Consultation has begun on extending the Elizabeth Line and/or a Bus Rapid Transit beyond Abbey Wood into Kent.
I wouldn’t be too excited. There is no money allocated for a Crossrail extension – and issues with completing the first stage makes an extension unlikely. And that’s before considering government’s recent attitude towards infrastructure investment.
The group behind this consultation is C2E “formed in 2016 as an informal group of authorities” including:
- London Borough of Bexley;
- Dartford Borough Council;
- Gravesham Borough Council;
- Ebbsfleet Development Corporation;
- Kent County Council;
- The Greater London Authority; and
- Thames Gateway Kent Partnership
Abbey Wood has yet to see a single train yet of course, and would need to be half demolished to allow any extension.
Bexley have been fixated on this project despite large costs yet often overlooked far easier and cheaper measures for capacity increases in the short term such as Thameslink services stopping at Belvedere and Erith. Thameslink currently sails through from Abbey Wood to Slade Green despite being timetabled slower than Southeastern Metro calling at all stations. Calling at those stations is an immediate increase in capacity.
Bexley plan thousands of homes in the north of the borough as part of their “growth strategy”. The first stages of that strategy could be accommodated through Thameslink stoppers and longer trains from both operators.
Additional easier uplifts – compared to a Crossrail extension – in the next decade are extending all Southeastern trains to 12 carriages alongside Thameslink services from 8 to 12 carriages. That requires new trains with the aged Networkers needing replacement anyway and additional carriages for Thameslink stock.
Options in the consultation all involve increasing services to Northfleet with up to 10 trains per hour. There is arguably no real demand in the near to mid term at smaller stations past Dartford such as Stone Crossing given they all saw a doubling of service frequency in 2018 when Thameslink commenced.
Proposed services to Northfleet would see a new pedestrian link to Ebbsfleet but this should really be happening in the near term regardless of other changes. Northfleet and Ebbsfleet are extremely close as the crow flies but it’s a long, meandering walk currently with little but vacant land and a car park between the two stations.
One alternative option featured is an increase in Southeastern/Thameslink services to 10 trains per hour between Northfleet to Abbey Wood. Just where trains would terminate in Abbey Wood is an issue. They can’t continue towards London as London terminals are at capacity unless other lines see cuts which isn’t happening. Presumably a new platform would also be needed on the current small car park in Abbey Wood for those Northfleet-Abbey Wood shuttles to turn back, but to do so would mean demolishing homes and the new station.
A more likely option is a Bus Rapid Transit.
It doesn’t sound too enticing with only single deckers running at six buses an hour – and it will always be slower than rail. Given it mostly duplicates rail routes in London would many use it? If you live in, say, Erith, walk to the station, get a train for five minutes then change at Abbey Wood.
Beyond London there is already Fasttrack – which when I tried to use had no information online about pricing with a very dated website. For a flagship public transport option serving many new builds in north Kent it was far from impressive.
This consultation raises questions over the feasibility of some options, but then with no money confirmed maybe it doesn’t need to. Local authorities would probably be better off focusing on measures that are eminently achievable and relatively affordable over the next decade – and then hope central Government changes attitude towards infrastructure. A true high frequency rail extension along four tracks could be built to cater for tens of thousands of new homes. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would be transformative.
Click here to view the consultation.