Greenwich Council’s cabinet is preparing to mull over proposals for a £1 billion Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham, which it claims could be built above the A102 and A2 dual carriageways – and pits the Labour council against the transport policies of the party’s mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone.
The report, commissioned by the council from Hyder Consulting – the company behind the shelved Greenwich pedestrianisation scheme – suggests an extension could be built via tunnel from Silvertown, then on top of the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath and then above Rochester Way Relief Road through Kidbrooke and Eltham to Falconwood, on the borough’s western boundary.
It suggests narrowing the lanes on both roads and building the railway above the central reservations.
A road tunnel from Silvertown is one of current mayor Boris Johnson’s long-term proposals, and got backing from chancellor George Osbourne earlier this month. But Ken Livingstone has said a tunnel there would be “mad”. Nonetheless, the report suggests building the railway inside a road tunnel.
Eight stations would be built, including two in tunnels at Woolwich Road and the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout, where building above the dual carriageways would not be possible. Indeed, the flyover at Woolwich Road may even need to be completely rebuilt, the study says.
The report also acknowledges difficulties in building at the Kidbrooke interchange, where traffic stops at signals, and at Eltham station, where the A2 runs in a tunnel.
Cabinet members will discuss the report on Tuesday. The study, which has not been released to the public, was originally announced early in 2010 and was due to be completed in the summer of that year. After 18 months, the £25,000 report concludes that further work is needed on assessing passenger demand an alternative route options. Council officers recommend spending £45,000 on that extra work.
It’s hard to assess quite what the impact of the scheme would be without seeing the report – all we have to go on are the cabinet papers. We lack important details like where some of the stations would be (North Greenwich, Woolwich Road, Sun-in-Sands, Kidbrooke, Eltham and Falconwood are a given) and where on earth these trains would go to in the first place (Bank? Stratford International?).
But, on first sight, and I can’t think of any other way of putting it… this is crackers.
Above is Deptford Bridge station – see the size of the viaduct? And they’re planning to build that above the road? Obviously it’s wider here because there’s platforms on either side, but what’s basically being proposed is turning the A102 and A2 into a box with the DLR running on top. I can’t imagine anyone who lives alongside the Blackwall Tunnel approach – and a lot of people live very close to it – wanting trainloads of people peering into their bedroom windows.
There’s also the engineering challenges – including years of disruption if the 44-year-old Blackwall Tunnel southern approach has to be rebuilt. It seems to me that this report mistakes the DLR for what it was 20 years ago – a small railway with little bolted-together stations, whereas now its trains are three cars long and stop at stations as well-appointed as mainline stations.
It also relies on the assumption that a road tunnel will be built underneath the cable car site – which is by no means a done deal. Indeed, it seems mad to restrict road capacity while encouraging more traffic to come up the A102 with a new tunnel.
Reports like this can come up with good things – the Greenwich and Lewisham extension came out of a Lewisham Council study, for example. But construction in Greenwich and Lewisham town centres aside, the construction of that line was relatively unobstrusive. Hyder’s plan for an Eltham line would be anything but.
Greenwich is understandably anxious about public transport links in the south of the borough – Eltham’s long had poor connections and the Kidbrooke Village scheme will put big pressure on Kidbrooke station. But this seems a strange solution. And remember, an Eltham extension isn’t even on TfL’s list of ideas at the moment.
Lewisham Council has commissioned a study into extending the Bakerloo Line, which includes options through Eltham and onto Bexleyheath. If there’s a billion pounds – a billion pounds! – kicking around, then why not sort out the junction at Lewisham, extending the Overground into the area?
I can’t help thinking the only winner from this is Hyder Consulting – who’ve already led the council up a blind alley with its botched scheme to pedestrianise central Greenwich. Hopefully this time, the council’s cabinet will realise it can spend £45,000 on better things than this weirdly insular scheme.
Am I right to be so dismissive of this proposal, or is this as plainly nutty as I think it is? I’d love to know what you think…
10pm update: This gets weirder. I’ve just found on Eltham MP Clive Efford’s website a proposal for exactly the same scheme as Hyder were paid £25,000 to come up with – from six years ago. “Clive pointed out to them… might be possible to run a service above the A102 to Eltham.”