A long-running campaign to open up a freight railway in West London for passenger use is likely to go ahead, although the opening date is being pushed back until the early 2030s.

Once built, the West London Orbital (WLO) could link Hounslow to Old Oak Common via Neasden and then head to either Brent Cross West and/or West Hampstead. The plans have been under development since 2017, but as always, how to pay for the railway upgrade is the key issue.

Last year, Transport for London (TfL) was awarded funding to cover the costs of feasibility studies into the line, and the Mayor of London’s office says that work on those studies is “nearing completion”, and that a “viable West London Orbital service is expected to be achievable”

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 joins up with the London Overground at Acton. Then the line could take over some existing mainline tracks down towards Hounslow.

It would likely include new junctions at Neasden, Harlesden and new stations at Old Oak Common, and Lionel Road next to Brentford Community Stadium, on the site of the disused Kew station that closed in 1862.

(An argument could be made for merging Lionel Road and Kew Bridge station on a nearby triangle of land)

A response from the Mayor’s office to a question from Elly Baker AM confirmed that a “contract for engineering design support is expected to be awarded shortly, following a competitive procurement process”

The response added that the work done by the local councils and Network Rail, “alongside work undertaken by Transport for London colleagues, will lead to an updated business case for the scheme and confirmation of the stations to be served, train frequency and traction power, and will allow other strategic decisions to be made early next year.”

Work is also continuing in parallel on funding and finance options for the further development and delivery of the scheme.

A report commissioned by Hammersmith and Fulham council suggests that nearly 16,000 additional homes would be built along the line, generating just under £2.2 billion in additional value, mainly from housing near the stations.

They also expect wider economic benefits caused by the new railway to be in the region of £16 million a year.

The 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.

Last year, TfL confirmed that the economic case is fairly strong, and the benefit/cost ratio of between 1.6-2.3 would be positive.

They need to complete the studies to form a cast-iron case for the project, and then it’s a case of securing the funding for the infrastructure upgrades.

Some funding may be possible via the government’s existing housing infrastructure fund, which supports transport upgrades if they are needed to support additional housing construction. The councils along the route are also able to borrow to finance transport upgrades, using future tax income to pay back the debt. That’s how the Northern line extension was partially funded by the local councils, so it’s a proven model.

Infrastructure upgrades aside, TfL would likely need additional trains as well to support the service.

If all the cards fall into place, then in maybe a decade’s time, it will be possible to catch a passenger train over a railway line that last saw regular passenger services over a century ago.


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  1. Lionel Ward says:

    Lionel Road. Amazing name

  2. MilesT says:

    There is also passive provision at the new Brent Cross station for West London Orbital.

    It would be nice if there was some joined up thinking to leverage WLO as part of the Superloop bus proposal, in due course.

  3. Jamie Stallwood says:

    This is presuming that the ORR permits new 3rd rail electrification. The mechanical signalling at Acton Canal Wharf would have to be replaced, so it’s going to be expensive.

    • MilesT says:

      I wonder if this could be another route that is covered by Battery trains instead of 3rd rail or pantographs.

      Maybe the results of the GWR trial on the Greenford branch (with the Vivarail D-stock–GWR have bought Vivarail assets specifically for Greenford trial) will test the practicality for a longer route like this (with some rapid charging at termini or some in motion charging en route). Or the battery version of the Stadler Flirt.

      (Please not DMUs though)

  4. Brian Butterworth says:

    Sorry to be very picky, but the station on the map is “Brent Cross West” not “Brent Cross”. Brent Cross is a Northern Line station some considerable walking distance away, about 1.5km as I recall.

    I also guess Purdah isn’t a thing any more!

  5. M Robertson says:

    There are a couple of level crossings on the WLO route – Churchfield Rd by Acton Central and Bollo Lane. If the project progresses it will be interesting to see what the approach is for these.

    Can the roads remain open with the increased frequency of trains?

    • Julian Bogajski says:

      I live close to Churchfield Road, Acton. The level crossing gates come down around 6 or 7 times per hour on average. That would increase to maybe 9-10 per hour. The queueing traffic will go up proportionally.

      Ealing’s draft 10-year plan doesn’t take this into account. Ealing doesn’t act against the 80% of drivers who ignore the many signs telling them to turn off engines when the gates are down.

      Given the locals’ resentment to LTNs, which have now largely been removed from the Borough, I expect there’ll be a lot of huffing before the extra trains start puffing.

      Wrt 3rd rail electrification between south Acton and the Hounslow loop, I hope TfL wins the battle against ORR’s obsession with battery rather than DC.

  6. Geoff Brown says:

    Would be more useful if it connected with Crossrail (elizabeth line)

    • Rick Wrole says:

      It does – at Old Oak Common. Read the map before commenting with that empty brain of yours, Geoff.

    • Geoff Brown says:

      Perhaps my “empty brain” would have been served better with a clearer map. One that included ALL existing rail routes would have been useful. The current Old Oak Common Station is the next stop North of Acton Central NEITHER of which are on the Elizabeth Line which is on the existing Paddington Main Line.

  7. Herned says:

    It’s going to be at least 800m platform to platform at OOC, which is stretching the definition of an interchange. Diagrams and maps are different things

    • daveid76 says:

      Good that this is likely to happen. Assuming the SWR service from Kew Bridge to Hounslow is replaced by the Overground, what will happen to between Barnes and Kew Bridge? Will it run no further than that?

  8. Basil Jet says:

    Thanks for this.

    “new junctions at Neasden, Harlesden” could perhaps say “new interchanges” – I don’t think any track change in these areas is planned.

  9. Al says:

    Is the route at West Hampstead to make use of existing platforms or will new ones be built? If the latter where it is to be sited?

    • MilesT says:

      I think there are enough platform slots at West Hampstead Thameslink to accommodate a fast turnaround train (without a step back arrangement). I don’t know the other stations well enough to confirm what can happen there.

      A question is whether the service pattern would have only one route and treat either West Hampstead TL or Hendon as a reversing station (similar to what happens at Cromer in North Norfolk, potentially multiple sets of line crosses including Brent Cross West) or 2 routes running more or less alternately (potentially fewer line crosses), and how the passive provision at Brent Cross West fits into that (maybe with both Hendon and WHTL as reversers with all trains ending at BCW)

  10. Adrien says:

    As someone who finds themself in Hounslow fairly often, this is going to be a massive time saver for me! 😄❤️

  11. Alex says:

    I noticed that there seems to be an unused track running from Imperial Wharf straight into Victoria Station. Given the significant development in the Imperial Wharf area, it would be essential to improve connection to central London.
    Does anyone know how feasible is to split the Overground line at Imperial Wharf, so that one terminus is at Clapham Junction and another at London Victoria?

    Possible benefits would include:
    1) Clapham Junction is already running at high capacity
    2) Significant improvement of connectivity to Central London (reducing from 6 stops and 1 interchange to a single stop to Victoria) appealing to the demographics living in Imperial Wharf area
    3) Better connectivity for Chelsea stadium for travellers coming to London by train

    • Jamie Stallwood says:

      It certainly looks feasible, providing there’s available capacity in Victoria (platforms 10-19). It would also be possible to go to Waterloo via Vauxhall (Queenstown Rd Battersea P1 is currently out of use) although the Windsor Reversible near Vauxhall might be a constraint to this.

  12. Alex says:

    It did cross my mind that the route to Waterloo could be feasible, but my understanding is that capacity at Waterloo is significantly more constrained than Victoria.
    Waterloo could provide better connection to Jubilee line and therefore Canary Wharf.

  13. Charlie says:

    The London Overground has lines that make a full circle around London. Why they’ve never just united these lines into one service has always been confusing to me, although the layout of Clapham Junction, with the station being to the west of the junction, would require a reversal for all trains stopping there. This could be solved by having trains avoid making a stop at Clapham Junction altogether, but as someone who lives more than 16,000 kilometres away, I’m assuming I don’t quite fully understand the bigger ramifications of such a proposal.

  14. SMSpencer says:

    Is there any news on the WLO? Also any idea whether the frieght trains will still use the track or use the roads instead.

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