diamond geezer

 Thursday, February 14, 2013

BAKERLOO: South of the Elephant

It's 100 years since an extension of the Bakerloo line south of Elephant & Castle was first proposed. So how come we still haven't got one? Is there a genuine reason, or is southeast London simply tube-jinxed.

Take a look a map of the northern half of Southwark, and there's a whopping railway-sized hole at its heart. Such gaps aren't unknown further out, but this is Zone 2 for heaven's sake, and no other part of inner London suffers this fate. The Northern line skirts down the western edge, although not especially close. Thameslink trains run two miles between Elephant & Castle and Loughborough Junction without stopping, which is heartless. And trains departing London Bridge run for three miles non-stop, apart from a branchline halt at South Bermondsey which merits a mere four trains an hour.

The least accessible spot in this transport desert is somewhere on the northern edge of Burgess Park, near that lake you can see on the map. From here it's more than 20 minutes walk to Kennington, more than 20 minutes walk to Denmark Hill and more than 20 minutes walk to South Bermondsey. Again, in the outer suburbs this might not sound too bad, but for a densely packed inner London suburb this is appalling connectivity, and TfL know it. They calculate public transport accessibility on a six point PTAL scale, with 1 being rubbish and 6 being ace. Here's a map of PTAL contours, a little out of date, but you'll get the idea. Far flung Biggin Hill scores 1, while Trafalgar Square scores 6, even Bow where I live scores 6 too. But Burgess Park scores 2, maybe 1, depending on where precisely in the neighbourhood you are. You might fancy using TfL's Planning Information Database to calculate PTAL values in your neck of the woods.

It is perhaps no coincidence that the neighbourhoods in this transport black hole are among the poorest in London. The Aylesbury Estate, where Tony Blair launched his premiership, is closest to the epicentre, but no progress has been made here transport-wise in the last fifteen years. Plans were on the table for the Cross River Tram to run straight through the area on its way from Camden to Peckham, and that would have helped considerably, but Boris scrapped that for being too expensive. There had been musings that the Northern line could head this way from Kennington, but they've never been much more than a pipedream, and Boris extending the line to Battersea instead has killed that. So it's the Bakerloo or nothing. And alas, nothing looks most likely.

The Bakerloo line still has spare capacity, which is a rarity in rush hour London. To the south of Waterloo there's plenty of room northbound in the mornings and southbound in the evenings, and this could be put to much better use. Stand on the platforms at Elephant & Castle and the tunnels stretch off, brightly lit, in the direction where the extension ought to be. They're only a few hundred metres long, so an illusion, but it's easy to imagine trains rumbling onward to serve the Southwark hinterland.

A ridiculous number of Bakerloo line extensions have been proposed, without any of them actually coming to fruition...
1913: E&C → Camberwell Green → Dulwich → Sydenham Hill → Crystal Palace
1921: E&C → Camberwell Green → Dulwich → Sydenham Hill → Crystal Palace
1922: E&C → Loughborough Junction → Catford → Orpington
1928: E&C → Dulwich → Rushey Green
1931: E&C → Walworth → Camberwell
1947: E&C → Walworth → Camberwell

Those last two proposals were taken the most seriously of all. A third platform would have been added at Elephant & Castle, and the new route would have followed Walworth Road and Camberwell Road south. But no. A northern link from Baker Street to Finchley Road got the attention instead, then the war got in the way. Later it got so busy on the Watford and Stanmore branches that any southbound extension would have been impractical, and anyway cars were the future now so why bother. Later still the need for extra rolling stock bumped up the price too much, as did the cost of adding an extra subterranean platform. Always an excuse, never built.

It's only been in the last half a dozen or so years that a Bakerloo extension's again been taken slightly seriously again. In 2007 TfL's backroom team were asked to scope the possibilities, and came up with three possible options that might have proven workable.

a) E&C → Camberwell Green → Herne Hill → Tulse Hill → and all stations to Streatham Common and Beckenham Junction
That's a hurrah in Camberwell, where a Bakerloo link would be greeted as a revelation. But next stop Herne Hill isn't very adventurous - all this does is provide a second way to get from E&C to HH with very long gaps between the stations. Then we're onto existing National Rail lines, taking the indirect route round to Beckenham, including a last stretch doubling up with Tramlink. The Bakerloo would end up sharing tracks with other services at both its northern and southern ends, and journey times might get unreliable.

b) E&C → Burgess Park → Peckham Rye → Peckham Rye Common → Honor Oak Park → Catford Bridge → and all stations to Beckenham Junction and Hayes
No joy this time in Camberwell, but instead a direct hit on the transport black hole in Burgess Park. Just one station would be built in the big gap, however, before giving Peckham its first non-roundabout route to the West End. There'd follow another new station near the common, then an interchange with the Overground at Honor Oak Park. From Catford onwards the Bakerloo would emerge from underground and entirely take over the Hayes branch line - no sharing of tracks, an efficient solution.

c) E&C → Burgess Park → Old Kent Road → New Cross → Lewisham → and all stations to Beckenham Junction and Hayes
Another vote for Burgess Park, but then continuing east rather than south to bring a new station to the Old Kent Road. Rejoicing would ensue, and no mistake. Thence to New Cross, on the Cinderella branch of the Overground, and a non-stop link to Lewisham. All ten stations on the Hayes branch line would then be taken over, and the Bakerloo would become a proper cross-London line. [more, plus map, from London Reconnections]

The last of these three options got the closest to getting the nod, which alas wasn't very close at all. No proper plans have been made, and no funding is anywhere near being on the table. All three of these potential extensions are expensive combinations of tunnelling and repurposing, far beyond even the wildest dreams of Coalition austerity kickstart funding. It'd take Westfield opening a supermall in Walworth to see any action, because we don't fund rail for aspirational reasons any more, only hard economics. Sorry Southwark, your miserable connectivity looks set to endure for decades.

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