A morning in the Londonist office isn't complete without one of us messaging in to say our train's running late or we've been left behind because the train was full. Or it was the wrong kind of sunlight. Several of us, you see, rely on Southeastern and Southern trains. We look enviously at our Peckham-based colleagues who are able to slip onto the air-conditioned Overground and glide effortlessly into work.
There's been talk for years of giving Transport for London (TfL) control of some of south London's rail services and turning them into Overground lines. It's worked a well-documented miracle on services elsewhere: the Overground is one of the most popular rail operators in the country. But where lines in other parts of the capital are contained roughly within the city borders, south London's extend further out, and that's what's been putting the brakes on.
A new report from Centre for London has had enough of the quibbling, however, and looks at what could practically be done to — in the words of its title — Turn South London Orange. It'd cost money — more than Thameslink, less than Crossrail, they think. Signalling and control systems would need upgrading, some sections of track would need altering (e.g. replacing junctions with flyovers), platform management would need improving as well as better designed rolling stock. Engineering company Thales calculates that these upgrades could deliver up to six trains per hour during peak times, combining into Victoria or London Bridge for 14-18 trains per hour.
Stations would be nicer, and staffed from first to last trains. There's potential for 100-130% increase in capacity by 2050. Improving rail services attracts people to it — as has been seen with the Overground elsewhere — which could ease overcrowding on south London's minimal tube service and stuffed buses, as well as the actual trains. We could expect better accessibility. It sounds like paradise.
One major stumbling block is what happens about those aforementioned services that run beyond London's boundaries. Surrey and Kent councils have indicated they're fine with TfL taking over the services within London — the metro lines — as franchises expire, but not those that go beyond. The report says that such a scenario would limit the Overground's transforming powers; there'd be capacity limits at pinch points and different operating companies sharing lines would obviously not be able to benefit from one overarching train management system. One suggested way round this is to merge all services into one concession jointly run by TfL and the local county councils.
The only drawback we can think of to all this new Overground is that it will make the tube map even more incomprehensibly orange than it is already. It's a problem we reckon we could live with.
There are also likely benefits around job creation and opportunities for new housing. However, we think we speak for everyone in south London when we say they would be lovely extras but we just want the Overground. ASAP, please.