2 faces in that it currently passes through the Chilterns without providing any benefits to local residents. A 4 track HS2 together with a new junction would allow a fast commuter service to Aylesbury. Potentially, this could run through to Kent on HS1 and on to Milton Keynes via the reopened route to Bletchley.

Warwick area. A link could be built to connect the HS2 line to the existing line to Leamington Spa, allowing through London services to Warwick, Coventry and Solihull. Again, this service might run through from Kent.

Towns in the North. The additional trains-per-hour capacity would also permit through services to destinations HS2 currently intends to miss out, including Stoke-on-Trent, Derby, Blackpool and North Wales.

Oxford area. A north-facing link could be built to connect the HS2 line to the existing line north of Banbury, allowing through services from Manchester and Leeds to Oxford, Swindon, Bath and Bristol. This link is one of the most important missing elements of the current plans, as current HS2 plans make journeys from Oxford and Banbury to Manchester and Leeds significantly worse as existing Oxford services serve Birmingham New Street, but the new HS2 services to Manchester and Leeds go from Curzon Street. This connection also spreads the benefit of HS2 over more of the country, making the spending fairer to the South West.

But what about the London terminals?

Clearly it is not possible to almost double the amount of trains on the line without addressing where they might go in London. However, a careful reading of the above indicates that most services could be routed to Heathrow or Kent, avoiding terminating in London. For the remaining services it may be necessary to terminate at Old Oak Common.

But what about the cost?

Well undoubtedly building HS2 with 4 tracks is more expensive than building with 2 tracks. And there is extra cost in the additional junctions. But the relative cost compared to building a second high speed line to the North (something which is talked about in railway circles) is much lower. The benefits of greater integration with the existing rail network is also a huge factor.

But what about the land used?

Building 4 tracks rather than 2 tracks will be a relatively minor change to the land take of the project. Cuttings and viaducts would be twice as wide in terms of the track itself, but the width of the slope of the cutting/embankment would need no more width. The main pain would be the tunnels, which would generate twice as much spoil.

Is it a good idea?

Ultimately, HS2 is a political decision. While I have grave doubts about the HS2 approach to new lines in general, I'm also trying to ensure that HS2 is the best it can be if it does go ahead. Making it a 4 track railway to east Birmingham would have clear benefits. So, in my opinion it is definitely a good idea and improves markedly on the current scheme.

But those benefits can only be realised if 4 tracks is built from the start. Once constructed, it is likely that Old Oak Common will be unable to be expanded (as there will be a large development built on top). As such, the argument for 4 tracks must be discussed sooner rather than later.