This follows a previous round in January 2021.
The new study whittles down options to extend trains in future past Abbey Wood towards Kent – with some options listed resulting in stopping for good some of the circular services that run around the Crayford loop.
Option 2 in January, which was “extending Elizabeth line services to Dartford on segregated tracks at 12 trains per hour, with further extension of 6tph to Northfleet”, has been dropped.
Option 1 now sees “8 of the 12 Elizabeth line trains per hour that will terminate at Abbey Wood are extended eastwards, sharing the existing North Kent line tracks with Southeastern and Thameslink services.”
“Of the 8 trains per hour, 4 would terminate at Northfleet, with the remaining 4 continuing on to Gravesend.”
You’d have to rebuild the new Abbey Wood station – which hasn’t even seen a public Elizabeth Line service yet.
Sharing tracks brings the issue of problems on one line impacting another. Not something either Southeastern or Crossrail would want.
Option 2 is “all 12 Elizabeth line trains per hour that will terminate at Abbey Wood are extended eastwards to Dartford on a new segregated railway, which would run adjacent to the existing North Kent line tracks.”
Southeastern trains from Dartford to Northfleet would increase to 8 trains per hour from 4.
This would be the most expensive, but of most benefit.
Option 3 sees sees two new bus routes and Southeastern services from Dartford to Northfleet extended from four to eight per hour. No Elizabeth Line services would be extended.
Some “rounder” trains would be removed limiting transport options within London.
The previous consultation appeared slightly flawed as it was either/or for improvements on existing services or new services, rather than the option of improving existing National Rail infrastructure and services as a cheaper interim measure while longer term plans and funding – that could run into the billions – are sought.
This one does too. Option 3 could be an interim measure as the first two won’t be cheap – and funding would be a major issue. Asking for either option 1, 2 or 3 limits options. Ideally option 3 would be a short/mid term option and option 2 would follow.
That would help with projected housing of 31,500 new homes in Bexley borough and 15,000 in Ebbsfleet and Northfleet.
An idea still mooted in option 3 includes a bus transit from Abbey Wood into north of Bexley borough to support Bexley Council’s Growth Strategy. This could potentially link into Dartford’s Fast Track bus network.
Fast Track however typifies much of what is wrong with the deregulated bus network outside London.
Ever used it? When yours truly tried finding a functioning website with information on fares and maps was a real challenge. A mess in fact.
The proposal is 12 buses per hour from Abbey Wood to Ebbsfleet. The report states:
One service route would operate between Abbey Wood and Ebbsfleet International station via Slade Green, Dartford and Bluewater. The other service would operate on a more northerly route between Slade Green and Ebbsfleet via Greenhithe and Northfleet. These new BRT services would be anticipated to make use of existing Fastrack infrastructure where appropriate between Dartford and Ebbsfleet and be in addition to the Fastrack network already in place. The introduction of the services between Abbey Wood and Dartford could be accompanied by some complementary bus service changes on other existing routes.
Whether it’d be a regulated TfL service or unregulated Arriva service is a key question.
Existing rail services
While there are continual grand schemes emanating from Kent County Council and Bexley Council there’s some simple wins few in local authorities seem to be aware of – or at least rarely mentioned.
One option is ensuring Thameslink trains stop at Belvedere and Erith stations instead of sailing by as they do at present. As more homes – see this recent plan for 1,250 homes in Belvedere as an example – are built this becomes imperative.
That requires almost no investment. The trains already pass by. They are timetabled at exactly the same time as Southeastern trains that do stop at both stations between Abbey Wood and Slade Green.
That could happen long before other options are pursued.
The reason they don’t stop is to allow recovery times in the timetable. But the importance of that diminishes with thousands of new homes near stations.
Another option that is really quite cheap is finally construct a direct pedestrian link between Northfleet station and Ebbsfleet station. They are a few hundred metres apart but a meandering, winding, slow, uninviting walk as no one has agreed to build a direct path over a decade since Ebbsfleet opened.
An option not mentioned is extending the length of existing Southeastern and Thameslink services to 12 carriages to make maximum use of infrastructure.
Southeastern’s “new” trains commencing later this year can only run at a maximum level of 10 carriages – despite Network Rail investing millions over the past decade on 12-car infrastructure such as longer platforms and enhanced power supply.
The number of trains and type of older stock also prohibit much in the way of 12-car running. There’s no sidings to store extra carriages and older trains lack selective door opening to permit 12-cars at Charing Cross and Woolwich Dockyard.
Thameslink’s services on the Greenwich line are only 8-car while most of the Thameslink network is 12-car. The original reason given was that Woolwich Dockyard is limited to 10-cars, though Thameslink doesn’t stop at Woolwich Dockyard.
Incidentally, Woolwich Dockyard is close to the eastern half of the 8,000-homes Charlton Riverside masterplan area, alongside estate rebuilds such as Morris Walk.
Government would need to agree for new stock to permit 12-car running.
All that – if done soon – is cheaper than the far larger projects and more disruptive measures mentioned in the strategy – and far more attainable.
Not that it’s either/or. It’s simply that some improvements can be attained cheaper and more easily as an interim measure, as can anyone really see a Crossrail extension towards Kent in the next 20+ years?
Funding for the study was revealed in 2019, though any funding for improved transport links between north west Kent, Bexley borough and Abbey Wood is of a whole different magnitude.
Right now it could well be a sop to keep some authorities happy without having to stump up any serious cash – despite mass housebuilding.
It’s a pretty long standing tool to placate local authorities. The Treasury and DfT throw some scrapes to keep them quiet for a few years. The final report arrives and it goes into an ever growing pile.
Projects that have been around for far longer are still waiting. Take the Bakerloo Line extension, which has seen no government support despite plans for tens of thousands of homes along the projected route.
London alone certainly cannot fund itself without many more local tax raising powers, which the Treasury hate the idea of.
Will a government that in the recent past appears to have little interest in funding public transport infrastructure fund anything in Bexley? Just this past weekend more heavy cuts for capital projects emerged.
The government’s “levelling up” often appears to mean cutting projects in the south towards poor levels seen in the north rather than the other way around.
With all this in mind, it’d be somewhat of a miracle of any Crossrail trains extend beyond Abbey Wood before 2040.
Perhaps by 2030 some new bus routes will be in place – and if we’re lucky finally see some 12-car trains and a new pedestrian link between Northfleet and Ebbsfleet.
How many homes are built by then – or not able to be built – remains to be seen.