According to news reports, there are plans for a DLR style service linking up several parts of Essex. The reports suggest that a £93 million south Essex electric rail service could link the towns of Brentwood, Basildon, Grays, Southend and Southend Airport.
That’s a lot of railway for not a lot of money.
It’s taken a bit of hunting to find a copy (and emails ignored), but the report by the Association of South Essex Local Authorities, in fact, gives a very different picture of what’s being planned.
What it actually calls for is a “rapid transport network” that is designed to “provide direct, high frequency, inter-urban links between the key public transport hubs”
The service would aim to offer a minimum frequency of 6 per hour during the three-hour morning and evening peak periods, not less than 3ph at other times and average journey times of circa 20-25 minutes.
An initial £30 million is expected for the first phase, with a further outlay of £63 million over five years.
The key thing to note is that nowhere in the report does the rapid transport network get described as a railway service, of any sort. In fact, the report doesn’t say a word about what the service could be.
What’s much more likely is improvements to roads to provide what is termed a “bus rapid transit” service — a way of boosting capacity on bus networks, but much more importantly, improving their reliability, often by giving them dedicated bus lanes that cannot be blocked by other road traffic.
While a railway offers many more benefits than a rapid bus network, it also costs considerably more to build. A rapid bus network can be bolted onto the existing road infrastructure by redeveloping junctions and adding dedicated lanes where needed.
It’s also much more likely to fit into a £93 million budget.
It’s unlikely to be trams, as such a service would still smash through that budget (the modest extension of the London trams to Sutton is budgeted at £330 million), while the smaller DLR extension along existing railways to Stratford International in 2008 came in at £238 million.
Sadly, the chance of a DLR style network in Essex linking up four such distantly spaced towns for £93 million is not going to happen.
However, a rapid bus network is a good, reliable, and affordable way of linking towns, and the villages between, and offers not just an alternative to the car for car owners, but opens up many more work and social opportunities for people who cant afford to buy a car.