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Rail London Overground & Orbirail

TfL will take over and improve several North London railway lines including the North London Line to create a "London Overground" franchise, eventually providing a range of orbital railway services through inner London.



It was announced in 2006 that TfL would be taking over responsibility for several lines across North London currently operated by Silverlink Trains as Silverlink Metro. These lines are:

  • the North London Line (NLL) from Richmond to North Woolwich
  • the West London Line (WLL) from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction
  • the “Goblin” from Gospel Oak to Barking
  • the Watford DC line which provides local stopping trains between Euston and Watford Junction via Willesden Junction

The first three of these lines provide orbital railway services connecting suburbs with each other, whilst the fourth overlaps with Bakerloo line services between Queen’s Park and Harrow & Wealdstone. The four lines together are known as the “North London Railway”.

From 11 November 2007, services on these lines have been controlled by TfL (albeit operated by a private company, MTR Laing, in a manner similar to London buses). TfL brand the network as London Overground – in a similar way to the Underground – and will implement a number of substantial improvements, including the immediate staffing of all stations, the rollout of Oyster Prepay and early morning and late evening services to align with Tube operating hours.

The extended East London Line (known as the “East London Railway”) will also be incorporated into this group of lines when the first phase of works is complete in 2010. A new service pattern will be deployed across much of the “Overground” in order to create a set of overlapping orbital railway services (“Orbirail” – see TfL's map). Further into the future, Watford DC services may be absorbed into the Bakerloo line.

Initial improvements (2005 - 2008)

North London Line

Passenger capacity on the NLL has been boosted with the provision of extra services by TfL during the peaks. Some services only run between Camden Road and Stratford (the section on which the most crowding occurs), and others now run direct between Stratford and Clapham Junction via the WLL.

In partnership with the DfT, £10m of works will improve the station environment at a number of NLL stations over the three years from 2005-2008. CCTV will be provided at Highbury & Islington and Camden Road, and real-time passenger information will be provided at Kew Gardens, Gunnersbury, South Acton, Acton Central, Camden Road and Hackney Central. The latter two stations will receive other upgrading works, and all stations from Richmond to Stratford will have passenger help and information points installed.

Selected stations along the line will have step-free access provided, including Hampstead Heath, Camden Road and Highbury & Islington.

West London Line

Passenger capacity on the WLL has now been boosted with the provision of an extra train each hour during the peaks, funded by TfL. These services are extensions of services between Stratford and Camden Road on the NLL, and thus provide a direct service between Clapham Junction and Stratford (as mentioned above).

However, the off-peak frequency remains 2tph plus an additional train run by Southern between Watford and Brighton (which cannot call at Willesden Junction).

Plans are also afoot for other WLL service improvements – the WLL is currently served by Southern’s 1tph between Watford and Brighton, which calls at all WLL stations except Willesden Junction. This train could be lengthened from four to eight cars in the future (at least in the peaks), although this will require re-signalling of the line.

Network Rail have proposed an additional Southern service every hour from Shepherd\'s Bush to Croydon calling at all stations via Selhurst; this is to combat high levels of interchange at Clapham Junction leading to overcrowding on the WLL platforms during the peaks.

TfL also wish to investigate the possibility of diverting some Watford line services down the West London Line to Clapham Junction (the current provision of Euston-Watford services is considered to be an oversupply), improving access to and from Wembley, Harrow and Watford.

New stations & closed route (2006)

TfL will provide £25m of funding to enhance stations on its North London Railway network towards Tube standards. In addition, two new stations are under construction on the West London Line, and another has been proposed but is unlikely to come to fruition. Five stations at the eastern end of the North London Line will be closed when the line is truncated at Stratford.

New: Shepherd's Bush

Shepherd's Bush is being constructed as part of the White City development and will see interchange with buses and the Central Line (with possible interchange to the West London Tram in the future). It is expected to open in 2007.

New: Imperial Wharf

Imperial Wharf is a new station being constructed by the overseers of the large riverside development with the same name. It will be located close to the river in Sands End, where Townmead Road meets Harbour Avenue, and will also serve Chelsea Harbour. It is currently expected to open in 2007.

Proposed: Stamford Bridge

This dubious proposal by Chelsea FC to build a new station adjacent to their Stamford Bridge stadium for match-days only has so far been rejected by Hammersmith & Fulham council and the SRA, as there is no funding for services to stop there. It is also quite close to nearby stations on either side at West Brompton and Imperial Wharf.

Closed: Stratford to North Woolwich

The lightly-used section east of Stratford was mirrored by the Jubilee line and the DLR (including the City Airport branch) throughout, except between Custom House and Silvertown.

This section was closed from 1 November 2006 [closure notice], with a new DLR branch from Royal Victoria/Canning Town to Stratford International to use that section of line, and with Crossrail using the section from just west of Custom House to after Silvertown station.

As part of the DLR project, NLL services would be diverted at Stratford into the platforms used for the Lea Valley services (now running to Stansted and Hertford East). Diversion of NLL services up the Lea Valley is a later possibility.

New train fleet (2009-2010)

TfL have ordered a £223m new train fleet for the North London and East London Railways from Bombardier Transportation, consisting of:

  • 24 3-car dual-voltage Class 378 trains for the North London Railway (in service end of 2008)
  • 8 2-car low-emission diesel Class 172 trains for Gospel Oak to Barking services (in service end of 2009)
  • 20 4-car trains for the East London Railway (in service summer 2010)

The trains will have an internal layout more similar to Underground stock (i.e. with longitudinal seating more appropriate to the short average length of journeys on this line). TfL have internal and external livery impressions of these trains.

Olympic infrastructure upgrade (2006 - 2010)

A £91m infrastructure upgrade project, part of the Olympic transport fund, will enable 8tph to operate from Camden Road to Stratford, and will permit a doubling train lengths to 6 cars (a potential quadrupling of capacity from the current 3tph, 3-car service), although such a service depends on other factors such as demand and the cost of extended trains.

To accommodate six-car trains, platforms would be extended where necessary. Power supplies will also be upgraded, along with the introduction of some resilience measures to prevent freight operations interfering with passenger operations. Work will take place between 2006 and January 2011.

Service and frequency improvements (2010 - 2012)

The main thrust of service changes proposed by both TfL and Network Rail is to provide a more useful range of through services between the NLL, WLL and Goblin. Some through services already operate during the peaks between Stratford and Clapham Junction.

The Olympic upgrade mentioned above would allow the delivery of this more frequent network with better through services which would provide a new orbital route between North London and Shepherd's Bush, Kensington, Chelsea and Battersea.

According to their response to Network Rail\'s Cross London RUS, TfL propose implementing their new service pattern in two phases:

Phase 1

This would need to be delivered before the Olympics, using the infrastructure enhancements mentioned above.

  • 4tph from Clapham Junction to Stratford
  • 2tph from Gospel Oak to Barking (with additional peak trains)
  • 4tph from Richmond to Stratford

TfL North London Railway - Phase 1 implementation

This would result in 8tph between Willesden Junction and Stratford.

By this time, the currently 30-year-old fleet of Class 313 and Class 508 trains will have been replaced. Trains running between Richmond/Clapham Junction and Stratford would be the same dual-voltage electric trains as those to be used on the extended East London Line, consisting of four cars (and thus requiring platform extensions at some stations). Provision would be made at stations to run six-car trains in the future.

Phase 2

A move to the second phase of services could take place after the Olympics, and is dependent on the Bakerloo line takeover of Euston-Watford local services to remove trains between Queen's Park and Euston.

In their place, trains would operate from Queen's Park via Kilburn High Road and South Hampstead to Camden Road (using what is currently a freight-only link at Primrose Hill) and then on to Stratford. Clapham Junction trains would be diverted to Barking instead of Stratford.

This would result in a service pattern with 4tph from Stratford to Richmond, 4tph from Barking to Clapham Junction and 4tph from Queen's Park to Stratford via South Hampstead.

TfL North London Railway - Phase 2 implementation

The switch from Phase 1 to Phase 2 would enhance Gospel Oak to Barking services to the Mayor's "minimum" turn-up-and-go frequency of 4tph. It would also improve services to Kilburn High Road and South Hampstead, and provide a new link from these places and Queen's Park to Camden and Islington. However, services at Kentish Town West would drop from 8tph to 4tph along with through-services from Willesden Junction and West Hampstead to Camden, Islington and Stratford.

East London Line additional services

Frequency would be enhanced yet further between Dalston and Caledonian Road & Barnsbury with the East London Line (ELL) extension. ELL trains will already be running to Dalston Junction (close to Dalston Kingsland) every five minutes; some will also be extended from Dalston Junction onwards to Caledonian Road & Barnsbury every 7½ minutes (8tph). This requires further improvements to NLL infrastructure along this section to accommodate a combined total of 16 passenger services per hour (less than every 4 minutes) along with numerous freight services.

Watford DC & the Bakerloo line

Plans exist to consolidate the two services (the “Watford DC” between Euston and Watford, and the Bakerloo line from Harrow & Wealdstone as far as Queen’s Park) running together on this route.

Initially, TfL may substitute the current trains running the Euston – Watford service (aged Class 313 and Class 508 trains) with some (modified) stock cascaded from the Victoria line after that line receives its new trains. The Victoria line stock is similar to the Bakerloo line fleet, and the two could be merged fairly easily later on (see below).

Services would continue to operate as now (6tph Bakerloo and 3tph Watford DC) but Watford DC trains would be longer (six or seven cars).

Bakerloo Line (re-)extension

TfL eventually plan to re-extend the Bakerloo line from Harrow & Wealdstone to Watford Junction, replacing the Watford DC services between Watford Junction and Euston. Bakerloo line services would run every 10 minutes to Watford, an improvement on the current 20-minute frequency to Euston. [TfL: T2025 report]

Kilburn High Road and South Hampstead would cease to be served by direct trains to central London, but would gain services to Camden and Stratford as part of the proposed Queen\'s Park to Stratford service, which would run every 15 minutes.

The cost savings from cutting the Silverlink service to Euston would be used to fund capacity improvements for the North London Line.

Future possibilities

The service patterns on the NLL and ELL mentioned above would be in place by 2010-2012. Some additional improvements are proposed for beyond this timescale.

Goblin extension to Rainham

TfL and Network Rail are investigating such an extension, which would see Clapham Junction - Barking trains further extended to call at Dagenham Dock (a future DLR interchange) and Rainham. Barking & Dagenham borough support this extension as it would provide new links to the Thames Gateway regeneration areas.

NLL extension to Kingston

TfL and Network Rail are also looking at the potential extension each hour of 2 out of 4 NLL services, from Richmond to Kingston via Teddington. Extending this small number of trains would not require the grade separated junction at Twickenham previously proposed for Crossrail.

East London Line further extensions

The East London Line extensions (ELLX) could be further extended to reach Willesden Junction (via Queen’s Park) and/or Finsbury Park (via Drayton Park) – both of these possibilities were discussed during the planning stages.

Orbirail (full orbital service)

A full circular service from Clapham Junction via Willesden Junction, Gospel Oak, Dalston Kingsland and Canada Water back to Clapham Junction would be possible, but is unlikely. There would be a large number of opportunities for delay on such a long route interfacing with so many other lines, and so reliability might be poor – this is often a problem on the Circle line. Instead, a set of overlapping services such as Clapham Junction to Dalston via Canada Water, West Croydon to Willesden Junction via Queen’s Park and Barking to Clapham Junction via Gospel Oak is much more likely.

Crossrail 2

A possible route for Crossrail 2 involves mirroring NLL services between Dalston, Hackney and possibly Stratford, providing a high-frequency Tube-style service to these stations to and from King\'s Cross, Tottenham Court Road, Victoria and Clapham Junction (and therefore three direct routes between Clapham Junction and Dalston!).


(newest first)
MTR Laing to operate London Overground
2007-06-19 14:12:43

TfL have announced MTR Laing, a joint venture between the operators of the Hong Kong metro system and of Chiltern Railways, as the concessionnaire for the London Overground operation taking over from Silverlink Metro in November.

TfL announce rail branding plans
2006-09-06 06:13:22

TfL have announced plans to brand its forthcoming railway operations as "London Overground", using the familiar "roundel" logo but in orange. Trains, stations and information on the North London Railway routes being taken over in November 2007 and on the extended East London Line (to be known as the East London Railway) will use TfL's orange Overground stylings, and the routes will appear together on the Tube map.

Four bidders for TfL London Rail concession
2006-06-08 10:46:35

Four companies have been shortlisted in a competition to secure TfL's London Rail concession, which involves the operation of rail services on the North London Railway (currently Silverlink Metro) from late 2007 and on the extended East London Line from mid 2010. The companies are MTR Laing (a joint venture between the operators of the Hong Kong Metro and Chiltern Railways), Govia (operators of Southern and Southeastern), National Express Group (operators several TOCs including of 'one', c2c and Silverlink) and Nedrail (the Dutch railway operator).

GLA supports TfL plans for North London Railway
2006-03-16 16:16:36

A report by the London Assembly has supported the proposals TfL has made to improve the North London Line and Gospel Oak to Barking Line as part of its North London Railway franchise which starts in 2007. The report also suggested a number of additional improvements.

Links & Sources

  1. Network Rail: Cross London Route Utilisation Strategy
  2. Policy implications of the POLYNET study by the South East Regional Assembly

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