A Look At The Future Of London's Transport

Harry Rosehill
By Harry Rosehill Last edited 33 months ago
A Look At The Future Of London's Transport

As London evolves, so too must its transport network. A cavalcade of tubes, trains, buses and trams, have grown and shrunk to fit London's ever-changing transportation needs over the past 150 years. There are always plans and ideas to improve transport in London even further. The extension of a line here, a new station there...

Here, we've rounded up all of TfL's current plans and rated how likely they each are to come to fruition.

Tunnel boring machines on the Northern line extension. Source: TfL

Northern line extension and split

Let's kick things off with an easy one. The Northern line is heading to Battersea — no ifs, no buts. Digging on the tunnels finished in November 2017, and that means this is 100% happening. It's aiming for an opening date of late 2020, although that is in jeopardy because the Crossrail delay means some of those working on that project may move on to this one later than planned.

However, there is an addendum to the project that could come later, an extension to the extension. The line could continue past Battersea and onto Clapham Junction. The likelihood of this happening depends on Crossrail 2 (which we'll get to later on). If Crossrail 2 happens, then this project is in with a chance, but if not, TfL fears that it would cause overcrowding on the Northern line. It's contingent on another project, and even then isn't a sure thing, so let's put it at 20%.

Northern line extension to Battersea. Image: TfL

Finally there's one other rework that this Battersea situation might lead to; the splitting of the Northern line. It's long been a dream of TfL's to split the Northern line into two distinct lines, we've reported on the possibility for the past 10 years.

A split of the Northern line needs two stations to be refitted to make work. One, Kennington, is being taken care of thanks to the current Battersea extension. The other, is the more problematic Camden Town, a massive bottleneck of commuters where the station entrance frequently shuts due to overcrowding. Even without splitting the Northern line, this station needs an upgrade.

TfL's current plans claim that work on building a new entrance, new escalators and providing step free access, could start in 2021. However TfL is yet to apply for permission to do the necessary work, so there's plenty of time for things to go wrong. Taking all that into account, there's a 65% chance of the Northern line splitting*.

*Admittedly this one is more a case of when instead of if, so that percentage pertains to the chance of it happening within the next 15 years — this project moves at a snail's pace.

Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham and beyond

The Bakerloo line Extension

The Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham, via Old Kent Road, recently appeared back in the news thanks to a joint campaign from Southwark and Lewisham councils. Back the Bakerloo wants to get the whole of London supporting the Bakerloo line extension. That this is necessary, even though TfL and the mayor support the extension, proves that the extension is by no means guaranteed.

This is another project which could suffer due to Crossrail's failure to launch on time. By TfL's own budgeting, the delay to Crossrail will start to hurt its bank account in 2021, where it suddenly has a £300 million hole, which was supposed to come from Crossrail profits. TfL wants to start construction by 2023 on the Bakerloo extension, so money would need to be spent in 2021 on preparatory works, and it's currently unclear where said cash will come from.

The Bakerloo line extension needs cash from central government to go ahead. This is a tricky proposition, Sadiq Khan and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling famously have an abysmal relationship. However, the extension makes a lot of sense for all involved. Back the Bakerloo argues that the extension will create 1000s of new jobs and homes, which is an enticing idea to most. It's also worth noting that the government in 2023 might not be the same as it currently is, and similarly, London could have a new mayor with different priorities.

There's uncertainty and many contingencies at play for this extension. However, there is a lot of support for the project, so we rate its chances at about 75% — although the idea that the service will be up and running by 2028 or 2029 looks optimistic.

Planned phases of the extension. Image: Back the Bakerloo

Again there's a possible extension to the extension, going beyond Lewisham and down to Hayes. This project is way in the distance, sitting pretty beyond the horizon. Don't expect any movement on this front until if and when the first phase of the extension opens. We'll eat a roundel shaped hat if anyone can ride a tube train to Hayes before 2033. Beyond that, it's possible. We give this one a 25% chance of going ahead.

Crossrail extension to Ebbsfleet, Kent

Despite it not having opened yet, and running well behind schedule, there are plans for a Crossrail extension to run from Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet.

The route of the proposed extension into Kent

This plan is in its nascent stages, but is another one that the mayor stands behind (but doesn't want to fund). According to the Mayor's Transport Strategy, the extension could support 55,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs along the route. The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission calls this extension a top priority in its government report — but considering that group's name, that's perhaps unsurprising.

Again there's that central question of money — this is another project that needs central government funding to succeed, as TfL is wary on spending cash on projects significantly outside of London. The government is said to be warm to the idea, especially as it could connect Crossrail's network to HS1 destinations in Kent.

The Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission argues that this project should aim for completion by 2029. That report predates the announced delay for Crossrail, which will likely have a knock on effect, so don't expect to see Crossrail in Kent before 2030 at the earliest. Still, the early signs look good for this extension. We put it at 60% chance of going ahead.

Crossrail 2

Even before the announced delay to the original Crossrail, fears were mounting about Crossrail 2. Predictably, these fears centred on budget — with a side of annoyance stemming from Chelsea not wanting a station.

Proposed route of Crossrail 2. Click to enlarge

In September 2018, we asked TfL if the delay in Crossrail will affect its successor:

Crossrail and Crossrail 2 are two separate projects. We are working closely with the DfT to further develop Crossrail 2 which is an essential part of the Mayor's Transport Strategy. An Independent Affordability Review has recently been considering ways to make the scheme more affordable. Following submission of its interim report to the Mayor and the Secretary of State, we await a decision on next steps which will allow us to submit a Hybrid Bill in 2021 and begin construction by the mid-2020s.

Two things are clear from that statement. TfL wants to distance Crossrail 1 and 2 from each other, believing the successes of the projects aren't interdependent. Also obvious is that TfL wants to cut the projects' current costs — yes, this is a recurring theme for all future transport projects.

Whatever the final cost will be, we expect work on Crossrail 2 to eventually go ahead, so put its likelihood at starting construction by 2030 at 80%.

Old Oak Common

Old Oak Common isn't an area that's on a lot of Londoners' radars. That's all to change in a few years — it's set to become a massive transport hub in west London. Arguably this and the surrounding Park Royal is the site of London's most ambitious regeneration project since the Olympics. Like that project, there's a development corporation in place to get it complete.

A new station at Old Oak Common — well, more than one — will link up to the Elizabeth line, Great Western trains, HS2, the North London line on the Overground and potentially a future West London Orbital part of the Overground (you'll meet that beast below).

How's it going to work? Well, there's going to be two London Overground stations, one called Old Oak Common Lane (with trains heading to Richmond) and another named Hythe Road (with trains heading to Clapham Junction). Then there'd be a big Old Oak Common station for the Elizabeth line, Great Western and HS2.

TfL wants this to happen badly. Without Old Oak Common, HS2 dumping off trainloads of passengers from the Midlands would put immense pressure on the Victoria and Northern lines at Euston. 25,000 new homes and 65,000 new jobs are at stake as well, so the chances for this are strong. This whole redevelopment of the area could end up costing more than £10 billion, but even that doesn't seem to be slowing this thing down.

At that cost, nothing is guaranteed, but there's so much riding on this its chances are strong — especially as central government and TfL are working in tandem. We'll wait and see about the planned 2026 opening but we think it's 85% likely to go ahead at some time.

DLR to Thamesmead

Londoners in east London have long bemoaned the lack of river crossings where they live, especially considering the bountiful number of bridges on the west side of the city. Since 1937 we count five failed proposals to build some form of crossing at Gallions Reach, all of them aimed at cars. Considering that they went nowhere, this upcoming sixth proposal has taken a different tack. Instead of a bridge for cars — the Silvertown Tunnel can handle them — a bridge for the DLR is proposed.

Potential future river crossings in east London

Sadiq Khan wants to bring the DLR to Thamesmead, because of the area's poor transport connections — even taking into consideration the upcoming addition of Crossrail to Abbey Wood. Proponents of this DLR extension — which would be the service's seventh in its 29 year history — claim it would support 17,000 new homes across the boroughs of Newham and Greenwich.

There's a lot of backing for the project, but it isn't the only option for improving the area's transport links. There's also the possibility of building an extension to the Overground's GOBLIN (Gospel Oak to Barking line). That branch is currently extending to Barking Riverside, but this extension could continue on, over the river, to Abbey Wood.

These two projects are currently being talked about in an either-or situation. We think a DLR extension has the edge; it's the preferred route of developers Peabody who want to pour so much money into the area (roughly £4 billion). Also Barking Riverside, isn't due to open until 2021, so talk of extending that line again seems a little premature.

However, crossings at Gallions Reach come with masses of history of falling through, so never say never. We put this at 50% chance of happening.

London Overground

Image: Shutterstock

There are a couple of potential changes to the London Overground on the road ahead, so let's break them down one by one.

First is the aforementioned Barking Riverside extension — intriguingly this was originally a proposed DLR extension, before switching its allegiance to orange — which was looking like a sure thing. Demolition work needed took place, and construction was expected to start in late 2018. However... things aren't looking quite so peachy anymore.

The design tender process was five months late. And then, thanks to Carillion's collapse another two months were added on. It isn't all doom and gloom just yet, especially since £172 million of funding was secured from developer London and Quarter.

Still, we're not totally confident of the station opening in 2021. As there are so many new homes tied into this — 10,800 — which is a priority for the mayor, we think this will still happen even if it is late. 80%.

Then there's the extension to this extension down to Abbey Wood, potentially via a station at Thamesmead. This route is playing catch up on the Gallions Reach DLR plans, which as the developer's favourite, might be easier to raise funding for. However, a link to Barking might actually be more useful to the residents of Thamesmead than one to Beckton and Poplar. It's on the District line, c2c and Hammersmith & City. Furthermore linking the GOBLIN up to the Elizabeth line might prove an enticing opportunity for TfL.

Despite all this, money talks, so the DLR has the edge. The chances of the Overground in south east London are 25%.

The proposed route of the West London Orbital

Finally there's a proposed West London orbital branch to the Overground. This would start at West Hampstead, go via Cricklewood, Gladstone Park and/or Neasden then onto Harlesden, and Old Oak Common before joining up with the existing Overground at Acton Central. However it only follows that traditional route for one more stop, South Acton, before branching off again and heading to Hounslow via Lionel Road, Brentford, Syon Lane and Isleworth.

If that wasn't enough there are plans for a phase 2, going from Hendon to Kew Bridge. The proposed route starts at Hendon, goes via Brent Cross/Staples Corner, Neasden, Harlesden, Old Oak Common, Acton Central, South Acton before finishing at Kew Bridge.

The thing that makes this line feasible is that there's already an existing railway line running from Acton to Cricklewood — the Dudding Hill line. It's currently a little-used freight line and hasn't seen regular passenger service in over a century.

The existence of this old line, although it needs substantial upgrades — electrification and signalling, are the main ones — reduces costs dramatically. That helps its chances. The noise coming out of west London sounds positivity for the plans, and apparently the West London Economic Prosperity Board thinks this could be operational by the mid 2020s. TfL doesn't seem to be quite so gung ho about the project, and still wants to investigate its feasibility. For now this is at 40%.

Click here for bigger image.

Finally there's the possibility of the Overground taking over many of London's suburban rail routes. TfL and the mayor in particular would love to make the above image a reality, as would many commuters on those lines, who've put up with years of worsening service and rising fares.

However, the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, is against it, and the relationship between he and Khan is dire. We've previously covered this in more depth, but it's highly unlikely we'll see this come to fruition with the current government in power. So it comes down to a change in central government, something that's punishing to predict — talk to the pollsters about the problems they've been having at the past few elections.

If Jeremy Corbyn is the next prime minister, then railways will be renationalised. These might not be the first, but they will be on the agenda. If a different Conservative government comes into power, then this is still a possibility — remember, Boris Johnson was in favour of the project when he was mayor.

Cash will be an issue, but TfL has put aside £20 million for the possibility of this happening one day. That isn't nearly enough to take over these routes, but it's a start.

Right now, this is impossible, but if the rail operating companies continue to anger their customers, then people won't stop talking about it, which keeps the idea bubbling away. We put it at 30%.

Trams to Sutton

Photo: Andrew Smith

Chatter about extending the trams in south London is nothing new, but things seem a tad more concrete right now. The idea is to have a new tram line from South Wimbledon down to Sutton Road, crossing over the existing trams network at Morden Road. (Interestingly this project killed any chance of the Northern line being extended south beyond Morden).

File this under the long list of things TfL wants to do, but doesn't currently have the cash to do. Funding is needed from the local area, which probably means Merton and Sutton councils, although we doubt they have much spare change lying around either. TfL has committed £70 million and the boroughs £30 million, however that still leaves a large gap to the estimated £330 million for the project to go forward.

10,000 new homes is the upswing of all this however, and new jobs on top of that too. There are then further plans to extend the line — yes this list has a lot of extensions to extensions (we like to refer to them as extensions squared) — down to Royal Marsden Hospital.

There are ways to make up the cash shortfall, like a Development Rights Auction Model — where TfL builds up large plots of land around transport hubs before selling them off and getting a share of the profits. That's probably this project's best hope. Even with that 2025 looks a bit too soon, so 50%.

Croxley Rail Link

A TfL produced map from 2013, showing what the tube map could look like in 2021. Notice the Croxley Rail Link in the top left hand corner.

Poor, poor Watford. The Croxley Rail Link was touted for years as a way to finally connect Watford town centre to the Metropolitan line, before other projects came along from seemingly nowhere and overtook it on TfL's priority list. The project got government approval back in 2011, and handed everything over to TfL in 2015. Back then things looked rosy, until problems started to emerge.

Funding is where the trouble lay. TfL thought Herts County Council's original estimate £115 million was far too modest, and came up with an even more substantial sum of at least £280 million, and possibly £350 million. These numbers meant that someone would have to stump up the extra cash, which TfL was reluctant to do, feeling that the benefits of this extension were for those in Watford rather than London.

There were also political issues. Former mayor Boris Johnson approved the extension, but when Sadiq Khan took over, he was less convinced of its necessity. There's no mention of the extension in the Mayor's 2018 Transport Strategy document.

For now, this is dead. We won't rule it out entirely, considering the project has government approval. If the missing cash were to suddenly appear — magic money tree, anyone? — it could get back on track. Therefore it's at 5%.

Anything else we should have included? Or is there something you disagree with? Tell us about it down in the comments. Remember, we've purposefully only covered extensions/changes to TfL's train/tube services (sorry buses). Also note: some things we left out because they're a bit pie in the sky — Slough, we love you, but you're not getting a Piccadilly line extension.

Last Updated 01 October 2018

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