Via Railway Eye and London Reconnections comes word that London Travelwatch, the rather toothless body charged with representing the London transport user, has noticed a bit of buried bad news in the recent East London Line Extension Phase 2b announcement. This was the one, you may remember, greeted so warmly a few weeks ago by a certain Mayor:
Mayor Johnson said: “This is tremendous news. We can finally get cracking on a vital section of track that will orbitise our Overground rail services. I promised Londoners that where funds were made available we would build the improvements they need. And it will be a real achievement when our Overground services are fully oysterised. I am delighted that a long hard slog of negotiations between ourselves and the Department of Transport has borne fruit that will result in a superb new service for thousands of Londoners.”
Obviously it couldn’t last, and I don’t mean Boris’s school-show-off attacks on the English language (‘orbitise’?). News has sort of leaked out (via Val Shawcross, it appears) that part of the negotiations apparently saw TfL working directly opposite to the interests of Londoners. Now bear with me while I get technical – here’s a map to help set things out.
Most of the railway for ELLX 2b is already there – the only new bit is a short connecting piece from the eastern end of what it known as the South London Line, round the back of Millwall’s New Den football ground and into a junction on the new East London Line Extension Phase 1. The existing line has a half-hourly service running from Victoria in the west, out via the inner suburbs and back in to London Bridge in the east. This effectively provides a reasonable way into town from stations at the western end of the South London Line (Clapham High Street, Wandsworth Road, Denmark Hill) via Victoria and a reasonable way into town for stations at the eastern end of the SLL (Peckham Rye, Queens Road Peckham, South Bermondsey) via London Bridge.
Now, the problem arises in the east where London Bridge is having its capacity to terminate trains reduced owing to the Thameslink works. Something had to go and the SLL, being a relatively infrequent service of short trains, was always going to be chopped. The original plan which everyone thought Boris and TfL were working towards was that the SLL service would be replaced by *two* new services, the TfL-run East London Line service from Clapham via Peckham Rye to Whitechapel and Shoreditch. While people for whom London Bridge was more convenient lose out by this, for many others there’s a gain from the greatly increased frequency, newer trains, wider interchange opportunities etc. South Bermondsey, while losing four trains an hour, gets partially replaced by a nearby new station at Surrey Canal Road on the new link line.
At the western end, the service from Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street to Victoria, which is currently a really fast way into town from those areas, vanishes completely – the trains go to Clapham Junction instead. Hence the Network Rail South London RUS (Route Utilisation Strategy) proposed a new service from Victoria calling at those two stations and then on via Peckham Rye and Catford, terminating at Bellingham. Although not run by TfL (it would presumably be run by Southeastern) this would complement the ELLX 2b service to give an enhanced level of service along the SLL from all existing stations, while preserving the quick link into Victoria for Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street.
The fuss now brewing over this is because the Victoria-Bellingham service is not now going to happen. Why? Because TfL *asked the Department for Transport to scrap it*. Yes, that’s right, London’s transport body asked the national government to scrap a planned transport improvement in London. Sounds bizarre? It is, but the real reason is money. The ELLX Phase 2 scheme costs £75m, of which TfL were apparently only prepared to pay £15m. The rest had to come from the DfT, and it came with strings attached. TfL has the power, under a 2008 change to the franchising arrangements in London, to ask the DfT to tell the rail operators to reduce service on parts of the London rail network, the savings from which are reallocated somewhere else. Hence, in this case, TfL have asked the DfT to withdraw the £24m it was planning to spend on the Victoria-Bellingham service and reallocated it to the ELLX Phase 2 project. If you were to call this ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’ I’d agree with you – the £24m was for a ten-year period, so this is actually £2.4m a year, which is roughly the cost of, you’ve guessed it, removing bendy buses.
As for the rest of the money, £20m goes onto Network Rail’s RAB (a weird bit of accounting which ties NR’s government funding into the value of NR’s regulated assets, which increases when you build new railway), £20m goes direct from the DfT to TfL, £15m of which TfL puts into the project on top of its own £15m and £5m of which vanishes somewhere into TfL’s budgets. In return for this public largesse there are conditions attached:
To secure the money from the DfT TfL had to agree to a number of conditions, including taking on responsibility for proposing the withdrawal of the planned Victoria-Bellingham service. It also had to agree not to operate East London Line services into London Victoria station for at least 10 years, except during engineering works or service disruption.
Another condition of the funding was that the new Shoreditch High Street station, situated on the East London Line phase one route, should be classified as a Zone 1 station when it opens in 2010 rather than Zone 2 where Shoreditch station, which closed as part of the line upgrade works, was situated.
During funding negotiations TfL turned down an offer of an additional £7m from the DfT if it agreed to take responsibility for the full cost of building the proposed new Surrey Canal Road station. According to Mitchell this was rejected by TfL which deemed that the costs of the station were likely to be significantly higher.
I have to ask myself quite who TfL is representing here. If they can’t get a small project like this underway without significant compromises and shortcomings built in, what chance do they have with seriously large scale enterprises like Crossrail and Metronet?
Now, TfL have helpfully published their response to the South London RUS, so let’s take a look at what they used to believe pre-Boris (11/10/2007, to be precise):
The synergy between the proposals in the RUS for the South London Line and our development of the East London Line Extension Phase 2b scheme is very apparent, and we believe this scheme will offer significant benefits and new journey opportunities for passengers travelling on this route.
No equivocation there, no hint that this was an either/or deal – it’s a ‘synergy’. Let’s look deeper:
TfL believes that the South London Line service should stay in its current form until infrastructure changes made at one or both ends of the route mean that it can no longer operate in its current manner. To this end TfL supports the diversion of the service into Victoria Eastern once platform extension works at Battersea Park are underway – whereby the existing line would be blocked by those extensions.
TfL believes that a Victoria-Catford service would be an appropriate additional service, either before or after the proposed introduction of ELLX 2b services.
So, as of late 2007, TfL’s view was that the SLL service would be diverted at each end and doubled in frequency and a new service replacing the western end into Victoria would be ‘appropriate’. What changed? Ah, Boris. The original response to the RUS from TfL is full of stuff about the deprived inner city areas of Peckham and Catford and how much better things would be for them under these enhanced service levels. The Cross River Tram is mentioned. Unfortunately, since Boris has come along, crapping on Peckham has been the fashionable sport at TfL so it had to go. Got to pay for scrapping the Congestion Charge somehow, chums.
Naturally, there are shenanigans and buck-passing going on here:
In a letter of 9 April to Ian Brown and Mike Mitchell, Travelwatch’s Sharon Grant writes: “ELL phase two was vigorously promoted as a means of mitigating the loss of the SLL’s London Bridge end, and the Bellingham service as the means of maintaining the links into Victoria. So far as the public were concerned, ELL phase two and the Bellingham service were packaged together and they had a clear right to know of a decision to separate them and opt for one rather than the other.” The press release issued by London Mayor Boris Johnson’s office on 12 February announcing funding for phase two of the East London Line makes no mention of the Bellingham service.
So, to recap. TfL gets the DfT to pay for the majority of the scheme. TfL forks out £15m of its own money, takes £20m off the DfT, keeps £5m of that, rejects £7m towards a station serving a key area but which TfL don’t now want to build and sabotages plans to retain the direct SLL link to Victoria, thus associating the Overground takeover of Wandsworth Road and Clapham High Street with a less convenient service for existing users. Meanwhile it has already cancelled plans to run a tram through the same area. Finally Boris puts out a press release saying how brilliant it all is, but strangely not mentioning any of the downsides. As he said:
I promised Londoners that where funds were made available we would build the improvements they need.
Well, I do believe the DfT offered you £7m for Surrey Canal Road which you appear to have rejected. Spin and fibs, again.
Note: a lot of this piece is based on articles on Transport Briefing, which vanish behind a paywall shortly after publication. The two articles are here and here – take a copy if you want to refer to them later.
Update: Brockley Central have a piece on this.
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