Another consultation has opened to look at plans to extend the Elizabeth line beyond Abbey Wood into Kent.
The early plans for Crossrail included running the line out towards Gravesend, but this was cut back in the 1990s, and in 2008 when Crossrail got approval, it was difficult to support the extended line. However, some “very passive” provision was included in the station design at Abbey Wood to permit an extension to be added on later. The downside is that there’s really only enough space for one track to pass through, as does already, without major rebuilding work to allow both tracks through.
There have already been previous consultations, and now they have narrowed the plans down to three options:
- Extending the Elizabeth line to Gravesend using existing railway tracks.
- This would see 12 trains per hour to Abbey Wood, with 8 trains per hour going on to Northfleet, and 4 trains per hour extending to Gravesend.
- Extending the Elizabeth line to Dartford on new railway tracks
- This would create enough capacity on the railway to allow all 12 trains per hour that would call at Abbey Wood to be extended beyond that to Dartford, with 4 trains per hour going further to Northfleet.
- National rail upgrades and a new rapid bus service
- The cheapest option, which would mainly see an increase in Southeastern and Thameslink trains in the area, alongside improved bus services.
One issue which is not addressed in the consultation is paying for the upgrades.
Option 1 has the advantage of being much cheaper to build than option 2, albeit with fewer trains going past Abbey Wood, but there is still likely to be the need to buy a few additional trains to ensure that the 12 trains per hour frequency can be maintained on the existing Elizabeth line, which pushes the costs up.
Although there is enough space along most of the track between Abbey Wood and Dartford for the track to be doubled in width, there are some awkward pinch points that would need back gardens and some buildings to be removed. The main difficulty, as faced by Network Rail when building the tracks approaching Abbey Wood is that the railway is built upon an embankment and widening it required a lot of additional reinforcement in places to deal with the former marshy soil beneath.
The C2E group have previously said that they expect that up to half the cost of a railway upgrade could come from local sources, thanks to regeneration and new housing developments in Bexley Riverside, Dartford Town Centre and Ebbsfleet Garden City. A plan for a major entertainment park at Swanscombe would also be expected to fund transport upgrades.
The Mayor of London has supported the extension in principle but noted that London wouldn’t be providing any additional funding for it.
The results of the consultation will be submitted to the government later this year to seek funding. Any proposal for an extended Elizabeth line, or alternative rail upgrade is unlikely to be delivered before the mid-2030s at the earliest.
The consultation is here.