Take a look at London Reconnections, for there’s an interesting post about possible extensions to the Docklands Light Railway. When the ribbon is finally cut on the Stratford International extension (delayed, apparently, because of thefts to cabling), it’ll be the first time in 24 years that there’s been no plans for an extension to the network.
Since it opened in 1987, lines to Bank, Beckton, Lewisham, Woolwich Arsenal and Stratford International have come off the drawing board and into reality – but after Boris Johnson canned a scheme to extend it to Dagenham, that production line has ground to a halt. Anyhow, TfL’s released a map to show that it hasn’t given up on expanding the network just yet.
Here’s the map as it affects south-east London. Can you see what’s missing?
Yes, it’s a line to Eltham. Remember that?
Political rivals smelled a £75,000 PR stunt ahead of the general election, with Labour MP Clive Efford defending a marginal constituency which would benefit from such a rail link.
Since then, the trail’s gone cold. The Greenwich Council website still claims a report would be due “in summer 2010″. It’s almost summer 2011, and nothing’s been produced. There’s been no mention of the extension proposals at ERA meetings since March 2010.
The report is being produced by Hyder Consulting – the firm whose proposals to pedestrianise Greenwich Town Centre were shelved after an outcry from residents and Transport for London. In March 2010, Hyder’s Ed Humphrys told an ERA meeting about the practical challenges of building an extension to the railway. Maybe he was trying to warn them off the project?
Another speaker at the meeting was William McKee, chairman of Tilfen Land – which owns much of Thamesmead and has local London Assembly member Len Duvall as a non-executive director. (McKee himself chairs Boris Johnson’s Outer London Commission.) He warned that TfL’s budget was about to be cut, and it was more interested with extending the DLR north of the Thames.
Since those warnings, nothing. I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request in January, and was told the report was yet to be completed, although it was hoped that it would be completed “shortly”. Three months on, there’s been no news. The next ERA meeting is on 24 May, but with the release of TfL’s map, it may now be too late for any plans to bring the DLR to Eltham.
Cracking the problem of Eltham’s ropey public transport links is an issue that’s occupied local politicians for a few years. I’m surprised the idea of extending the DLR from Lewisham wasn’t considered – but Greenwich politicians of all parties seem concerned with creating north-south links within their borough, not east-west links outside (even though Lewisham station is actually only a few hundred yards from the borough’s western border).
Hyder’s first proposal would arguably depend on a Silvertown bridge being built. But that’s now discounted thanks to Boris’s cable car leading to plans for a third Blackwall tunnel instead, which mayoral rival Ken Livingstone says he is now opposed to.
Even if you managed to stick the DLR in a tunnel – and frankly, that’d provide a rollercoaster ride through Silvertown – a second underground station on the peninsula would be expensive, to say the least. Furthermore, I’m not sure how one would tunnel “past Charlton” without getting in the way of the existing 162-year-old Charlton-Blackheath railway tunnel. A tunnel from Woolwich, meanwhile, also seems phenomenally costly, risks digging up Woolwich Common, and just how would you run a line through Kidbrooke or the Well Hall Road? Maybe they really do have the DLR mixed up with trams.
But how else would you do it? The Green Party talked up an extension of the Jubilee Line from North Greenwich some time back – but that’s a non-runner, because the tunnels there point in the wrong direction, and splitting the line would halve the service to Stratford.
You could include Eltham on a Bakerloo Line extension or a London Overground extension – but both would cost serious money, and turn Greenwich councillors’ hair white because they’d link to Lewisham and not other parts of Greenwich borough.
Which leads us into blue sky thinking. The return of trams? Another cable car? Maybe a monorail…
The citizens of Eltham got an extension to the 132 bus to North Greenwich a couple of years back. It’ll be the best they’ll get for a while. For now, we’ll have to wait and see what this report actually says. But it really does feel like as far extensions to the DLR are concerned, Eltham may well have missed the train.
Ladywell, Catford and Forest Hill haven’t, though – and Brockley Central’s discussing the idea of the DLR heading to that part of town. (How would they get it across the A20 at Lewisham, I wonder?)
I’ve asked Greenwich Council for a response to TfL’s map, and will update this post when it gets back to me.
6:15PM UPDATE: No response from Greenwich Council so far.