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Womble in Bristol – AFC Wimbledon update

Right, just a quick post for now. Was at the AFC Wimbledon match yesterday at Bristol Rovers. The first thing to observe was that it is a lovely little ground the Memorial Stadium but it is a rugby ground in a tightly packed little suburb in north Bristol. It is also a tip.

I went with a friend from down the road in North Somerset and his 4 year old son (Bristol City fans, hence the away end suited them perfectly!). This turned out to be tactically astute! We went into the standing terrace in the south eastern corner.  After 10 minutes an epic rainstorm came form nowhere. Fortunately, said 4 year old came into his element as we got ourselves let into the (covered) southern stand (seated as well!).

By this time however, the Wombles defence had seemingly got themselves confused to let a rogue Pirate dance through for the only goal of the game.  The most frustrating part was that the second half was a pretty bloody good performance form the Wombles who utterly dominated the game and but for 2 excellent saves from the Bristol keeper we should have come away with the win…

While in Bristol I managed to visit the Bristol Docks area which has a strong feel of Canary Wharf about it – nice but perhaps lacking a bit of imagination in terms of integrating as a truly human space rather than the dominating atmosphere of modern architecture.  That is not to say i didn’t like the area but it could perhaps be subtly improved.

Overall, the frustration of losing at Bristol Rovers was tempered with the quality of our 2nd half performance and the site of Pim Balkenstein give a good performance in defence and Jack Midson and Sammy Moore playing as well as ever and a nod to Billy Knott for an all-action performance and the final appearance (for now?) from Womble legend Jason Euell who has now returned to Charlton.


London Crossrail (Part Two)

In this part I shall presume that Crossrail 1 is now open and Crossrail 2 is in construction as per Transport Womble’s preferred route of a Wimbledon-Dalston core and onward links on the South West and West Anglia main lines.

So the aspiration is for an RER-style greater suburban rail network that crosses Central London and providing direct and through connectivity.  So which are the following target zones for future Crossrail lines?  Well, the critical points for capacity and growing demand appear to be:

– Waterloo-Euston (as championed by Ken Livingstone)

– the other Northern line branch through the City

– the North Kent lines via Greenwich, Bexleyheath and Sidcup

– the North-Western suburban lines to Watford Junction via Harrow & Wealdstone and to Aylesbury Vale Parkway via Harrow on the Hill

– the West Coast commuter services towards Milton Keynes (home of the Franchise football club) and Northampton

– Clapham Junction and the South Central lines to Croydon and Epsom

So do we have the basis here for a likely Crossrail 3, and even a 4!  It would seem so.  The interesting long term point here is to see Crossrail as a means for the Mayor of London to take control of London Rail and integrate it into Transport for London alongside the Tube and the Overground – something that ought to be considered for Thameslink as well?

In the Crossrail 2 discussion from the last post, we saw that the South West Main Line is struggling to cope with growing demand.  Clapham Junction benefits from significant relief with Crossrail 2 branching demand off at Wimbledon.  But Clapham Junction is a critical interchange and connection point – it connects the Overground services on the East and West London lines as well as connecting South Western and South Central services.  Therefore Clapham Junction has to be a focal point for Crossrail 3.

If we accept that premise then we can see the potential for a central core underground from Clapham Junction that can relieve Vauxhall and Waterloo and provide the through connections to Euston and onwards as well as providing relief to the Northern line.

Furthermore, could a combined Charing Cross-Embankment station on Crossrail 3 commence the process of turning 2 tube stations into 1 at long last??  Tottenham Court Road is the other obvious central stop providing connectivity with Crossrail 1 and the Central line.

So where south from Clapham Junction? Well, the obvious routes are the South Central outer suburbans to Epsom, Epsom Downs, Beckenham Junction and Croydon via Norbury or Crystal Palace.  This provides significant relief to Victoria and Waterloo stations for mainline services as well as to the tube stations.  Likewise this provides significant connectivity enhancement by getting South Londoners quickly to Crossrail 1 as well as onto Euston and the WCML and HS2.

So what about beyond Euston?  Well there are 3 clear routes – the current London Overground route to Watford Junction, the WCML commuter line on from Watford to Northampton via Hemel Hempstead, and the Chiltern line through Harrow on the Hill to Aylesbury.

There is no reason why all of these could not be served.  However it would seem likely to provide a faster, longer-distance commuter focus by retaining the Overground and Crossrail 3 using the fast commuter lines from Queens Park via Wembley Central, Harrow & Wealdstone, Bushey and then Watford Junction through Milton Keynes and to Northampton.

At the same time we can relieve pressure and boost capacity into Marylebone by shifting Aylesbury via Amersham services onto Crossrail 3.  At the same time, the Metropolitan Line could focus on the coming Croxley link to Watford Junction and be removed from Amersham and Chesham duties with Crossrail 3 providing a huge improvement on connectivity into the Chilterns by rail.

Is it worth it?  We have to consider how to provide the significant capacity and also connectivity improvements to as many as possible in order to retain London’s status as a world city and the key driver of the country’s economic wealth and competitiveness.  Investing in excellent transport infrastructure with a long term strategic focus is good value and provides huge long lasting benefits.  Surely it’s a no brainer right?

London Crossrail – looking into the future (Part One)

Well the Transport Womble has had some interesting conversations recently on the subject of Crossrail – well, to be precise, London’s Crossrail network, that is shaping up in the style of the Paris RER network.

We know that Crossrail 2 planning work is advanced.  The route is looking a bit like this:

Crossrail 2 – South West Section – Using South West suburban route into Wimbledon and then using the District Line section from Wimbledon to Parsons Green, then dive underground into Central core

Crossrail 2 – Central Section – from Parsons Green the Central tunnels will include Chelsea, then Victoria, Piccadilly Circus, Tottenham Court Road, Euston, Kings Cross-St Pancras, Angel, Essex Road, Dalston Junction, Hackney, Homerton, Leytonstone

Crossrail 2 – North East Section – Using the Central Line from Leytonstone to Epping

But this throws up a number of questions and issues:

– will the District Line terminate at Fulham Broadway or Parsons Green or go on to Wimbledon as well?

– from Wimbledon there is the possibility of replacing all the suburban SWT services – Hampton Court, Shepperton, Chessington South, Epsom/Dorking, Guildford

– should Euston-St Pancras be one station? This could be significant as not only do you get 1 station instead of 2, but with the platform having exits either end for Euston and St Pancras you can then add in a people mover above the lines to physically connect Euston and St Pancras at long last! ear in mind here that Euston is being rebuilt anyway at some point soon and that we have the HS2 factor as well which is a critical reason for this station.

– connecting Islington and Hackney is vitally important but will the connection at Angel to the Northern Line Bank Branch be sufficient?

– Following that, should Essex Road take off a spur for the Moorgate line? Or is this connection the catalyst to improve that line separately? Probably the latter i suspect.

– is the Central Line from Leytonstone the right target for the northern end of Crossrail 2?

For the northern side of Crossrail 2 I would suggest that the Hackney element is the crucial part.  How about using the Dalston Crossrail station to properly connect Dalston Junction and Dalston Kingsland (a nice Overground hub) and then on to Hackney Downs.  From there you can then create a huge capacity uplift on the West Anglian lines by shifting the Chingford, Enfield and Hertford services onto Crossrail and thus making more space on the Liverpool Street approach for Cambridge and Stansted services through Tottenham Hale.  You also get significant Victoria line relief with connections at Seven Sisters and Walthamstow Central… nice…

For the Southern side of Crossrail 2, the focus is on relief for the Wimbledon to Waterloo lines by shifting demand onto the new Crossrail line into Central London.  Therefore we want the crucial suburban commuter services moving onto Crossrail 2 and they are the lines to Kingston/Shepperton/Strawberry Hill, Hampton Court, Chessington South, Epsom/Dorking and Guildford.

Central trains (additional peak services) can terminate at Wimbledon and Dalston – to try and push all trains to the extremities of the line will create both network complexity and also service reliability risks.

Is the central core the right focus?  well it is safeguarded and we can presume that given the Chelsea-Hackney proposals are older than the Transport Womble this is where the will (and expediency) is.  The Victoria line relief is vital to London. Islington, Hackney, Chelsea and South West London are all in urgent need of additional connectivity and capacity.  Then there is the Euston rebuild for HS2 and better connecting Euston with St Pancras.

The Transport Womble thoroughly approves of this Crossrail 2!  I’ll be looking next at how we can develop the Crossrail network further and where it is going to be needed as London continues to expand and develop.

How many right answers in transport?

I have recently had the same conversation a number of times with people interested in transport – we often know or have a feeling that a particular scheme would deal with a particular issue and is therefore the right answer.  The context for these conversations has been the current trend for developing metro/tram schemes in urban areas with high density corridors.

Rapid transit is a broad church including metro/trams/light rail with steel wheels (such as the Midland Metro, that is being extended through Birmingham City Centre), as well as bus rapid transit which could be called metro’s little brother with rubber tyres (as found in North Kent on Fasttrack), and in between those you find the trolleybus (as Leeds are looking at) or the guided busway (as seen in Cambridgeshire).

Tram schemes are big news across the world, and particularly across Europe.  Modern tram networks are fantastic solutions for conurbations and considerably cheaper and easier to build than heavy rail or underground networks.  For example I recently visited Bordeaux which has a fantastic modern tram network where the 3-line tram network provides significant coverage across the urban area and has also acted as a catalyst for swathes of urban realm improvements and regeneration activities.

The Croydon Tramlink in South London is also a massive success and new trams are coming in right now along with capacity improvements on the Wimbledon branch and the real possibility of, finally, expanding the network.

But strangely Britain has not really managed to implement trams in a major way (South London, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield, West Midlands being notable exceptions) and they have also not exponentially grown (excluding Manchester of course).  Why is it that Brits experience trams abroad and love them, but somehow we can’t get them into our cities in a big way?

Now following that, the even stranger thing is that the transport pros in the cities are very keen on trams.  The struggle is of course about money and politics.  Buses are considerably cheaper than trams.  But interestingly the political will is a major problem.  Trams take road space away from cars.  Now that should be a win-win right?  Well, the Midland Metro city centre extension in Birmingham took a long time to sell as a number of city councillors were anti-metro as it would take the traffic out of corporation street in the retail heart of Birmingham.  The argument goes that businesses need good car access, even in a major city centre.  Well, deliveries are one thing, but c customers being able to get public transport into the city and able to walk around in a pleasant urban realm is also of crucial benefit to businesses.

OK, so costs and car lobby don’t help tram introduction.  But another part is that the transport profession doesn’t help itself.  At present, a number of corridors identified as in need of transport interventions often get the automatic response of “stick a tram down there”…  Transport interventions or packages can often be obvious or else provoke less imaginative answers that while technically are sound, politically and/or financially are not pragmatic enough to make a reality any time soon – we need to be more imaginative perhaps as well as empowering strategic thinking over a technocratic approach.

Although not a parallel as such, I look to the need for more Thames Crossings in London.  Simple, easy, fast solution – build a cable car!!!  Now that is one from the left-field – but what a cracking idea! It will do a job, it will provide access, a valuable link that has a clear demand need.  It can be done relatively quickly and cheaply.  Even better, because it is such a novel approach, it has attracted a significant lump of private sector funding to build and run it.

So, the question is – where else could we go really radical like that?  What other possible solutions could be considered for transport interventions where we need to do something?  Money and politics can either make something happen much more easily or it can make sure it never happens.  Timing is also key.  Transport needs to get more cute at arguing for things and explaining itself and perhaps be a bit less apologetic and technocratic – after all, transport is fundamental to our daily lives and we treat it with disdain at our peril.

The Transport Debate

Well, seeing this is my first post on this site, it would seem appropriate to go back to first principles on transport.

First principles? Well, perceptions are (as we know) everything.  Transport discussion is poisoned with the perception of being full of busspotters, trainspotters, tramspotters, the cycling mafia, the hardcore ramblers, and of course… the dreaded petrol heads! To talk transport is to have a tribal loyalty to a particular position on the role, value and preferred mode of transport.

The second part is the nature and role of the debate. In the past transport discussion always involves the give me some money approach. We want to build stuff but need lots of money – as transport infrastructure can be bloody expensive and take a long time to deliver (which is not good for politicians!).

But the times have changed. Transport interventions can be quick and cheap and still have a significant impact.  Crucially also, we talk about transport in terms of the value and benefits it generates for UK plc and for us the people – so that is jobs, that is the low carbon agenda, that is accessibility for all, that is social inclusion, that is quality of life, that is the opportunities and value that good transport brings to our everyday lives.

I take great pride in advocating transport to national and local politicians and to a huge range of stakeholders and it is a compelling narrative when you talk about it in those terms – because it engages everyone when they feel the relevance to their lives, and of course they should do!

There are a huge range of transport issues at present:

– how transport is funded and governance (devolution of funding and prioritisation)

– high speed rail

– reforming the rail industry (devolution; efficiency; franchising)

– reforming the bus sector (getting the right services, re-regulation, the bus service operators’ grant)

– the introduction of proper rapid transit solutions

– Crossrail 1, 2 and 3

– helping the rest of the country catch up/keep up with London

I have views, we all have views – the crucial thing is that views connect with the reality of now as well as with an astute assessment of how best we go forward.  I was with Transport for London yesterday and they told me that they needed to get 70% more capacity for London’s transport network by 2031. 70% more!!! If you consider that when Crossrail opens in 2018 that alone brings 10% – that shows the scale of the issue, the planning required, the funding required and then think of the necessity of doing this for our nation’s economic welfare.  This is not a cute little sideshow but something the country, the government and the media have to get to grips with properly and seriously.