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LONDON UNDERGROUND & OVERGROUND


Train frequency on the London Overground network has shot up as Transport for London completes its upgrade programme of the constituent lines, stations and rolling stock – with passengers constantly filling the additional capacity. Howard Smith, TfL’s chief operating officer for London rail, is both happy and scared at the prospect…


L


ondon is benefiting hugely from capi- tal investment, and is just a few years


away from a confluence of projects whose completion will have transformed rail in the city – most notably Crossrail, the Tube upgrades, Thameslink and the extended London Overground network.


The increases in capacity, service frequen- cy, journey options and sheer comfort that this combination will unlock is startling.


The London Overground network, priori- tised because of next year’s Olympic Games, will be the first of these major transforma- tions to be ‘finished’, following the up- grades to the North London Line (NLL) and East London Line (ELL), and the upcoming ‘phase two’ of the ELL works, linking Sur- rey Quays to Clapham Junction to complete the orbital network, as described in the last edition of RTM.


The train now arriving…


Howard Smith, TfL’s chief operating of- ficer for London rail, said that at £75m, that project is “a bit of a bargain”, adding: “It provides so much new capacity and new linkages around south London.”


The project involves the construction of about a kilometre of new track, which will link up with the national rail lines to Clapham.


Smith said: “The intention is to use it to run four trains an hour from Clapham Junc- tion round onto the core of the ELL and up to either Dalston or Highbury, so the pas- sengers in south London will receive an absolute minimum of four trains an hour service. Some stations which have other services as well, such as Peckham Rye and Denmark Hill will have far more. That’s a turn-up-and-go service with Overground, and the four services, when they run onto


64 | rail technology magazine Jun/Jul 11


the core of the ELL section of the Over- ground, will increase frequency there by 33%, from 12 trains an hour to 16 an hour. That’s really badly needed, because after having opened the ELL, that section of the Overground, just over a year ago, we are already full in parts of the peak and quite a decent proportion of the day so the extra capacity is really badly needed.


“Physically, the NLL was completed in about April and from the timetable change in May we stepped up the service so the core of the NLL from Stratford through to Willesden in the peak now has eight trains an hour. That compares with about three trains an hour – increased to four or oc- casionally even five in the peak, but using much smaller trains, when we took over just under four years ago – we’ve effec- tively more than doubled the frequency. We’ve increased the capacity by an even bigger percentage, and the good news is that they’re all new air-conditions trains, and the stations have been refurbished.


“You don’t get much self-satisfaction in railways, and I’m less self-satisfied than most, but at the moment Overground is doing extremely well!”


Statistically speaking


Overground’s performance in the PPM statistics, already impressive, is creeping even higher, threatening the dominance of Merseyrail – whose passenger transport authority has recently rejected plans to fur- ther integrate track and train operations.


Smith noted also that in Passenger Focus’s National Passenger Survey, Overground “shot up” to 89%.


He added: “As Passenger Focus were kind enough to pick out, some of the sections on some of the lines showed some of the


highest scores ever for a franchise or con- cession service. The only people who have ever beaten it were the genuinely-lamented Wrexham & Shropshire, with their free breakfasts and things like that. Free break- fasts aren’t really an option for us, so we just have to run smart trains on time!”


Less of the levers


Another change for some of the old hands has been the shift on the NLL to signalling control from Upminster.


Smith said: “It’s a standard SSI installation – very computerised – but it now controls the whole of the NLL as far as Acton Wells box, so at Willesden now you’re looking to Upminster for signalling; that’s a bit of a culture shock for staff who’ve been used to men pulling levers. It also took over a whole series of very fragmented signal- ling activities on the NLL, like the Dalston Western Curve box, which has been there since, we think, 1865.


“But looking forward now, it’s all about the Games – the upgrade was paid for principally by TfL, but the second biggest contributor was the Olympic Delivery Au- thority, alongside Network Rail, and we’re looking forward to running that full ser- vice, eight trains an hour, pretty well all day every day for the Games period, mov-


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