An extension of the London Underground’s Central line to reach the town of Harlow is being proposed by the local council, as part of a range of ideas to improve transport links to London as the town is planning to add some 19,000 new homes over the next decade.
The difficulty would be who would pay for an extension of the London Underground. TfL has warned that while it’s open to new proposals, there’s no money for an extension.
In a council meeting last week, a number of ideas were discussed as worthy of fleshing out for debate later this year. So far, they are just simple aspirations with no details about how they would work or be paid for.
At the moment, the town has two stations. The four platform station, Harlow Town in the north-centre of the town, and the much smaller two-platform station to the north-east of the town, Harlow Mills. Greater Anglia services run to London Liverpool Street station with journey times of around 30 minutes on average.
On paper, Harlow seems well served by rail links, but the stations are somewhat awkwardly placed, being at the northern edge of the town. A person living at the southern end of Harlow is almost as close to Epping tube station as they are to Harlow Town’s mainline rail service.
In theory, an extension of the Central line from Epping through the mainly open countryside could reach fairly deep into Harlow town centre thanks to two alternative routes along a long line of sports fields and parks that could have a slice of railway run along the edges. Such a tube service to Liverpool Street would likely be around 40 minutes by Central line – so it would be comparable in journey time to the mainline rail service, once you include getting to the National Rail station.
As ever, it’s how it would be paid for that’s the issue.
A TfL spokesperson said: “We understand that Harlow Council is considering proposing the extension of the Central Line into Harlow. Whilst we are always keen to talk to local authorities outside of London about possible extensions to our network, we have not been approached by Harlow Council about their proposals and no funding is allocated for any such scheme.”
However, unless an entirely new town is built between Harlow and Epping – significantly larger than the planned Latton Priory development, there’s unlikely to be the developer funds needed to support any extension of the London Underground.
Although the Central line extension was the headline-grabbing idea, there were other ideas in the council meeting which look more viable.
One would be to see the London Transport travel zones extended to include Harlow. At the moment, the TfL zones on the Greater Anglia line stop of Cheshunt, which is just two stations from Harlow Town.
Also although Crossrail 2 is on hold at the moment, they are looking at how it could be extended a couple of stops northwards past Broxbourne to Harlow Town. They are also working with Hertfordshire and Essex County Councils in the development of HERT (Herts and Essex Rapid Transit system). There is also a call for the two National Rail tracks to be expanded to four, which would allow a lot more commuter services to run, as at the moment they have to share the two railway tracks with high-speed links to Stanstead and Cambridge.
And instead of a Central line extension, they are going to look at improved bus links between Harlow and Epping station as part of an existing bus upgrade project.
Realistically, in the medium term, short of an unexpected pot of cash appearing, upgraded bus links between Epping and Harlow as part of an extended travelcard zones map looks the most likely outcome.