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Railwatch 086 - November 2000

Railwatch - Difficult choices for London

By Roger Blake

Dennis Fancett's views in Railwatch 84 on the extended East London Line - the capital's next new rail development project - omitted a number of important elements, and was therefore misleading.

London Underground's current application for powers to build southern links at New Cross Gate and between Surrey Quays and Queen's Road Peckham is prescriptive only for the physical infrastructure, not the services that will run over it or their destinations.

LUL's original aspiration to use services to and from East Croydon to help make the necessary business case for the project has had to be tempered by the practical reality that, within the project's five-year delivery time scale, there is unlikely to be sufficient spare or extra capacity there to turn the desired level of train service. This does not mean East Croydon is forever excluded; far from it.

It has been widely acknowledged for some time by all the public authorities in the ELLX rail planning process that services through, not just to and from, East Croydon are a desirable and feasible development from the core project. West Croydon with its bay platform has the capacity that, for the time being, East Croydon lacks, and still has a robust business case, meaning more than enough passengers would use it.

The reality is that "the demand for people travelling from Highbury, Dalston, Whitechapel or Shadwell to say Gatwick or Brighton" is unlikely to be significant in the context of the overall ELLX project and therefore make a material difference to the enforced choice, for the time being, of West rather than East Croydon. I'm sure Railtrack, Connex and Thameslink would be interested in Dennis's costed method statement for inserting new island platforms at Brockley!

London Underground - to be within Transport for London in around only six months' time now - are as committed to integrated transport as anyone. That's why they've kept a significant interchange in Croydon, and added Crystal Palace, with potentially several spare platforms for reversing trains. In the north, they've also added Finsbury Park and indicated extending beyond Highbury and Islington (via a reopened Primrose Hill) to Queen's Park and Willesden Junction (Low Level, again with spare platforms for turning trains back as well as being a major interchange.

The current low profile being given to the yet further integration opportunity of a link round to Clapham Junction, via a new Brixton high level station, is only because of lack of capacity at least until for example the completion of CTRL to St Pancras frees up paths now occupied by Eurostar.

And even all that's not everything! The extensions of the East London line are about more than just transport interchanges. They're also about making the links with urban development, employment, social inclusion, and regeneration.

Those agendas, as well as all the familiar and well-rehearsed transport arguments, are what drive this project forward to a likely start next financial year.

Integrated transport is about much more than just interchanges, important as they are.

Roger Blake is an RDS member and Principal Planner in Hackney Council's Traffic and Transportation Team.

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