Rail capacity in south London
According to the Department for Transport, “Only HS2 can deliver the step change in long term capacity that is needed” on Britain’s rail network.
However, the rail corridors supposedly relieved by HS2 are not particularly busy.
Most rail journeys are short-distance, and take place in south-east England.
Although rail capacity shortcomings are most acute on the corridors from Essex, Kent, and Surrey into London, the government and Network Rail have not proposed building new lines in those counties to provide “the step change in long term capacity that is needed”. The plans for increasing London rail commuter capacity are based around upgrading existing trackage.
For example, the Centre for London’s recently published Turning South London Orange report, which “makes the case for adapting the Overground model to the suburban rail network in south London”, claims that upgrading the south London suburban rail network could deliver “around 130 per cent additional capacity“.
[TURNING SOUTH LONDON ORANGE:
REFORMING SUBURBAN RAIL TO SUPPORT LONDON’S NEXT WAVE OF GROWTH,
Sam Sims, Jonathan Roberts, Brell Wilson, Centre for London, January 2016]
[…] Despite congestion on nearby bus routes and the tube reaching capacity, the suburban rail network in south London is currently not delivering on its potential. For example, while Brixton station on the Victoria line sees twenty-nine million entries and exits per year, the nearby suburban rail station gets just one million. Similarly, while Morden underground station sees almost nine million entries and exits per year, nearby Morden South mainline station sees only one hundred thousand. Transport for London estimates that by 2050 demand for travel on the London rail network will grow by 80 per cent. We estimate that in south London demand growth could be 100 per cent. Accommodating this increased demand will require the suburban rail network to become, in the words of Isabel Dedring, a “second Underground”.
This will not be easy. The track layout, station facilities and rolling stock currently used on these services are not designed for a modern high-frequency
urban rail system. But our research with Thales and Jonathan Roberts Consulting suggests that an ambitious package of upgrades could deliver an orange-standard, high-frequency service in south London.
[…] The key transport benefit of turning south London orange is increased frequency and therefore capacity. We estimate that with a radical modernisation of the network, including automatic train operation, the south London suburban rail network could deliver around 130 per cent additional capacity.
[…] The public investment required would also be significant: our high-level estimates, using similar projects as benchmarks, suggest that total costs would be higher than Thameslink (circa £6.5bn) but below Crossrail (circa £14.8bn). In order to contextualise these costs, it is worth thinking through the alternatives. Failing to provide for a doubling of rail demand would likely cause severe crowding and congestion in south London, as well as constraining housing and employment growth. On the other hand, accommodating a doubling in demand without upgrading the existing network would require a new tunnelled mainline through London, effectively another Crossrail, with far higher costs.
In summary, the Centre for London report is claiming that
- very large amounts of passenger capacity (much more than that provided by HS2) can be added to the existing rail network by upgrading and reconfiguration of existing infrastructure; and
- accommodating a doubling in demand by building a new line, instead of upgrading the existing network, would be much more expensive.
These conclusions are clearly at odds with HS2 tropes (‘upgrading existing track cannot provide the step change needed in capacity’, ‘upgrading is more expensive’, ‘upgrading is open heart surgery on a live railway’, etc). The number of people coming by rail from Birmingham and Manchester into London is minuscule compared to the number coming from a 50 km radius of the capital. The idea that £56+ billion should be set aside in special provision for such modest traffic, makes no sense.