Thamesmead: Why No Train Station, And Is That DLR Extension Happening?

Thamesmead: Why No Train Station, And Is That DLR Extension Happening?
Swans on a lake in front of four brutalist towers
Image: M@/Londonist

When it welcomed its first residents in 1969, the Thamesmead Estate was touted the "town of tomorrow" — a fresh utopia sprung from the dank Erith and Plumstead marshlands. But the dream soured faster than a pint of milk in a heatwave, and Thamesmead was outcast as a concrete pariah. It didn't help that rail links were so awful/non existent. So why exactly doesn't Thamesmead have a train station? And is it ever going to get one?

Was Thamesmead ever supposed to have a train station?

A tube driver drives the train on the Jubilee line
The Jubilee line was supposed to have gone through Thamesmead, but it never happened. Image: Londonist

It was, yes. In fact, it was potentially going to have THREE.

As Jago Hazzard explains in the video below, had history taken a different course, we might have had a Jubilee line that called at: Thamesmead West, Thamesmead Central AND Thamesmead East. Sadly for Thamesmedians, it was not to be. So what happened?

Even as the first stretch of Jubilee line (working title: the Fleet line) was being constructed, plans were brewing to capitalise on the regeneration of the Docklands by extending into southeast London. Initially, the Fleet Line Extension plan suggested heading to Lewisham via Surrey Quays and New Cross. Then, in 1973, this 'Phase 3' was tweaked to swerve further east, and call at Thamesmead. In 1980 the Thamesmead version of Phase 3 got the green light.

Then — partly due to the Tory government's reluctance to fork out on public transport, partly because the DLR was now in the works — the Jubilee line extension was spiked. Thamesmead's marshy disposition had made it tricky for engineering tunnels, anyway. Painfully for Thamesmead, the DLR ended up passing through the likes of Beckton and Woolwich — which had also been mooted for the Jubilee extension — but then snubbed Thamesmead itself.

In 2004, Thamesmead got its hopes up again, when the Thames Gateway Bridge was announced — an elegant span that would have linked Beckton in the north to Thamesmead in the south, and incorporated a DLR line. But in 2008, then-Mayor of London Boris Johnson scrapped the project, presumably because it wasn't as arboreally pointless as the Garden Bridge.

A long white bridge spanning the Thames
The Thames Gateway Bridge, another nixed rail link to Thamesmead. Image: Adams Hendry

In fact, Thamesmead's transport links were being rebuffed even before the estate existed; as far back as 1967, the Greater London Council (GLC) had suggested nixing Plumstead station and replacing it with one nearer to Thamesmead. But that idea never saw the light, either; it didn't help that motorways were the flavour of the moment, and that the 1963 Beeching report had just suggested slashing 2,363 stations across the country.

As the British Journal of Photography writes, the overall ambitions of the Thamesmead Estate were dampened by spiralling construction costs, and then, in 1986, the abolition of the GLC. Ultimately, Thamesmead suffered from a perfect storm of bad timing, poor physical foundations, a lack of willingness to invest and, in general, broken promises.

Is Thamesmead ever getting a train station?

Two women dance in the afternoon sun at a fete in front of the brutalist towers of Thamesmead
Image: Thamesmead Festival

There's no doubt that Thamesmead's unfairly iffy reputation has been stoked by its lack of trains. But things are changing in this neck of the woods. Neighbouring Abbey Wood will only grow in desirability, now that it's served served by the Elizabeth line. Across the river from Thamesmead, the ambitious Barking Riverside project — new Overground station and all — has taken shape

Indeed, in 2014 Thamesmead locals drew up a petition demanding that this Barking Riverside extension be stretched out further to incorporate Thamesmead. This made a lot of sense, especially as part of a route that joined up Barking Riverside with Abbey Wood. With numbing inevitability, the proposal was considered, but ultimately dismissed.

This map shows the proposed DLR extension to Beckton Riverside and Thamemead. Image: TfL

So when IS it going to be Thamesmead's turn to get a train station? Soon. Ish. Hopefully. Maybe. Not thanks to the Overground or Jubilee line — but the DLR. In December 2020, TfL announced it was looking into the feasibility of extending of the DLR to new stations at Beckton Riverside and Thamesmead.

And as of now (summer 2022), the plan is still to build that extension. TfL tells us that it plans to commence work on between 2026-2030, "subject to funding and planning approvals". And so finally, in the early 2030s, Thamesmead may finally, FINALLY get the train station it deserves.

The marshy area of Thamesmead by a brown looking Thames - as seen from above
Peabody has announced plans for an £8bn new waterfront neighbourhood. Image: Peabody

Why should we think this time will be any different? For one thing, Thamesmead's reputation is quickly changing. Its image as 'that grim place from A Clockwork Orange' is making way for a somewhere that an artistic community, home to Lakeside Centre Thamesmead, and the Thamesmead Festival. Importantly, Peabody — the housing association which owns much of Thamesmead — has announced plans for an £8bn new waterfront neighbourhood: Thamesmead Waterfront.

A development like that demands a train station. But given its history of being given empty promises — and given TfL's chronic funding issues — we'll forgive Thamesmead for not holding its breath.

Last Updated 28 June 2022

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