Housing and jobs growth in the region are continuing their upward trend and many parts of the railway into central London – including routes to and from Cannon Street, St Pancras International, and Charing Cross stations – are already completely full at peak times, with no more space for additional trains.
While immediate forecast growth can be met through lengthening trains to 12 carriages, more radical and challenging solutions will be needed in the longer term. This includes expanding central London stations, most notably Charing Cross.
The Kent Area Route Study draft has been produced to help solve that immediate challenge and provide a range of solutions for the next 30 years. With a new passenger train franchise for Kent due to start in 2018, the publication of the Kent Area Route Study supports a joined-up approach between potential bidders, the Department for Transport and Network Rail to meet the needs of passengers and business.
A three-month consultation period is now open to allow members of the public and stakeholders, including local authorities and businesses, to have their say.
Network Rail’s route managing director for the South East, John Halsall, said: “A bigger, better and more reliable railway is absolutely vital to support jobs housing and economic growth in Kent and south east London in the decades ahead.
“Our plan sets out how we will cater for forecast passenger growth up to the mid-2020s, primarily through longer trains at the busiest times of day. Beyond that, we need to look at more radical options to enable more frequent services and changing service patterns across the region.
“By working closely together with operators and potential funders, we can keep passengers moving well into the future.”
Among the more immediate challenges to be met, running any more trains between Tonbridge and Charing Cross in peak hours is almost impossible and any solution to cater for forecast demand will need to take that into account. Growing demand for high speed services also presents a challenge, with no room in the timetable for any extra services between Ashford and St Pancras International, without changing international services. Meanwhile major housing schemes are predicted for the North Kent routes from Dartford and a potential Garden City could be built at Ebbsfleet – which would result in further increases in passenger numbers.
Options set out in the study include:
• Lengthening high speed, South London metro and Kent commuter peak time trains to 12-cars, where possible and where demand requires it.
• Platform extensions to facilitate longer trains, including at Woolwich Dockyard and minor work at Waterloo East
• Creating a link between High Speed 1 and the Marshlink route to facilitate faster trains to Hastings and Rye. This could include an electrification scheme or bi-mode trains that can run under diesel or electric power.
• Increasing capacity at Cannon Street by creating a siding to stable trains. This would allow for an extra train in the high peak hour (8am-9am).
• Crowding relief schemes at Lewisham, Peckham Rye and Denmark Hill stations to improve the passenger experience.
• New signalling systems, including Traffic Management technology, to maximise train performance on busy sections where capacity is constrained, such as Orpington to London. Traffic Management is similar to air traffic control and is able to adapt in real time to minimise disruption.
• Rebuilding Charing Cross station to allow for more and longer trains to terminate there, potentially extending the platforms across the Thames.
• Provide additional tracks on the route into Victoria to allow more and longer trains to terminate there.
• Creating a southern link from Ebbsfleet International via Fawkham to stations on the Bromley South route.
• Creating a link between Faversham and Ashford, a route poorly-served by road.
The purpose of the Route Study is to provide choices for organisations who may wish to invest in the railway, including but not limited to the Department for Transport.
The draft is out for consultation for three months from today, to gather responses from the public and stakeholders such as local authorities and businesses. A final version will be produced later this year to take in to account these responses.
With passenger numbers on railway lines connecting the capital with Kent forecast to rise by 47% by 2044 – and a massive 127% on high speed trains to and from St Pancras International – Network Rail has worked with its industry partners to create a draft strategy to keep people moving over the next 30 years.