The Future Of London Transport... From 1988

By M@ Last edited 20 months ago
The Future Of London Transport... From 1988
Proposed transport links from 1988. Each is described in the text below.

"By the year 2000, people may be driving along a tunnel on the bed of the Thames or on toll roads equipped with computers that automatically log the identity of the car and send out monthly bills to its owner."

So predicted an article on the future of London's transport, published in the 1 October 1988 edition of the Illustrated London News. We never got the subaquatic road, but number-plate recognition is a familiar part of 21st century driving, used in the Congestion Zone and Dartford Crossing, for example.

What else did the article predict? Which ideas were taken forward and which never saw the light of day? Let's take a look at the 20 proposals mentioned in the article. Remember, these were written in 1988, looking ahead to the early 21st century.

1. A rail link between Heathrow and Paddington

Did it happen? Yes, but after a delay. The article suggests that the route could be open by 1993. Construction of the Heathrow Express, as it came to be called, only began in 1993. It finally opened in 1998, a decade after this article. The predicted journey time was 17 minutes — pretty close to the 15 minutes advertised by Heathrow Express today.

2. A new tube from Shepherd's Bush to Turnham Green will divert Heathrow trains onto the Central line, while Central line trains from Ealing Broadway will be diverted onto the Bakerloo line

Did it happen? No. You can't catch a Central line train to Heathrow, nor can you get the Bakerloo line to Ealing.

3. A motorway to run from Shepherd's Bush to the river

Did it happen? No. The idea started off in the 1960s, when planners suggested an inner orbital motorway around London. Very little was actually built. One exception was a pathetic bit of motorway known as the M41, which connected the Westway and Shepherd's Bush. It was only half a mile long. The next phase would have seen it extended down to the river, on carriageways that would have peeled either side of Olympia. The scheme — known bafflingly as the Western Environmental Improvement Route — would have been immensely destructive. At an estimated cost of £200 million, it would also have been Britain's most expensive road. The plan was finally dropped in 1991. The existing bit of M41 was downgraded to an A-road in 2000, and is now the A3220 West Cross Route. A comically written background to the aborted motorway can be found here.

4. Split the Northern line in two, and extend it to Streatham or Peckham

Did it happen? No. Plans to disentangle the Northern line into two separate lines have been around for ages. It's all due to the bottleneck at Camden Town. Remove this crossover, and train frequencies could be increased. At the time of the article, this decoupling was described as 'almost certain to happen'. Not any time soon, it wasn't.

TfL is still intent on unbolting the two at some point in the next decade — a plan that would need major reconfigurations at Camden Town and Kennington.

The bonus branch to Streatham or Peckham never got started. The estimated £250 million price tag was too much to stomach at the time. Ian Visits has a more detailed history of this proposal.

5. King's Cross and St Pancras to become a hub of international travel

Did it happen? Kind of. Even in 1988, planners were keen to route the Channel Tunnel link through to these northern stations, after an initial period at Waterloo. That happened. The article also envisages Stansted airport trains shifting from Liverpool Street to King's Cross, and also bringing trains here from Heathrow (Luton and Gatwick were already connected via the Thameslink). None of that happened.

6. Toll roads to link northern districts to King's Cross

Did it happen? No. The roads to the north of London were a right old mess in the 1980s. One solution was to build a series of wider roads and charge for their use, like in the good old days of turnpikes. The scheme was never popular, and was soon dropped. Ken Livingstone's Congestion Charge, introduced in 2003, was the nearest equivalent.

7. DLR extensions to Beckton and Lewisham

Did it happen? Yes! To boost development in the Royal Docks, better rail links were needed. They soon got built. The Beckton link opened in 1994 and the Lewisham extension arrived in 1999 (around the same time that the Jubilee line extension further boosted transport in this area).

8. Bakerloo line extension to Canary Wharf

Did it happen? Sort of. The nascent business district of Canary Wharf urgently needed better transport links if it were to grow to its full potential. The DLR was a start, but had nowhere near enough capacity to meet future needs. Hence, lots of schemes were proposed to better hook the area into the transport network. One idea was to extend the Bakerloo line from Charing Cross through Southwark and Bermondsey to the Isle of Dogs. Eventually, though, the Jubilee line was selected for extension, taking a similar route (after earlier plans to run it north of the river in a 'Fleet line' were abandoned). The Jubilee extension opened in 1999.

9. A new tram system linking Wimbledon, Croydon and Elmers End

Did it happen? Yes! The idea of a south London tram was still in the small-scale study stage at the time of the article. It was clearly a winner, making use of abandoned rail routes to cut down costs and disruption. The Croydon Tramlink Act was passed in 1994, and the network opened in 2000. It was the first tram system to operate in London for half a century, and has since been extended a number of times.

10. A toll road beneath the Thames from Chiswick to Chelsea

Did it happen? No. The proposal would have linked up the A4 at Hogarth Roundabout with Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, all via a tunnel beneath the River Thames. It seems like a daft idea — after all, a route following the sinuous Thames would be twice as long as tunnelling in a straight line between the two end points. Such a road would have been a huge and costly engineering challenge, and was never prioritised.

The notion of a sub-Thames tunnel has been taken forward by Thames Water, who are now constructing a super sewer beneath a much longer stretch of river.

11. Extend the M23 to the South Circular

Did it happen? No. The M23 is another runty little motorway — at least as far as the London section goes. It stretches just a mile inside the M25 before transmuting into the A23. It should have carried on as motorway as far north as Streatham. This phase was cancelled as too costly and disruptive.

12. Widen the South Circular

Did it happen? No. Had the M23 extension been built (see above), it would have fed into the southern section of Ringway 2, a diverted and widened version of the South Circular that would have served like an inner M25. The route would have carved a trench through vast swathes of residential suburbia, demolishing homes and businesses. Unsurprisingly, it proved a difficult sell. The plans fell out of favour in the 70s.

Still, something had to be done with the South Circular. It was not fit for purpose. Hence, plans to widen, bury or divert parts of it remained on the transport wishlist for many years to come. Little has ever been done, and the South Circular remains a bit shit.

13. An east London river crossing at Thamesmead

Did it happen? No. There have been many calls to span the Thames in east London over the decades. A bridge linking Thamesmead and Beckton is one of the more persistent options. The scheme mentioned in this article from 1988 was tentatively called the East London River Crossing, officially abbreviated to ELRIC by someone who must have been a Michael Moorcock fan. The scheme would have united the North and South Circulars and have been ready by 1994. It didn't happen, but similar schemes have been revived on several occasions since. A crossing here remains an active proposal — though possibly now as a DLR extension. The only bridge crossing east of Tower Bridge is the QEII bridge at Dartford, outside London.

A second section of the article looks at transport in central London. Here are the proposals.

14. Figure-of-eight tube line

Did it happen? No. Even in the 1980s, some of the busier tube stations could get dangerously overcrowded. One suggestion was to build an entirely new line in the shape of a figure-8, centred on Oxford Circus (shown in purple on the map above). It would act as a relief line for the existing central network. We would, no doubt, have called it the Bow Tie line.

15. Pedestrianise Oxford Street

Did it happen? Not yet. What at first seems like a simple, obvious idea is nothing of the sort. Buses, taxis and deliveries all need to be rerouted to make it so. The proposal from the 80s met stiff opposition from local interest groups. Pedestrianising Oxford Street has since wandered in and out of fashion, but has found new traction with the advent of Crossrail. Parts of the Square Mile were also tipped for pedestrianisation, particularly the frenetic junction around Bank. With a few minor exceptions, this has not come to pass.

16. A new tube line linking Paddington and Liverpool Street

Did it happen? Yes! It's called Crossrail, or the Elizabeth line if you must. The article goes into no detail about the scheme, save for its appearance on the graphic. The route was first proposed in 1974, based on even earlier suggestions, but momentum didn't really get going until 1989, the year after the article.

Coming soon to Paddington...

17. A second Victoria line

Did it happen? No. The idea of running a north-south route that parallels the Victoria line is essentially what we now call Crossrail 2. Such a scheme has been talked about since the 1970s, and the route has long been safeguarded. 30 years after the article, this line remains unbuilt, although it now seems one of the more likely transport projects for the next decade.

18. A three-mile tunnel bringing Channel Tunnel trains to King's Cross

Did it happen? Sort of. Channel Tunnel trains began operating out of Waterloo in 1994. St Pancras, next to King's Cross, took over in 2007. The shift made use of the High Speed 1 line that loops under east London, rather than a tunnel from Battersea.

19. Extension of the Jubilee line to London Bridge/Liverpool St

Did it happen? Sort of. The route was indeed extended through London Bridge (and beyond) in 1999 via a tunnel beneath Southwark and Bermondsey. The scheme envisaged in the 1988 article would have seen it terminate at London Bridge after passing along Fleet Street, or else heading to Liverpool Street.

20. DLR extension to Bank

Did it happen? Yes! The Docklands Light Railway initially terminated only at Tower Gateway in the central area. A connection to Bank tube was underway at the time of the article's publication. It opened in 1991, a year after the predicted date.

In summary: of the 20 schemes mentioned in the article, about half were completed, or partially so. That's not a bad ratio, given that many were only pipe dreams at the time. We're sad that the Bowtie line never got built, if only for the humorous pub crawls it might have inspired.

Transport maps from the Illustrated London News via the British Newspaper Archive. (c) Illustrated London News Group. All other images by the author.

Last Updated 11 May 2017