Going Overground

28 Jun

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Photo by bowroaduk

The government has announced that it will spend £115 million to electrify the Gospel Oak to Barking line. This is very good news for those that campaigned to improve the line, but better news for those that use it.

The incorporation of the line into the London Overground network and the consequent improvements in the service – new trains, clean stations, more frequent running – has unlocked huge demand.

The previous operator, Silverlink, ran an appalling service which unsurprisingly attracted few passengers. When Transport for London took over continuing to use two car trains probably seemed a sensible idea, but now trains are full to bursting during peak times. It’s an extremely uncomfortable experience for many passengers, if they can actually get on the trains at all. I’ve given up using it for my commute home as there’s only a 50/50 chance I’ll be able to board and if I do it’s so crammed I feel in danger for my life if the driver has to brake suddenly.

The obvious solutions would be either to add additional carriages, or to run an even more frequent service to spread customers over a larger number of trains. But adding a third carriage isn’t an easy option. The trains apparently come as a unit, so you can’t just de-couple them and stick an extra bit in between. TfL has to either buy new trains or pay Bombardier a fortune to custom-build and fit middle carriages. For a relatively small number of trains that can’t really be used anywhere else, that’s not especially efficient.

Running additional services is also difficult, as the line is limited to eight trains an hour in each direction. Four of these are reserved for freight, so the current passenger service is maxed out.

Electrifying the line will solve a big part of the problem. The trains that serve the rest of the London Overground can then run on the GOBLIN and they are all at least four carriages long.

It may also mean that new through services can be opened up to Richmond and Clapham Junction. Some peak “congestion buster” services already run to Willesden Junction, missing out Gospel Oak, so the track and signalling are already in place.

Now the money is there, let’s hope work gets underway quickly.

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2 Responses to “Going Overground”

  1. Tim Roll-Pickering July 3, 2013 at 12:39 #

    If comments by the line user group are accurate, Silverlink were actually an improvement on what came before!

    But as for the line today, the main problem with increasing capacity given has always been platform length – British Rail in their infinite wisdom cut the lengths down to two cars back in the early 1990s. In some cases, such as Wanstead Park, the rest of the platform still exists and shouldn’t be too difficult to restore for passenger usage. Unfortunately at least one station is a problem – South Tottenham is on an embankment wedged between the A10 and a railway junction and due to subsidence part of one of the platforms was removed altogether and seems almost impossible to extend.

    Selective Door Opening always seems to bring out lengthy lists of jargon as to why it’s best not done and I’m not sure if the four car Overground trains have the capability. Sticking two Goblin trains together would bring its own problems as they’re not really designed for passengers to flow up and down with ease and given the congestion you could get endless delays as passengers ring the alarm because they can’t get out any other way.

  2. benmathis July 3, 2013 at 17:05 #

    The order for more diesel trains is already in – presumably with the plan being to couple two trains together. The decision to order these trains coming before the recent electrification announcement.

    The electric trains used on other Overground lines CAN do selective door opening and I believe already do at short platforms like Wapping. It is likely that it will be used at certain stations on the North London Line too when the trains are lengthened over the next few years.

    Incidentally, those trains are able to be configured for three, four or five cars, so even if some of the platforms are too short for four-car running straight away, they should be able to at least add an extra carriage.

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