A long running campaign to open up a freight railway in West London for passenger use has received a boost from a supportive TfL report into the line.

If built, it could link up Hounslow to Old Oak Common and up through Neasden and then to Brent Cross and/or West Hampstead.

The plan is to convert a little used freight railway line that runs from just north of Cricklewood on the Thameslink line and loops around West London, ever so slightly just missing aligning with a number of stations on existing lines until it join up with the London Overground at Acton.

Then the line could take over some existing mainline tracks down towards Hounslow.

The new study by TfL shows that the West London Orbital scheme could address critical strategic issues facing west and northwest London.

A lot of the justification comes from the fact that the areas the new railway would run through are designated as “opportunity areas”, and ripe for masses of new housing to be built. Apart from needing improved transport for the housing to be built, that housing in turn can help fund the new railway.

At the moment, the report found that due to poor orbital public transport connectivity, many north-south movements in west and north west London are considerably faster and easier to make by car. Congestion is also higher where there are gaps in the public transport network, particularly in the Harlesden area and around Chiswick Roundabout and Kew Bridge.

If built, then the improved transport links are expected to support up to 29,000 new homes, 5,000 retail jobs, 12,000 office jobs, and 6,000 industrial jobs.

The core option is a 4 trains per hour (tph) Kew Bridge to Hendon service, and a 4tph Hounslow – West Hampstead service, providing an 8tph service through the central core section.

The line would also see four stations being managed by London Overground — at Harlesden, Lionel Road, Old Oak Common Victoria Road, and Neasden.

The line wouldn’t be electrified, as that massively pushes up costs — so is presumed to be using 4-car Class 172 diesel trains, similar to those used on the London Overground’s Gospel Oak to Barking line.

Total capital cost for the railway was calculated as £273 million in 2017/18 prices (actually £152m plus 80% contingency for unexpected problems), with annual running costs of £26 million, including the train leases.

Examination of technical, engineering and operational issues have shown there are “no showstoppers” for the scheme at this stage.

Although the line is predicted to bring in some £15 million in revenues, as it’s also sucking away traffic from buses and other railway services, the net gain is a more modest £4 million in revenue.

Over a 60-year time frame, the total cost of the new railway, to build and operate would run at a loss of £700 million — but the wider society benefits, in reduced journey times, pollution, etc, would be valued at over £1 billion.

That makes the railway economically viable in the Benefit to Cost ratio.

TfL is now considering the next steps for developing the scheme and how such a scheme could be funded.

The report presumes that if funding can be found then the new line could come into operation in 2026.


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  1. Southern Heights (Light Railway) says:

    And I thought all those 172’s were spoken for? So perhaps they can get some Pacers instead?

    • Bob says:

      I wonder if they are able to increase their order? Although I know that is really tricky. If I bought three Mars bars in a shop and then went back in and tried to buy another three, I would be laughed right out the door. You can’t possibly do that! Don’t you know that Mars bars are a finite stock? We can’t make any more! You can’t buy any more! Get out, I say. GET OUT!

  2. Bob McIntyre says:

    April 1st again? Two points:

    1. TfL don’t own any 172s after the last ones moved from the GOBLIN line to West Midlands and they are unlikely to come back again as diesels are regarded as a pollution hazard only for areas outside Greater London. Why not use the dual electric/battery Flex Class 769 units, based on the Class 319s that went up and down the BedPan line for years, when they prove a complete failure on the Cardiff Valley lines.

    2. Yet again money for London when the rest of the country is crying out for rail investment. How many parts of London have one Class 153 unit four times a day as their rail service with no possibility of said units being adapted for disabled use by the deadline of 1st January 2020?

    • AH says:

      It’s not just about what type of rolling stock you have though! If you live in area with single car diesel rolling stock it’s also likely that you live in an area far less densely populated (and economically efficient) than west London. That’s why CoBA analysis often justifies expenditure for London schemes.
      I live in west London but regularly travel to Cornwall and use the Atlantic Coast line (which does have 153s) – the two areas cannot be compared.
      Agree on the access point though – and of course it’s not just disabled people who benefit from step free access.

  3. Mike says:

    Another massive waste of Money! Those Stations are of no use to the majority of Travellers. Like Crossrail (which does not include Heathrow or London City) the Route does not include Heathrow. Viewing the current overground services at Heathrow, most Trains are nearly empty, as Paddington is NOT central London.

    • Will says:

      Crossrail will be serving Heathrow, and there are talks for a City Airport stop to be added.

    • ianvisits says:

      There isn’t a single station in London that’s “of use to the majority of travellers”, so why would you expect this proposal to achieve the impossible?

    • Ben says:

      Wrong mate, i spend 1 hour travelling everyday by going to central London only to go back up or drive the 5 miles journey by car and spend 45 to 1 hour held up in traffic.

  4. Ruairi says:

    Hopefully a station at Gladstone Park is considered. The north side of the park is in need of rail transport links.

  5. DaveH says:

    You have trains? Luxury! We have four-times daily buses. If we’re lucky.

    • ianvisits says:

      Your IP address says you’re in Bristol, a city that has lots of trains and buses.

    • CityLover says:

      “Your IP address says you’re in Bristol, a city that has lots of trains and buses.”

      Sorry, have to lol at that one. More than 4 times daily yes, but Bristol area train / bus infrastructure is appalling (city wide for a place this big) getting around isn’t particularly easy. Jammed bus lanes, no bus lanes, guided busway (in parts) instead of trams, rail infra virtually unchanged in 50 years and poorly serving certain areas especially east. The city has 500,000 (1 million in the metro) – similar sized cites have tram as minimum. Bristol Airport there are no local buses going there, it’s 12 pound airport bus or taxi or dropped off by car (charged for drop off). Main bus station in total different place to main train station…I could go on (roads, self proclaimed cycle city (because public transports is appalling) in one of hilliest cities in UK)…

  6. Dave says:

    Just South of South Acton there is a double set of level crossings, with one set currently used by the Richmond Overground service. Adding the proposed services to the mix would result in 24 trains per hour using the level crossings! Surely they would have to close the road? Unfortunate to those in the newly built housing sandwiched between the two lines.

  7. David Grinyer says:

    London has unlimited funds to have anything they want.But when it comes to something like British Steel, there’s not enough investment north of London.

    • ianvisits says:

      The article clearly points out that the funding is not available.

      If funding is found, it will come from London taxpayers, London property developers and London fare payers.

      Why is that a problem for people?

  8. Jamie says:

    I think this is a great idea. Fantastic for London to gain extra investment when it raises such a large proportion of the taxes in the UK. This will help ease pressure on the SWR routes and zone 1, opening up economic benefits to more people.
    I can’t understand all these people commenting about investment, for example this will benefit more people per day than keeping British Steel.

    • DB says:

      So some people think it’s alright to have diesels when it’s trains, we’ve known for many years how filthy they are particularly in the small particulate issue.

  9. JP says:

    The sun is shining, the temperature’s nice and warm, the plants are blooming, the birds are singing and people are smiling. Yes, even Londoners.
    Thank goodness that there are still those intent to bring us down to earth with a bump.
    As I say; harrumph.

  10. James Miller says:

    The section of the route without electrification, is only four miles long and won’t open until 2026. The route to me is an obvious one for running using battery powered trains.

    A couple of years ago, I followed the route on the buses. The housing and shops were in need of improvement. It reminded me of Dalston, when I moved here in 2009. Then along came the Overground and lots of shiny new buses and Dalston took off. The WLO can do the same for Harlesden and Neasden

    • jason leahy says:

      I agree,batteries should be a lot cheaper in 2026 than now in 2019.If it is only 4 miles then more expensive hydrogen trains are not needed,I don`t know if supercapacitors can power a train for 4 miles but ultracapacitors that can hold a charge for longer are being developed that may one day replace batteries.TfL is planning on installing solar panels on it`s building roofs and trackside solar farms along with using battery storage to store cheap night time electricity 11pm-6am,both will reduce the costs of powering electric and battery trains compared to buying diesel fuel.I can`t see the point in introducing diesel trains in 2026 when diesel trains will be banned in 2040, far more steam engines were replaced in only 13 yrs 1955-68 than diesel trains that needs to be replaced when the rail network was a third bigger before Dr Beechjng cuts and less lines had been electrified so a future Government and DfT can bring the diesel train ban forward to 2035 or even 2030,so the diesel engines may only be used for 4-9 yrs before being replaced with batteries,hydrogen,capacitors or a new technology,just as introducing steam locomotives in the late 50`s and 60`s would of been pointless as they were going to be banned so introducing diesel in 2026 instead of future proof zero emission trains is equally pointless.

  11. drhhmb says:

    Perhaps confusingly, although it would be part of the Overground, if it runs to West Hampstead it will be to the Thameslink station, not the Overground one.

  12. Geoff Demprunt says:

    TfL Consultation required I think. They had one for a Bus Stop in E17 recently.

    I can’t see any prospect of crossing that Cricklewood Junction by Viaduct or Tunnel on its current configuration. A new Station at Minster Road, instead of Cricklewood, which is too proximate to the new Station at Brent Cross. West, is preferable.

    However, 2 additional Platforms beside the Mainline Brent Cross West, so all Trains could enter and reverse West and South,could limit the disruption potential for Thameslink.

    £80 million Contingency is either a depressing statement of the quality of Project Management or a recognition of those intangible problem. £30 million for both Projects should suffice.

    Electrifying the Line from Acton to Cricklewood £40 million, seems essential , costs have risen enormously over the years. It’s a shame Brexit is coming as EU Contractors could probably make things more competitive. Alternatively, a Battery with fast charge facilities WQR, Hounslow and Brent Cross could be an option.

    However, the lack of use of Carlton Junction, is more worrying as Capacity is tight, via Gospel Oak – Willesden and further Platform extensions look difficult.

    Extending this to Walthamstow Queens Road twice an Hour would require resignalling, Access for All and with a Station at Jarrow Road Tottenham, £25 million approx, to connect with the Lea Valley Lines a substitute for part of Crossrail 2.

    Walthamstow Queens Road would need a 3rd Platform or Reversing Siding but this even with new Acess to Walthamstow High Street is approx £15 million.

    Of course, a supplemental Service 2 tph, from Barking to a new Bay at Kentish Town, would cost £5 million approx and mean an immediate connection with Thameslink not a 12 minute walk at St Pancras.

    Capacity issues are inevitable after HS2; let’s utilise the Infrastructure, that we have.

    * Figures very primitive estimates. The signalling is something outwith my knowledge.

  13. steve doole says:

    What happens near Waterloo could be a factor in planning services near Hounslow, as if more capacity for trains becomes available at Waterloo, and between Barnes and Waterloo, the services per hour on the Hounslow loop can rise again, as suggested by Railtrack in 2002. This was at the time when the hq for GSK was being built, and the Great West Road A4 was seen as an employment growth area. Employment hasn’t grown much since, and how quickly housing density along that line will rise is a good question.

  14. Jack says:

    This is a great initiative. As a Cricklewood resident I want to see less cargo trains and heavy passenger trains, and have an Overground line I can actually use! There is a lot being done by Network Rail in our area, but nothing seems to benefit us residents. A Cricklewood Overground station would be very useful, and our properties would probably increase in value too! I’m for it.

  15. Adam Edwards says:

    An obvious cheap train for this would be the former D stock (ex District Line) being refurbished into calss 230 units. These could run as electric and battery, as they ran on third rail electrification on the Underground. The battery would then cover the new section of line plus the short bits of Thameslink which are overhead. If the line then is a success, it justifies something newer later. It would look good too as London takes secondhand trains rather than new is an answer for legitmate complaints from the rest of England (although Northern and Transpennine are getting nice shiney new trains right now).

  16. Paul Donnelly says:

    Surely, anything that pays for itself in Revenue, should be built at any time in the Economic Cycle. If Trump is going Keynsian the UK may do also, except of course, leaving the EU may limit Labour Resources.

    The Station at Harlesden Harley Road, must connect with the Bakerkloo, Watford and a new Service, from Barking Central Markets or Riverside via Upper Holloway, Kentish Town West, Camden Town, Primrose Hill and Queens Park.

    It would require a couple of connecting Viaducts outside Gospel Oak, and near Hawley Road Camden and include a new Camden Town Station near Morrisons and a Primrose Hill Station equidistant Camden and South Hampstead.

    The long overdue Station on York Way, North King’s Cross can be linked to Watford and Barking to ease Congestion.

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