The Northern City line out of Moorgate to Stevenage could be handed to TfL as plans to devolve them took a step forward.

Although a lot of work is still needed to be done, and the benefits and risks were said to be “finely balanced”, there could be devolution of the line to TfL no later than September 2022.

In a letter to Heidi Alexander, the Deputy Mayor of London for Transport, the Department for Transport confirmed that TfL had submitted an outline business case to take over the line and that TfL and the DfT have been working on fleshing out the plans.

Heidi Alexander first outlined TfL’s desire to take over the Great Northern Inner lines from Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) back in July 2018.

More recently, TfL’s Commissioner, Mike Brown, said that TfL is working towards delivering a bid for Northern City services when the Govia Thameslink franchise is due to expire in 2021.

They’re now at the stage where they can work on further details for devolving the line. As it stands, this would be the Great Northern Inner suburban services, which is the lines between Moorgate and Stevenage.

That is slightly more than had been suggested could be devolved in the Gibb report which also looked at the issue of devolving services to TfL. That report had proposed devolving the line from Moorgate to Hertford and Welwyn Garden City, although the current works to add an extra platform at Stevenage should make the extra extension possible, and it offers passengers a more convenient transfer between services.

As some of the stations along the line fall outside of the Greater London Authority boundaries, any TfL plans are required to include details of how passengers using the new stations would have some level of representation in how the services are managed.

TfL also needs to ensure that the transfer is cost-neutral to the DfT.

The change, as described in the letter seems like it may exclude the occasional services into Kings Cross, which in turn could release more platform capacity at that station for other suburban lines.

Geoff Hobbs, TfL’s Director of Public Transport Service Planning, said: “The response from the Department for Transport following the submission of the Strategic Outline Business Case is another positive step towards devolving some Great Northern commuter routes to TfL. We continue to work constructively with the DfT on the proposed transfer that would support the Mayor’s commitment to improve integrated transport services.”

Presumed lines affected – based on Network Rail map

If the transfer does take place, then the part of the line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate will be returning to the London Transport. Although it opened in 1904 as part of the (now) mainline railway network, it was taken over by the Metropolitan line in 1913 with a plan to extend it from Moorgate down to Bank.

It was operated as part of the Northern line from 1939 to 1975, when it was handed over to British Rail and has been a mainline service ever since. It could be part of London Transport once more.


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  1. David says:

    Welwyn North and Knebworth will not be transferred to TfL, unless TfL decide to change the existing service pattern. Currently only Thameslink regional trains run through those two stations. Great Northern Metros run from Stevenage only via Hertford North.

    • Paul says:

      This is absolutely right.
      The service patterns on these lines are governed by the infrastructure – the four tracks from Alexandra Palace to Welwyn Garden City can carry the fast LNER and GTR services on separate tracks to the stopping services. North of WGC is the two track Welwyn viaduct and tunnel, either side of Welwyn North station. This has always meant that the stopping services have to terminate at WGC
      as there’s no room for them on the two track section.

      On the other side of the loop, it’s two tracks all the way from Alexandra Palace to Stevenage via Hertford, so it’s not possible to serve Watton-at-Stone with anything other than an extension of the stopping services going to Hertford. Until recently these services had to continue through Stevenage and Hitchin to reverse at Letchworth, but the Thameslink upgrade meant there was no room for that, so the reversing platform at Stevenage was constructed – albeit after some years of bus replacement services North of Hertford.

      These significant infrastructure constraints mean that the service routes are close to impossible to change, although higher frequencies might be possible, so any takeover would have to include Moorgate-WGC and Moorgate-Hertford-Stevenage.

  2. Pavel Bertuzzi says:

    This is the change I so desperately need.

  3. Melvyn says:

    This transfer would have major benefits at the London end especially with the line added to tube maps better showing interchanges like at Highbury and Islington where passengers can cross platforms between Victoria Line and Great Northern giving better and shorter journeys to stations like Moorgate. Whereas at present many continue to Kings Cross St Pancras to use stairs and escalators to change to Northern Line to reach Moorgate.

    I reckon given the distance these services run out of London the term TFL Rail should be re-used for these services and indeed any other longer distance services that TFL May assume in the future.

    This running beyond the GLA boundary where London Mayor jurisdictions end raises questions as to whether TFL should have board representing Home Counties alongside Mayor of London?

    • Mikey C says:

      TfL could add Finsbury Park to Moorgate to the Tube Map now if they wanted, it’s their decision to show only TfL lines (whereas previously the tube map used to show certain British Rail lines)

    • David says:

      Agree with Mikey C. Regardless of takeover, there’s a very strong case for showing the Thameslink core, Charing X to London Bridge, the Northern City Line, and Waterloo to Wimbledon on the Tube map.

    • Agree with Mikey C and David, unfortunately TfL’s even more dire financial circumstances nowadays will mean that they will not forego any potential revenue. So adding non-TfL lines to the Tube Map will not happen until TfL has stable, sufficient long term funding.

    • Marc RICKETS says:

      Well I am looking forward for TFL-RAIL to Expand to Hertford North and Stevenage when its ready. But I Think TFL-RAIL Should Expand to Gatwick Airport in the future as well.

  4. Long Branch Mike says:

    Hopefully once the Great Northern line is devolved to TfL, the latter organisation will FINALLY clarify the orange spaghetti on the Tube Maps to unique Overground line identifiers.

  5. John Usher says:

    Given the issues which arise when there are problems in the tunnel to Moorgate, if the ‘…occasional services into Kings Cross…’ (KX) are abandoned, it will be interesting to see if diversions into KX from Finsbury Park (FP) will also cease, and if so what the strategy will be? Also, there are all new trains – will these be taken over, or will they change again, and the line go Overground Orange, or TFL Rail? and the $64K Question – will the line now be extended to Bank, or even South London? Lots of questions. At least I’ll be able to use my Over 60’s pass before 09:30 North of FP!

    • Adam Bowie says:

      The new 717 units that currently run into Moorgate were purpose built for the unique demands of the line, so they would necessarily be taken on by TFL as well.

    • Taz says:

      1913 planned extension beyond Moorgate is probably now unachievable with DLR, Crossrail, skyscraper piling, and even new Northern line southbound platform at Bank under construction!

  6. Michael C. says:

    I wonder if it will become yet another overground line, or will it have more distinction? TfL rail? Perhaps it will actually be called the Northern City Line? Who knows? I look forward to finding out!

    • Craig Thomson says:

      Having a “Northern City Line” and a “City (Bank) branch of the Northern Line” all under TFL might be confusing. Arguably another name for the Great Northern Line may therefore be advisable.

  7. Geoffrey Algernon Brabant Demprunt says:

    This is ideal TfL is arguably the best Transportation System in the World.

    They have to decide whether the Financial wrangle with Crossrail is going to prevent them seeking Private Sector Involvement in new Lines that add capacity such as the South West London Line from Hounslow to Brent Cross.

    This particular transfer will clearly allow a fresh look at a Rail or Light Rail Line Welwyn Garden City – St Albans – Bushey- Watford – Croxley. utilising existing, if disused Lines.

    Further, inside the M25 an expedient and cheaper Crossrail 2 Linking Highgate, Muswell Hill, Haringey and not Dalston but Stratford and Barking

    It should be possible in S – Bahn fashion to link all Lines from Hounslow to Barking in the next4 years to reduce expensive incursions into the Central Zone.

    Perhaps Dollis Hill ( Gladstone Park) Cricklewood, Childs Hill, Hampstead LUL, Highgate Village, Highgate is the Answer).

    There’s probably topographical and Corporation of London Issues to overcome but it should be feasible with a Dive Under at Stroud Green?

    • Adam says:

      >”This particular transfer will clearly allow a fresh look at a Rail or Light Rail Line Welwyn Garden City – St Albans – Bushey- Watford – Croxley. utilising existing, if disused Lines.”

      Hold your horses a sec, optimistic crayonista. As much as I’d love for a railway to run all the way through Hertfordshire connecting all our major railways, it’s really not feasible. There’s no business case for it, as not nearly enough people would use the link to justify the cost of such a link. Even the Croxley rail link/Met line ext, which had proven potential benefits to the local communities, had to be shelved due to funding.
      It would appear that this line would make use the aforementioned Met Line extension, which itself is ludicrous. Up to 8 trains an hour go from Watford to London on the Met Line (before lockdown), while the Overground line to Watford runs 4 trains an hour now (again, pre-lockdown). That’s already 12 trains an hour along this one stretch of track were the Met Line Ext. to be completed. There were also proposals of Watford-to-Aylesbury trains using the extension too. There wouldn’t be any capacity on this line for these additional trains.

  8. Ray says:

    Great Northern use 717 units which were uniquely designed for the Moorgate to Drayton Park section and for use on ETCS in cab signalling which is due on Network Rails lines out of Moorgate and Kings Cross in 2022. The resignalling won’t change as Networkrail will still own and run the infrastructure that the proposed TfL takeover will run on. So TfL will have to take them. As for the diversion into Kings Cross when there are problems, won’t happen. I cite the Overground section through New Cross Gate/ Queens Road Peckham. When there are problems on the old East London line section they are not diverted into London Bridge. TfL cancel their train service when there are problems. All trains return to depot and do not reemerge until the problem is rectified.

  9. IRDC says:

    Introducing the crossrail purple branded…

    Herts & City line

  10. Marc Ricketts says:

    If Great Northern Railway changes to TFL-Rail in the future. Why not plan a Brand New Train Service from Stevenage to Gatwick Airport as well. Via Hertford North and Enfield Chase. And why not plan Enfield Chase, Crews Hill, Palmers Green and Winchmore Hill Railway Stations to be Step Free Access in the future as well. With some Brand New Projects?

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