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.