Shadwell has two railway stations right next to each other, for the Overground and the DLR, and yet separate, and unsurprisingly, TfL has looked at how it could merge the two into one. Not just to create an easier interchange but also to enable step-free access on the Overground, which is currently not possible.
The separation of the two stations is a legacy of complex railway history.
The railway viaduct that today carries the DLR dates from 1840 when it was opened initially as a cable haulage railway, but a decade later swapped to conventional steam trains.
As part of the line which ran from Minories in the City of London to Blackwall in the docks, a station was opened at Shadwell just to the east of the current DLR station but the station closed in 1941. If you use the DLR, you can see part of the old platform structure just before you arrive at Shadwell DLR station when heading into the City.
There was even a Railway Arms pub next to the old entrance. The pub has gone but the old station entrance remains, although now in use for storage.
The London Overground arrived next, as an underground station in April 1876 and used to have a ticket office a few yards from the current surface building – fronting onto Watney Street. In 1983, the station entrance moved to its current location.
The old ticket hall remained until 2010 when it was demolished to make space for a new electricity substation for the London Overground.
Back to the DLR for a moment, when that arrived in 1987, the old railway viaduct still existed, and thanks to the way the viaduct widened as it approached the old Shadwell station, there was enough space to squeeze a single platform station into the tracks next to the Overground station.
Unfortunately, the widening of the railway arches didn’t happen close enough to sit the new DLR station over the Overground station, and as the DLR was built on a bit of a shoestring, they had to compromise.
Build the DLR as close to the Overground as possible, but don’t join them up.
Ever since, people swapping between lines have had a 50 metre walk between the two stations crossing a street and using narrow pavements, but now that both the DLR and the Overground are carrying vastly more passengers than ever expected, what if they could be joined up.
The DLR 2030 upgrade programme looked at this very issue back in 2016.
Improving the interchange while nice to have, needs a business case, and it was concerns about overcrowding at Canada Water where people swap from the Overground to the Jubilee to get to Canary Wharf that was the main motivation for seeing if improvements at Shadwell could soak away some of the passengers from Canada Water.
The DLR between the City and Canary Wharf is also expected to see a decline in passengers when the Elizabeth line opens, giving it more capacity to absorb Jubilee line passengers displaced from Canada Water.
They looked at a number of options.
One was to move the DLR station about 100 metres to the west and build a more suitable station for the passenger numbers, with escalators and a wider platform. A covered walkway would link the DLR with the Overground, so while it’s still two separate stations, the interchange would be more pleasant.
While fortunately, there is space for the new station as the land it would sit above is currently a car park, unfortunately, it was estimated to cost around £30 million. It would also not really create a direct interchange which is what they were looking for.
The other option which was never taken up was to commission a report into full integration between the two stations.
A further visit in 2017 looked at the issues they might face.
One advantage that the Overground station has is that while it’s actually underground, there’s a large open-air void at the northern end of the platforms, a legacy from the days of steam trains.
They looked at using that to create a new entry/exit point with lifts, increasing vertical circulation capacity as well as providing step-free access between the platform and the street. The step-free issue is a significant one, as while there is a lift at Shadwell station, it doesn’t go all the way down to the platform level as there simply wasn’t enough space.
If they were to fill in the open-air void with a new entrance, then part of the costs would be recovered from the oversite development that inevitably follows. The new entrance to the Overground would be right next to the proposed relocated DLR station, so while there would still technically be a gap between them, it would be much smaller than before, and likely to be across a pedestrianised street.
At the moment though, the project is in limbo, and with TfL constrained finances it’s unlikely to happen any time soon.
Source: What do they know