A Network Rail report into how to manage capacity on the Essex Thameside region, operated by C2C has suggested that they may need to move Fenchurch Street station.

The Essex Thameside corridor is a key rail route into London on the north Thames estuary serving towns such as Southend-on-Sea, Basildon, Grays and Tilbury as well as large catchments in East London in areas such as Barking and Dagenham.

(c) Network Rail

It’s also shared between passengers and rail freight, and both are expected to increase by a third by 2050. Although the report was largely written before the pandemic, it has to look decades into the future, and you cannot make long term decisions based on a short term impact caused by the surge in home working. That’s likely to fade over time, so more rail capacity will be needed.

Long term plans to invest in the Thames Gateway area are also likely to see population increases which will put more pressure on the railways.

Increasing rail capacity, with more or longer, or more and longer trains helps reduce overcrowding on the trains, but more people on trains means more capacity is needed at stations.

Three main bottlenecks are appearing, West Ham and Barking where people swap between lines, and the London terminus at Fenchurch Street.

Fenchurch Street station

Fenchurch Street station is squashed in between a number of office blocks, one of which sits above the railway tracks, and one directly above the station, making expansion difficult. Network Rail predicts though that without change, by 2025, the station could start to breach its capacity limits.

With two exits, down flights of stairs and escalators, there’s a risk that passengers from one train could still be trying to leave the platforms when the next train arrives. The report notes that the main entrance has enough capacity to cope, it’s the secondary entrance in the middle of the platform down to Coopers Row where the problems lay, as it’s tiny and can’t cope with demand.

There is a plan to improve the station, but that doesn’t deal with the Coopers Row exit problem.

At the moment, the maximum capacity at Fenchurch Street is 25 trains per hour, but proposed signalling upgrades will already nudge close to that limit, and will eventually surpass it. The station currently has four platforms, but its cramped location and that it was built on a viaduct makes expansion difficult.

Therefore, Network Rail has dug out a 2018 report into the situation, commissioned by C2C to look at whether the station could be moved.

The suggestion is that the station is moved 350 metres to the east – roughly where Tower Gateway station on the DLR is, and enlarged to six platforms.

That could require Tower Gateway to be closed, but that also happens to fit in with a long term plan that may see a replacement DLR station built next to Tower Hill tube station, allowing the DLR to run more trains to Bank where demand is higher.

Although it would be complicated to build a new terminus station at this location, the study found it was technically possible. The constraint, as usual, is money – and Network Rail says that any such proposal would need significant commercial investment.

The financial gains from demolishing the vacant railway line between the old and new terminus for development is less than it sounds as the area is already so heavily developed that its difficult to see where anything could be squeezed in. The front of Fenchurch station itself is listed, limiting the options there.

An option would be to acquire the giant roundabout that Tower Gateway station sits on, which, apart from the railway is occupied mainly by an old hotel, a car park and a 1980s office building and develop the whole site.

That also has the advantage of creating space for the construction phase, potentially reducing the cost and time taken for the station to be built.

At the moment though, nothing is likely to happen unless they can make the economic case for the move.

Key buildings overlay on Google satellite view

Elsewhere

Other options being looked at are to improve the signalling, with the line between London Fenchurch Street and Upminster prioritised for delivery by 2025. That would allow C2C to run more trains closer together – running a tube-like service with trains every 2.5 minutes during the peak hours along this part of the line.

There is also an option to extend train lengths from 8-cars to 12-cars, although that requires two stations (Grays and Shoeburyness) to be upgraded, and the report warns that some of the gains from longer trains are offset by them running slower on average, reducing the ability to run more trains closer together.

C2C is however already planning to introduce some slightly longer trains, made up of six 10-car Bombardier Aventra trains, expected to be in service next year, ahead of the originally planned date of 2024. These trains will replace six of the 4-car Class 387 trains.

Longer trains rather than more frequent shorter trains also tend to disgorge more people in bigger bursts. There are capacity concerns about stations where large numbers of people switch between lines, mainly West Ham which has a very narrow staircase to cope with passenger numbers, and Barking which may see added issues when the London Overground extension opens late next year.

C2C has looked at options for replacing the stairs at West Ham with escalators, but the design of the C2C platforms are very narrow and tightly constrained making any significant upgrade quite difficult to fit in.

The more complex and costly option is for the signalling upgrades which allow more of the shorter trains to operate. This evens out the passenger flow at stations, and in terms of passenger comfort, people seem to prefer more frequent trains to fewer longer length trains. Less time waiting for a train to arrive results in shorter overall journey times, and a perception of a better service, even if the net gain in capacity is the same as running fewer longer length trains.

The full report is available here.

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34 comments on “Fenchurch Street station may need to move
  1. Interesting. Let’s hope that any move of Fenchurch Street will also find it having an on-the-tube-map station too.

    It’s also going to be interesting at Barking if the being-constructed Overground line to Barking Riverside ever gets extended under the river to Thamesmede and Abbey Wood. This is going to create a much better route for people wanting to get from Kent (and East Sussex) to Essex (and Norfolk/Suffolk).

    Barking is going to get cleaned up a little, but when it becomes part of a north-south transport route that avoids central London, it might need some extra capacity in terms of escalators/lifts and overbridges.

    • Colin Newman says:

      An “on the tube map station”. What are/should be the criteria for a line/station being on the tube map? At the moment it seems to be any line run by TfL, but there are moves afoot to add the central section of Thameslink.

      Personally I ignore the tube map and use maps that show all train services. A map that shows only some train services without any clear definition of which are included/excluded seems strange and pointless to me.

  2. Jon Jones says:

    The route to Fenchurch Street is only double track from Barking. Does that realisticly have the capacity to be able to handle the increased number of trains?

    • ianvisits says:

      Tube trains manage that capacity on dual tracks, so I see no reason why mainline trains couldn’t — and I am pretty sure Network Rail wouldn’t be proposing it if they didn’t think it could be delivered.

    • Nige says:

      Tube trains run at lower speeds and have superior braking systems which is why they can run closer together.

      Big trains like c2c’s electrostars can not possibly be compared to tube trains on the basis of performance.

    • ianvisits says:

      You might need to tell Thameslink that they can’t run the tube-like frequency of service through the central core of their network – which they are doing at the moment.

  3. D says:

    Wouldn’t the mooted Crossrail 2 extension to Basildon via Hackney mitigate the need to build additional terminus platforms?

    • Richard says:

      All depends on the time frame,plus funding, which I would assume the works for need at Fenchurch would be need long before. Let’s remember that Crossrail 2 not even being designed.

  4. Fez says:

    Can’t they just run a few more trains into Liverpool St now that there’s more capacity there from cross rail?

    • ianvisits says:

      No – the report deals with that issue.

    • JohnC says:

      Instead of extending the GOBLIN service to Barking Riverside, a service from Barking Riverside to Liverpool Street would have helped to relieve congestion on C2C. More convenient also for customers from Barking Riverside heading for Stratford and Westfield, the City and West End (the majority?) as it would avoid a change at Barking.

  5. Steven Norris says:

    I dont think Closing towe gateway is a good idea as being disabled twr gtway is more disable friendly than bank station, where the dlr platforms are so far underground.also twr gateway is an ideal link between the tower of London, st. Catherine’s dock and Greenwich’s tourist attractions

    • ianvisits says:

      The proposal to close Tower Gateway DLR (and part of the 2050 plan) includes a replacement station at Tower Hill — which would obviously be accessible, and considerably easier to use for those destinations.

  6. sisyphus says:

    I dont often comment on such reports…. but I have been banging on about an alternative Crossrail 2 route with’developers’ footing the bill for a significan amount for a connection from Dagenham Dock, to City Airport/Royal Docks, Greenwhich Penisula, Canary Wharf, Surrey Docks/Canada Water – alot of south Essex commuters want to get to these desitnations, and a lot more could direct, taking pressure of current lines with 15 tph (Fenchurch St.would retain connections but remain below its capacity just spruced up) the line would continue with a link to southern part of the planned CR2 – again lots of commuters would be removed from onward travel across central London.

  7. Andrew Jarman says:

    When TfLRail finally closes with the opening of Crossrail through the core there will only be four trains left running into LST from the Shenfield Metro Service. This frees up platform capacity at LST on platforms 16/17.

  8. Colin Newman says:

    I’m surprised the report doesn’t mention the (theoretical?) possibility of Tilbury loop trains using the tunnel between Dagenham and St Pancras, even to rule it out. It would require a junction at the Dagenham tunnel portal.

    I assume there’s capacity in the tunnel, but there might not be at StP.

  9. Amalgamated Man says:

    One reason for the low use of Tower Gateway station is its inconvenient location – I am not convinced that offering passengers a poorer location will be popular – even in exchange for a better station.
    Bearing in mind the comments on Thameslink which runs a very high frequency service – is it really unfeasible to improve the services to and from Fenchurch St?
    As others have said, improving connections to other lines e.g. at Barking might offload some of the pressure.

  10. Dami Agunbiade says:

    For me personally I would prefer the Tower Gateway station being moved closer to the underground whether that’s underground or above ground. Especially as it would also offer better interchange between the Circle & District lines. It is hard in terms of what improvements could be made. I would say maybe start with longer trains and go from there. It won’t solve the whole issue but it will solve some of it. Also with the London Overground extension to Barking Riverside maybe that can assist too and also Bus Route EL2 can be used as an alternative route for Dagenham Dock. But yes some sort of improvement before this line suffers more from overcrowding.

  11. Mikki Leigh says:

    2 quick points: regarding running cl387s closer together, aren’t S Stock basically Electrostars with a different body?

    Also, I always believed that passive provision had been made in the the Bank tunnels for a station at Tower Hill?

  12. Peter says:

    Something a lot more revolutionary might be to underground the station and the tracks in from nearer Wapping. Just think of all that land (or air rights) opened up for development. I’m sure that would pay for the tunneling.

    And then why not continue the tunnels and either join up at moorgate with the great northern or even the thameslink Core. The main driver being a through station gives a lot more capacity than a terminus.

    • David Winter says:

      I’m with you on this. Taking the line down has enormous potential. Though care must be taken in considering westward extensions.

      For example: Moorgate. The branch has a platform limitation of around 122m. So some serious work would be needed there. I wouldn’t want to suggest SDO except for Essex Rd. So H&I would need lengthening, and Drayton Park re-imagined to accommodate football traffic, even turning back trains.

      AIUI, the Moorgate GN&C tunnels project directly into a passageway for Crossrail. The probable best solution would be to lower the GN&C to run with cross-platform interchange with the Northern Line. No small beer, that !!

      Then must run beneath Northern’s rolling tunnels through Bank. Providing 205-250m platforms near and connected to Bank would be a most interesting piece of engineering. I’d suggest that northbound platform/s be north of Bank with extra access at Lothbury, and eastbound platforms ESE of Bank.

      Other possibilities come to mind, including reboring of the W&C and through working 10 car trains with SWT. Intermediate stations at Bank, Blackfriars and new Waterloo low level main line. The latter a seriously interesting engineering challenge.

  13. Martin J Prosser says:

    The superlinks report is always a good point of reference for comparison https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superlink_(railway_network)

  14. Andy Thomas says:

    I wonder how hard can it be to link the line to crossrail where it passes over the tunnels near Bow Common Lane, there is room for 4 tracks above ground there.

    When I first read this, my initial thoughts were, how about a link to the existing Fenchurch Street Station entrance? With the tracks gone it would be quite easy th create a wide walkway, or travelator to the new station, mitigating some of the inconvenience while also having a large modern new station.

  15. Melvyn says:

    Fenchurch Street Station is already famous as the station hard to find when your on Fenchurch Street so moving the station backwards should hide it even better !

    I’ve used the station throughout my life and even remember when steam trains ran from the station taking us on holiday to Canvey Island . While it was possible to climb the hill behind Benfleet Station and look down on the steam trains below.

    West Ham only gained platform for Fenchurch Street services a few decades ago but the conversation of the North Greenwich route into the DLR and Jubilee Lines has created a major interchange that has outgrown its original design.

    If a second parallel platform for London bound trains is not possible then perhaps stagarred platforms with the existing platform used by eastbound trains only with a new platform built alongside the parcel force site for London bound trains . So hopefully with plans a new entrance to serve the parcel force development site it could be built with provision for a link to a new westbound C2C platform.

    As for moving Fenchurch Street,Station this proposal will make even less convenient to get to and won’t give it a direct link to the tube something that was planned on the original plan for the Fleet Line but was lost when plans to extend beyond Charing Cross were abandoned on cost grounds .

    Perhaps given the recent success in building tunnels for Crossrail perhaps it’s time to look at putting C2C services into a tunnel and finally giving it a link to the underground possibly serving Monument Station and Bank Station complex reducing the numbers interchanging at West Ham Station although where it could go and terminate or link to is to be decided.

    I do wonder if West Ham Depot should be relocated allowing the railway to be straightened and even extra tracks provided between here and towards Fenchurch Street .

    C2C isn’t just a single commuter line serving London as it has stations like Basildon and Southend which are destinations in their own rights and in summer large numbers travel from London to destinations like Benfleet ( for Canvey Island), Leigh-on- Sea and Southend for day trips and use uo otherwise empty seats .

  16. Martini says:

    Couldn’t Limehouse be widened with a terminus platform in between the through tracks. Fenchurch Street trains could then pass through Limehouse and West Ham without stopping with West Ham stoppers all terminating at Limehouse

  17. David Winter says:

    A further comment re: Fenchurch St. I recall seeing a diagram showing a siding plus 4 platform tracks plus 2 platform “fingers.”

    Following DLR’s lead at Tower Gateway of singling the terminating track and having platforms both sides, here is my suggestion.

    Platform duties are contrained by rate of passengers passing through doorways, and by congestion on platforms. Cross-flow operation allows a cheap and simple doubling of doorway capacity. By assigning platforms specifically for arrivals, or waiting means clear movement esp for arriving pax.

    So reconfiguration on the terminal viaduct to give 3 tracks double sided coupled with step-back/relay drivers should go a long way to increasing the platform utilisation rate (trains per hour). How would this work?

    The outer platforms would accommodate waiting pax. Various waiting rooms at or above platform could be provided. The two inner fingers would be for arriving pax. In the morning, the centre track would be used for terminating trains returning ECS.

    In the evening, one of the fingers would become bi-directional. Again, waiting rooms could be provided above. In the morning, the peakier of the peaks, all escalators would be EXIT flow from the centre fingers. Flow management downstream at the entrances would be needed to separate the more intensive arrival rate from those heading for the waiting rooms.

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