Wealden Line Campaign

Friday 22 February 2019

Greater Ambitions with BML2

As the direct extension into Brighton is the key of the Sussex Phase, the principal driver of the project is the London Phase and answering the huge conundrum of providing substantially more capacity into London (and beyond) from Kent, Sussex and Surrey.

A means to take pressure off East Croydon and points inwards (Windmill Bridge Junction, the Selhurst – Victoria route) is urgently needed. In particular, trains and passengers which have no need for East Croydon would be able to pass through in exactly the same manner as the Redhill bottleneck was bypassed in 1900 with the Quarry Line between Horley and Coulsdon.

With the focus of London expansion, business, housing development, regeneration, etc, gravitating eastwards, the partly redundant and under-utilized Selsdon-Lewisham rail corridor is of inestimable value to the capital and the region. Previous suggestions of building a 15-mile tunnelled railway from Coulsdon to Victoria to avoid East Croydon could never equal the enormous benefits of BML2’s London Phase.

BML2 proposes providing a fast-line connection into London for all traffic not concerned with stopping or alighting at East Croydon. There are some obstacles to overcome, but certainly nothing to faze any competent civil engineer or financial backer. About a mile of Croydon Tramlink’s New Addington branch, which occupies the former heavy rail tunnel, would have to be realigned but this could be to its advantage.

There will also be costs involved in quadrupling all or part of the railway between Elmers End and Ladywell to accommodate the Hayes branch services. However, there is not a surfeit of linear transport corridors in South London, whilst every foot of its available space should be used to its utmost benefit rather than being a dump for household rubbish from neighbouring gardens.

Former Transport Minister Theresa Villiers told BML2 the big challenge was to get from Lewisham into London Bridge, but this provided the Eureka moment when a contact in London Overground pointed out that Canary Wharf was the destination for thousands of daily commuters who had to travel needlessly into London Bridge only to cause daily chaos on the Jubilee Line out to the Wharf.

With Crossrail well under way, the remaining pieces of the jigsaw fall into place – continue BML2’s northward direction across the eastern Thames from Lewisham and link to Canary Wharf and Stratford International boosting Crossrail’s usefulness at the same time.

The cost would be significant, but the rewards immense. On commuter traffic alone the cost might be hard to justify, but add in the fact that this route would directly connect London’s Gatwick and Stansted airports with one dedicated airport shuttle (termed ‘Stanwick’) passing right through the capital’s financial heartland and immediately the business case takes off.

At the southern end near Selsdon there would be a need to connect the BML across to the route to Lewisham. A golden opportunity presents itself at this location, currently occupied by light industrial buildings and storage areas, to create a new transport hub called Croydon Gateway which could be purpose-built to better manage the interchange swamping East Croydon. The fast through lines, perhaps by dive-unders, would allow the fastest-possible seamless journeys from Gatwick to Canary Wharf and Stratford International for Crossrail, running onwards to Stansted and answering many of the vexatious problems around London’s airport capacity.

A spin-off opportunity also arises to introduce a ‘Thameslink 2’ – connecting counties on both sides of the Thames divide and taking pressure off the Farringdon core in central London.

Croydon Gateway StationThis graphic shows the potential to link the Brighton Main Line to Canary Wharf and Stratford International. The lines criss-crossing in the centre are not meant to represent any definite proposal, but merely to illustrate the ability to realistically connect these routes.
The area coloured red is the exact length and width of the area occupied by East Croydon station's lines and platforms and therefore shows how a new Croydon Gateway station could be much larger and purpose-built for interchange not only between London Bridge and Victoria, but new services to Canary Wharf/Stratford and Crossrail.
Obviously, Croydon Gateway and its new lines and multi-level platforms is for competent engineers to design. It may also be advantageous to amalgamate the current stations at Sanderstead, Purley Oaks and South Croydon in this vicinity.
London's Croydon Tramlink could also be extended to the Gateway.
East Croydon would remain served by the same standard and quality of services as today for everyone who wants to go there for work, shopping etc. However, non-stopping services would be able to avoid East Croydon and thus ease the bottleneck. More services could be run between London and the South Coast, whilst Gatwick airport could have its rail connections speeded-up and increased by means of the Stanwick Express dedicated shuttle services operating between Gatwick and Stansted through Canary Wharf and Stratford International.  

Finally we come to High Speed Two. With or without HS2, it is possible for BML2 to wash its face in terms of the huge economics benefits it will deliver to the South East Region and the capital’s transport system and aspirations. However, rail professionals who are now suggesting that HS2 should start at Stratford International rather than Euston and join up with HS1 as one continuous high speed railway between Scotland, the North and Midlands and Paris/Brussels have provided even more food for thought.

With BML2 in that equation it means that towns and cities across a wide spectrum of the South would find themselves easily connected into the UK’s emerging High Speed ‘spine’. Rather than central London being a tangle of routes and restrictive termini laid down by Victorian entrepreneurs, it could have the 21st century cross-connections it deserves – and is going to need – as the relentless rise in rail usage continues.

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