Late night trains and tubes in London

One of my biggest complaints about living in London, after spending a few years living away, is the lack of quick late night transport. Living in South East London is especially annoying when trying to get home from North London, where many gig venues and clubs are located. It can take a couple of hours to get home on buses as they meander there way here. As good as the night bus service is, and it did improve a lot under Ken Livingstone in terms of routes and frequencies, it does not compare to trains and tubes. It often puts me off bothering to go out, and as nightlife in SE London is pretty poor it leaves an alternative prospect of local pubs that close early, and a live music scene that is lacking to say the least.

Of course there are many good reasons why late tube running is not possible, such as the large tube upgrade as well as routine maintainance running overnight.
However it’s disappointing to see that when Crossrail services begin in 2018 there are plans to stop running at 12.30 in the morning. Details are on this document here. The document is listed from 2007, so maybe there is hope. If that is still the plan, it really is a disapointment for a brand new line.

Off the top of my head I can recall quite a few cities that have good late metros and trains. New York has 24/7 running though has the benefit of much of the network having 4 tracks. Copenhagen has late weekend running though it is more expensive to travel at that time. Barcelona has later metro trains on Friday nights with all night running on Saturday. Berlin has the same.

The tube does has a lot more issues than those systems. It’s not realistic or feasible any time soon to have parts of the tube network running all night, but is it beyond the realms of possibility to have an extra couple of hours on the Jubilee on a Saturday night when all the upgrades are complete? (I know that’s a risky proposition given it’s tortured history). Unlikely granted, but in a few years when budgets aren’t being cut so deeply?

So what about the mainline trains running for a couple of hours longer on a weekend? The last trains out from London at midnight are often packed. In the next few years an enormous amount of work will be undertaken for Crossrail (see previous post) and Thameslink that will affect lines in South East London, so combined with cut budgets it’s a non starter in the next few years. But by 2018 hopefully it’s feasible.

A line that has already benefited from a recent massive investment is the London Overground. And the main chunk of the former East London Line  is barely a year old, with over a billion spent upgrading it. It connects some major nightlife areas (Shoreditch and New Cross) yet it all packs up just after midnight. A Highbury to New Cross late service would be fantastic. And there’s the DLR which is a modern system.

Plans were mooted by Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson a few years ago but didn’t get very far due to issues with the unions. But how can such a city as vast as London rely on buses alone, which as extensive and regular as they are, can be no match for getting from central/east/north London to the South East? Of course, if we had another crossing in SE London that buses could use that would help out somewhat, but no sign of that, and I don’t think the cable car will be getting many revellers home.

The hope of later services is pretty much off in the near future with budgetary pressures, but by the time Crossrail opens in 2018, and Thameslink is upgraded, surely London could finally have a decent though limited late night train service? Is an extra couple of hours on weekends on a brand new line too much to hope for?


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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

    0 thoughts on “Late night trains and tubes in London

    • As far as I understand, the lengthy Saturday night-Sunday morning closure is on the Tube/rail is highly valued for getting work done. But it is odd how new pieces of infrastructure still run by old rules. The extended East London Line actually winds down southbound from 10pm, even on Saturdays, which is crazy.

      I remember years back when the last 108 from Stratford was at 00.40 – after that, you were at the mercy of E15’s mini-cabs, and their extra few quid for going through the tunnel.

      There’s been a night service on the 108 for a decade now, and it’s well used – plenty of folks on board when I used it at 1am. Shows the demand’s there.

    • I quite agree. On the East London line point, the trains on the rebuilt central section now stop running much earlier than they used to, despite the new low-maintenance trackbed.

      Regarding 4-tracking to achieve all-night running, they manage in many cities even where they don’t have 4 tracks. In New York, for example, the PATH crosses the Hudson in twin deep bore tunnels. At night the service drops to half-hourly to allow a single bore to be used two-way and maintain a 24 hour service. Shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to build some crossovers into Crossrail to allow this type of running overnight, or even to manage it on parts of the existing networks. Admittedly there is re-signalling involved at the very least, and a change in approach to overnight maintenance, but where there’s a will there’s a way.

      Sadly though I don’t think there is a will. The fact is that the decision makers on such matters tend to be sufficiently old and wealthy that they often don’t live in London, and rarely have late nights out on the town, and if they do they get a cab or have a lift home rather than depend on the night bus like the rest of us.

    • Shouldn’t be beyond the wit of man to build some crossovers into Crossrail to allow this type of running overnight, or even to manage it on parts of the existing networks.

      Will Crossrail not have its own exclusive line? e.g. DLR

    • Pingback: Night tube begins tonight…at long last! | fromthemurkydepths

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