Anyone who has squashed onto a train heading to Waterloo in the morning knows that the line is packed, and a report from Network Rail has looked at what can be done to improve things, in the short term, and up to 2050.

The lines into Waterloo can be roughly split into the Main Line services via Wimbledon and Woking, and the suburban services which cover the regional traffic to southwest London, and out to Windsor.

The first phase of the report looks primarily on the Main Line between Waterloo and Woking, and the post-covid baselines in the report all predict that demand will exceed seated capacity by the mid-2020s, and was unable to identify any mitigations that could be delivered in time to prevent this.

Passenger Demand Forecasts on the South West Main Line under different future scenarios (c) Network Rail

Seated capacity is affected by the nature of the line, as many of the fast commuter services from beyond Woking are non-stop to Waterloo and that journey takes around 30 minutes. Current government guidance recommends that people shouldn’t have to stand for more than 20 minutes on a train service.

Also, the customer service surveys are showing a gradual decline in satisfaction across the service, which is likely to only get worse as they are fast running out of space on the line, particularly in the peak hours.

Current operation of Main Line services in the morning high peak hour (c) Network Rail

What the report has done is focus on how to increase peak hours capacity, which currently deliver 24 trains per hour into Waterloo in the morning peak.

The main suggestions are to reduce the gap between trains to as little as 90 seconds, potentially using resignalling at Wimbledon, along with capacity enhancements at Woking.

At Woking, a long-standing problem is the flat junction, where trains often have to pause to let another cross tracks in front of them. The Woking Area Capacity Enhancement programme would fix that the same way they enhanced capacity on the approach to London Bridge, by building a flyover so trains can cross tracks without conflicting with each other.

A third intervention would see changes to Queenstown Road station to reopen platform 1 and add a new crossover junction so that Empty Coaching Stock movements to Clapham Yard during the rush hour won’t affect the rest of the passenger-carrying trains. After all, if you’re sending more trains into Waterloo, you need more space to get them back out again.

The reason they run some trains out of Waterloo empty rather than carrying passengers is that picking up passengers means the train is sitting in a platform for longer, so it’s better to empty the train and quickly get it back out again so the platform can be used by the next train packed with commuters.

All these changes could raise train levels to 31 trains per hour at Waterloo, which is the lower estimate of what’s needed, and while the station could cope with that, the tracks approaching Waterloo can’t cope with even that level of traffic. At the upper level of the predictions, neither station nor tracks can cope with predicted demand.

Roadmap of Interventions (c) Network Rail

This is where Crossrail 2 comes in.

As the report states, “The importance of delivering Crossrail 2 cannot be overlooked when considering the current and future strategy of the SWML”

This is because it takes a lot of slow suburban services off the mainline and puts them in a tunnel at Wimbledon.

The report says that “removing these services, the seven trains that currently cross from the Main Slow Line over to the Main Fast Line into London Waterloo can then operate on the Slow Line for the duration of their journey, therefore freeing up a significant number of paths for additional Main Fast Line services”

Under the current – on hold plans – Crossrail 2 services will make use of a new, outer, pair of tracks between New Malden and the tunnel portal at Wimbledon, thus freeing up existing Slow Line capacity for use by some services that currently run on the Fast Lines throughout.

The prediction is that seven main suburban services that use the Up Fast line in the morning high peak and run fast from Surbiton could then be transferred on to the Up Slow line thereby freeing up seven train paths on the Up Fast line that could be used for Main Line services from Woking or beyond.

Splitting the fast and slow services is how Thameslink is able to push through so many trains per hour in the central core, and what HS2 will be doing by separating intercity from commuter services.

It’s the most effective way of increasing capacity in the rail network.

In the meantime, the report identifies the key priority is to improve the headway — the gap between trains — from the current average of 120 seconds to 90 seconds. Not only can that let some more trains run, but much more usefully it gives more capacity to the overall line to recover from micro delays — more often than not caused by passengers holding doors open at stations — that cascade down the line to minutes of delays for the trains following behind. Improving the reliability of a service is often cited as the most important thing passengers want for their commute.

That requires signalling upgrades along the line to be carried out.

While that will deliver some improvements the projected passenger demand needs a number of interventions across the entire line between Waterloo and Woking for the capacity to be unlocked. Doing one or the other won’t have a material impact on capacity.

The issue though, as the report notes that at the moment, is that it’s unlikely that funding for upgrades will enable them to deliver improvements before the line is maxed out by the late 2020s.

Ultimately though, all the interventions that Network Rail can deliver will simply push the overcrowding problem further into the future. Without Crossrail 2, services into Waterloo will always be overcrowded.

The full report is here.


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  1. Chris says:

    Very shortsighted. So business as usual then….

  2. Melvyn says:

    Given the cost and more importantly the time it will take to deliver Crossrail 2 given legislation has still not been introduced to Parliament perhaps it’s time to break the project down or deliver parts in different ways .

    One possibility for southwest London would be to extend Crossrail 1/ Elizabeth Line from Heathrow Airport to southwest London and taking over some of the branches Crossrail 2 was meant to serve thus diverting some trains from Waterloo thus freeing up capacity for more longer distance trains .

    One other problem area re Crossrail 2 is Euston Station and tge diversion of services to Euston that currently use Kings Cross or St Pancras stations and for this extension of the DLR to Euston via Holborn might provide an alternative way of relieving capacity at Euston Station especially as construction of stage 2a extension of HS2 is now underway and will be delivered at similar time as stage 1 .

    While at the northern end of the proposed Crossrail 2 upgrade of west Anglia route to Broxbourne could be undertaken with 4 tracking and extension of overground from Stratford to Meridian Water or even Broxbourne could provide some of the benefits of Crossrail 2 at far less cost !

    • Brian Butterworth says:

      This last bit has already been done Melvin, it’s called STAR and the trains run Stratford to Median Water via Lea Bridge, Tottenham Hale every 15 minutes now, even at weekends.

      I think it wasn’t joined to the Overground because of a mixture of reliability issues (the Richmond trains go a long way…) at the terrible access issues at overcrowded Stratford stations.

  3. Brian Butterworth says:

    Any chance you could re-post or link to readable versions of the diagrams in this post please Ian?

  4. Gerard Burton says:

    Work on Crossrail 2 should start as possible to ease congestion on the railway and road networks and to clean up London’s air.

  5. Rich Dodd says:

    The rest of the country needs cross rail 2 like a hole in the head. NOT required.
    The money needs to be spent well away from London and the south east where considerably more people will benefit rather than a few in London and the southeast who ‘work at home’. The rest of the country was promised Electrification of a lot of lines only to be cancelled because a few Londoners where unset about money been spent up north. Time for change

    • ianVisits says:

      Having read the report and studied its contents, what information do you have that shows pretty much all its conclusions are wrong?

  6. Ian says:

    For the cost of the of Crossrail 2 how many jobs could be moved from London to Northern Towns?

    • ianVisits says:

      As the bulk of CR2 will be paid for by property developments in the local areas, local taxes and local fares, the gap to be funded by central government that could be spent “forcing” people to move to another town would be minimal.

  7. NG says:

    Rich Dodd
    Ah, you are a believer in BoZo’s “Levelling-Up” agenda then?
    Translated this means crapping on London, the goose that lays the golden eggs, same as Brexit, in fact.

  8. Bigbigcheese says:

    If demand outstrips supply so much surely the answer is to raise the price of the service until it doesn’t.

    This would reduce congestion and raise capital for increasing capacity

    • Andy T says:

      Perhaps that could be applied to all overcrowded railways, and when the roads become gridlocked, apply the same principle to fuel costs.

      As people return again to the railways, rinse and repeat.

      Can’t see what could possibly go wrong

  9. ROppMP says:

    i wish to put forward for expansion for Crossrail 2 a proposal
    has been already been in place for north east branch im disappointed that further underground stations have not been included
    for example South Kensington could replace The new Proposed Kings Road Chelsea and also Highbury & Islington replaces Dalston Junction plus TFL Could include extra stations at Leicester Square and Finsbury Park. i also want to put a proposal for Expansion for Crossrail 2 for a new Central route on some parts on the West Coast line replacing the future Eastern branch via Hackney towards Grays and Tilbury .
    THE central branch will bypass the new Euston/ St Pancras mega Station.this route could be diverted towards
    Kennington With new links for extension on the northern line at Nine Elms Lane and Battersea power station and Then towards Waterloo Station, Charing Cross , Leicester Square.
    Bond Street, Baker Street and Finally Edgware Road when it head towards Kensil Rise finally onto the west cost line at Stonebridge Park . Its possible that new service from Leighton Buzzard to Dorking , Guildford via Epsom this will allow Network rail to run semi fast services to Woking From Waterloo main station Calling at Clapham Junction, Wimbledon Surbiton, Walton on Thames, Weybridge finally Woking. It will also include shorter services from Bushey on the west cost towards some south western services Epsom, Kingston, Surbiton some terminating at Wimbledon.this means space will come available on the west coast line when long distance services will be diverted onto new hs2 line via old oak common. This proposal couldbe a stepping stone for the extension of the Bakerloo line towards Either Beckenham junction Lewisham and Hayes i feel that The Bakerloo line Will still be overcrowded with busy comutters traveling from Waterloo on the Bakerloo line I feel that network rail strategic study team and tfl including ANDY Byford new commissioner is there is a business case for this other route i hope Ian this propasal could be put forward.

  10. Owen says:

    One element that isn’t modelled or mentioned in the scenario modelling is if ‘peak time’ was less peaky because of employers allowing more flexible start / end times.

    Since overall capacity is provisioned based on peak hour requirements a fairly small change in that could change the level of service needed / push requirement to provide it further away.

  11. Kevin Roche says:

    When I used to travel into London every day I often had to stand for 45 minutes on a train to Waterloo. If crossrail 2 is not built, perhaps some money could be spent to move jobs out to Surrey and Hampshire where the people who do those jobs live rather than treating them like cattle.

  12. paul says:

    i put my proposal early regards having crossrail 2 to Waterloo
    Charing Cross Bond Street taking some stations on the Bakerloo line and on the west coast line call it the central branch
    does any agree with me that Network and TFL Transport for London would it be worth a second look and replace the Eastern branch future proposal from Hackney to either Grays and Tilbury Route i still believe this could be a business case
    as mention early this route will bypass new mega station Euston / St Pancras.

    • James E Brown says:

      But you forgot 1 thing:
      You know as far as Central-link as core as Thameslink trains btw St. Pancras and Blackfriars, so it should take advantage to join Crossrail 2 from 2 into 4 platform tracks (like Mile End) of Tottenham Court Road stn very deep level in place than Crossrail 1 level? In other words; France and America are the ones of step ahead than us. You see, in website of High Speed UK rail than HS2, btw Map 1 or Map 0 South, there’s a new connections are many in a future if possible, especially a latest new (fast) tunnel rail link from TCR into Marylebone underground stn where Chiltern Railways stands will connected others, (even if anything happens form it, will never know, also shares from Southern plus Southeastern, and South Western Railways at the same time). So can just one hold a minute Crossrail 2, let Westlink projects of Thameslink trains [HSUK plan was] will decide and share together with it, (‘Westlink’ as Thameslink, and Crossrail 2) that beyond 2050 year will maybe, and what it worth promising nevertheless, (despite a some or whole wasted of money budget anyways).

  13. paul says:

    i put in my proposal this morning having Crossrail 2 also to be diverted to Kennington then TO Waterloo for better links
    for the new extended northern line to Nine Elms lane and Battersea power Station. from Waterloo ,Charing cross Leicester Square Bond Street Baker Street Edgware road then serve some parts on to the west coast line when space will come more available on that line when Long distance services to the Midlands The North. and Scotland using HS2 Line via
    Old Oak Common Furthermore this crossrail2 route would replace The future Eastern branch heading Hackney Grays and Tilbury Route . i still believe there is a business case for this route perhaps a further consultation on this With
    TFL and Network Rail having a potential look at this route
    Does anybody agree with me. i welcome the north east branch
    for Crossrail 2 towards Tottenham Hale but my disappointment
    is further stations should have been added for example
    South Kensington before Victoria , Leicester Square before
    Tottenham Court Road. plus two more Highbury& Islington and finally Finsbury Park. once again i like to hear both
    TFL Network Rail and others your views.

  14. Ann says:

    So if that is the case, why are South Western trains planning to reduce capacity into Waterloo in 2022, keeping the pandemic timetables? Very short-sighted that. Along with an idea that you can just demolish half of Wimbledon town centre to put a railway through!

    • ianVisits says:

      a) This report looks far beyond next year — as any long term report should.

      b) Crossrail 2 will not “demolish half of Wimbledon town centre”.

  15. Nigel H says:

    Excuse me. I live in Wimbledon. The centre of Wimbledon is being totally trashed. We will be the portal. The blight will continue after 2030. Not wanting to do nimby but this is a town here. The channel tunnel could be built away from people but this is a major disruption. At residents’ meetings in recent years chaired by Stephen Hammond the opposition was united. The only supporters were the vested interesteds on the platform who wished to prolong their careers beyond Crossrail 1!
    Given the economy crisis I thought this had gone away for good. All the spare cash earmarked for hs2

  16. Justin says:

    Couldn’t get my head round the report, are they saying they are going to prioritise long distance services into Waterloo or commuter ones?

    Is there really high demand from daily travellers from “Wessex” to Waterloo that trumps the daily commuter demand from people living in London and it’s immediate surrounds?

    Trying to get on the commuter trains into Waterloo after 7.30am becomes a real struggle (well before covid it was) with the plaintiff cries of “Please move down inside” as sardined people attempted to sardine themselves even more.

    • ianVisits says:

      The aim is not to prioritise one over the other but to improve both by changing how they are run and removing bottlenecks from the routes.

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