TfL have decided that the time is finally right to consider an extension of the Bakerloo line into southeast London. Such plans were first mooted 100 years ago, so they haven't rushed. But there is now broad agreement that the rail black hole in northern Southwark needs plugging, and that extending the under-used brown line from Elephant and Castle is the best way to do it. You lucky lucky people.
Only one thing is certain, which is that the extension will at some point reach New Cross Gate and Lewisham. But there are then three things to decide, marked in blue, brown and pink on the map above, and the first of these is the most important. Which way will the Bakerloo line tunnel head immediately after leaving Elephant and Castle, will it be east towards the Old Kent Road (option 1a) or south towards Camberwell and Peckham (option 1b)? Both are deserving cases.
Camberwell has been in dire need of a railway station ever since the last one closed in 1916, and is one of the last significant urban centres in Zone 2 not to have a rail connection. A Bakerloo line station here would transform the area, removing the need for the local population to have to catch the bus first before they can get anywhere. But then the same could be said for the alternative route. The Old Kent Road has been in dire need of a railway station ever since the last one closed in 1917, and is one of the last significant urban centres in Zone 2 not to have a rail connection. Two Bakerloo line stations here would transform the area, removing the need for the local population to have to catch the bus first before they can get anywhere.
What's intriguing is what's not on the table. A route via Burgess Park had long been a potential option, that's roughly halfway between options 1a and 1b. This missed the main roads but scored a direct hit on the least accessible spot in inner London - the heart of the Aylesbury Estate. From here the route could have continued to Peckham or to the Old Kent Road, meeting other long term needs, but no, this central option is dead in the water. Also defunct is the option of a station in Walworth. This ought to be an obvious halt on the run to Camberwell, but no, it's been skipped in favour of a two kilometre run without stopping, no expense spent.
So who wins? There is only one logical outcome to Southwark's tunnelling tussle, which is that the Camberwell option will lose. It's ridiculously indirect, for a start, wiggling around all over the place to tick off a few key stations along the way, and increasing journey time for anyone trying to get into town from further out. It only creates one new transport node rather than two, and it doubles up on an existing direct link between Peckham Rye and Lewisham, which could only be a waste of money. Whereas two new stations along the Old Kent Road would be in an almost straight line from E&C to Lewisham, and create a more direct hit on the heart of the existing railway-less zone. There's also more potential for residential development along the way, plus the Old Kent Road in Monopoly is brown, QED.
Lewisham might be the end of the line, or it might not, that's the second important option. Lewisham is the extension's key target, so why go further? It also marks the point where the line would come out of tunnel and run overground, so stopping here would save plenty of money. This would be an unambitious choice, for sure, but it remains the most likely austerity option. But if a further extension goes ahead then a new connection would be made and the existing railway line to Beckenham and Hayes would be entirely absorbed into the Underground. No longer would the residents of Catford be able to catch a direct train to London Bridge, but they could instead get to Oxford Circus, which might be deemed an improvement.
The third and final option concerns an extension to Bromley. A new tunnel would be built from somewhere beyond Beckenham Junction, stopping somewhere, terminating somewhere - the plans aren't any more than woolly thoughts at present. In reality the connection wouldn't be as brilliant as it sounds, indeed the journey time to Oxford Circus would be much the same as it is today. But imagine the joy if the Underground ever came to Bromley, not to mention the political capital to be made.
Excited by all this? Don't be.
For a start, a Bakerloo line extension won't be completed before 2030, probably later. We're only at the route consultation stage, there are no concrete plans, nothing that could be enacted under the ground in the immediate future. And 2030 is miles away, as far into the future as the opening of the Jubilee line extension is in the past. Time was when a new underground line could be thrown together in a few years, maybe even a decade or so, but today's technological advances only ever seem to slow things down. Nobody in Clock House, Catford or Camberwell will be catching the Bakerloo any time soon.
More importantly, there's absolutely no money. The extension isn't funded, indeed has no likelihood of being funded, at least not from the public purse. TfL don't run a speculative construction company, so can't just dig tubes in the ground to follow crayoned lines on maps. Indeed the most telling paragraph in the entire consultation document is this one...
If a Bakerloo line extension is built, it won't be to improve social capital. Just as Crossrail is only stopping in Woolwich because Berkeley Homes paid, and just as the Northern line is only going to Battersea because the Power Station's owners threw cash, so the Bakerloo extension will join up the places where developers can find the most money. The new line may benefit some existing residents of southeast London, but its unspoken intention is the attraction of incomers, bringing the greatest windfalls to those who sell property and build shops.
Don't get me wrong, a Bakerloo line extension would be far better built than unbuilt, and this corner of London needs a leg-up more than most. But don't get your hopes up that anything'll happen soon, indeed best not get any hopes up at all.