REPORT | The Development of London's Railways
1 Apr 2019
The Society's 2019 'engineering' theme of events kicked off with Alistair Lenczner of Expedition Engineering with a review of the Railway system in and around London, of schemes in the pipeline and what could be done to set up a better infrastructure for London in the future. Roger Cline reports. The Industrial Revolution started outside London and early canals and railways were designed for goods transport. In London a passenger line opened in 1836 from Spa Road to Deptford (soon extended from London Bridge to Greenwich) and the London to Birmingham Railway opened in 1837 to Euston where some effort to provide impressive architecture was made to re-assure passengers that the undertaking was reliable. Railway termini were banned from the central area south of the Euston Road so there was little through north-south traffic (except via Ludgate Hill or Willesden/Clapham Junction). Passengers arriving at mainline termini were carried on the sub-surface Metropolitan and District lines until the first decades of the twentieth century when deep-level tube lines were provided across the central area. Goods traffic had its own termini and was mainly destined for the docks. Canal access to the docks was provided by the branch of the Grand Union canal to Paddington and then along the Regents Canal to Limehouse in 1820. The railways followed suit in 1851 with the North London line to West India Docks and further connections to Tilbury and eventually the container port near Canvey Island.
Locomotives and carriages for the railways were built locally and British engineers built railways abroad as well as at home. Now the railway stock is imported from abroad and many of the railway contractors are foreign-owned. The current railway system suffers from a lack of long-term strategic plan as well as a lack of capacity. The development of the Kings Cross railway lands is filling the area with flats and offices but does not leave room for future railway development. Waterloo is the biggest and busiest terminus and in 2017 had some short platforms lengthened and London Bridge has been substantially re-organised to have nine through lines rather than six. The Ludgate Hill cross line now carries Thameslink trains to a wide range of destinations north and south of London. The double-deck carriages seen on the continent cannot be run on British lines since the loading gauge (size of bridges and tunnels) is too small. Alistair suggested that when Crossrail 2 was built it should be given a loading gauge sufficient to take double-deck carriages (but that would preclude the line from using any existing track) Another deficiency in current lines is the lack of through lines. The proposed junction between HS1 and HS2 was dropped to save costs, a false economy. Berlin has a single central station from which trains travel in all directions – it did however involve massive redevelopment. It also has Kreutz (crossing) stations where a circle line crosses radial lines so through passengers can avoid the centre. In London where massive new housing estates are surrounding the railways crossing at Loughborough Junction, space should have been reserved for a Crossing Station here – there is currently no station there on the east-west line. At Old Oak Common land originally designated for offices has been used for a rail depot, reducing the utility of the station where there should be an HS2/Crossrail interchange. The final deficiency discussed was the lack of avoiding lines. Berlin has a circle line and Paris has a line bypassing it on the eastern side. The author had proposed a line from Ashford through Gatwick on which trains could reach Heathrow in about 15 minutes, the line joining the Birmingham line or HS2 in the Chilterns and this would avoid having air travellers in the central stations and with fast rail travel at least as far north as Manchester and preferably Glasgow domestic rail journeys would reduce the need for any extra runways. The new line could provide a route for electricity and other services supply – it would cost £10bn which is less that the cost of refurbishing the present central rail system. In the Question and Answer session the lack of engineers in Parliament and the short-term vision of Government policy makes were decried. A questioner mentioned the funds being generated by new obligatory pension schemes which would find it worthwhile to support infrastructure schemes since its earnings would provide good dividends. The original plan for the HS1 rail route at Kings Cross did not have a terminus there, the line tunnelling under central London to connect the Channel Tunnel to routes to the Midlands Joseph Bazalgette and his Victoria Embankment containing a railway, intercepting sewer and gas and water supply pipes was an example of Joined-up Thinking which seems currently to be lost. Big schemes need champions, Michael Heseltine supported the docklands approach to London of HS1 and Andrew Adonis started as champion of HS2, but the current London Mayor’s transport strategy does not have enough long-term planning. The delays on Crossrail and the failure of mainline electrification are due to planning failures. We have the engineers but they find work abroad more attractive.