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.

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11 comments
  1. Brian Butterworth says:

    It’s not THAT BAD an idea as they go. Most of the line would run over farmland and cost very little (in HS2 terms, perhaps) to change to a railway.

    The main problem that the Epping-Ongar branch has was getting the electricity to work, as it’s far from the usual supply lines.

    The Central Line is quite when you get as far as Epping and yet getting to Stratford from Harlow this way would be a good regular connection for the people of Harlow.

    But as a general idea to get transport in an around Harlow, which has great power connections, this is a practicable one.

    Of course, it’s the stations that cost the money….!

  2. Alex Carter says:

    Harlow Council can lobby for it but unless they also fund it then it’ll never happen.

    They might as well lobby for Harlow to have its own airport and email Elon Musk to build a space launch site in the field near the traveller site. It’s never going to happen.

  3. Patricia Duncan says:

    It would be great having london underground in Harlow, it cost so much money on the railway. I am hoping it goes ahead

  4. Dan says:

    Kudos to Harlow Council for indulging fantasy. Such an extension while easy to build, is likely to have a laughable business case.

    Perhaps focus on buses that actually turn up when they’re supposed to. Possibly too much to ask.

  5. MilesT says:

    Why not trial the route with a cheaper guided busway with EV buses running a shuttle service to Epping Station. Even better if it could accept TfL oyster cards for fares.

    Once ridership is proven then replace with tube on same alignment

    The bigger fantasy is for TfL to support multimodal oyster/contactless fares I.e. a “hopper” which charges only one fare for an end to end journey removing the “tax” of a bus fare on top of tube fare

  6. Jon says:

    When I lived in Snaresbrook, rush-hour Central Line trains frequently arrived already too full to board, with 20-30 minutes spent jammed-in with hot and sweaty fellow commuters for those who did manage to squeeze on. Pushing, shoving, shouting and aggression happened constantly. And the supposed peak-time frequency was a fantasy — 10 minute gaps between trains were not uncommon.

    It was the most miserable and unpleasant commuting experience I’ve ever had, and unless something has changed drastically in the past few years (pandemic-induced drop in demand notwithstanding), I can’t see how extending the line even further, to a town that plans to add 19k more homes, is feasible from a capacity standpoint. You

    • Maurice Reed says:

      I agree. The Central line is one of the busiest already with trains packed solid. The extra traffic from Harlow would only make things worse.
      Plus it will mess things up for the Epping to Ongar heritage line as they could lose a few hundred metres of the trackbed at the Epping end.

  7. Al says:

    Given how busy the Central Line already is, cannot see it working unless there are also future plans to link the Hainault branch to the Epping branch beforehand to increase frequency via either Chigwell to Loughton via Loughton Sidings* or some other link from Grange Hill to Theydon Bois.

    *- At the cost of Roding Valley (and Woodford via Hainault services), which given its reputation as one of the LU’s least used stations would be no big loss compared to the increased frequency of a route linking Hainault onto the Epping branch.

  8. Husnaa says:

    It would be great if they extend the central line to Harlow.
    It would be an easier commute to London.
    Busses to Epping Station from Harlow are not always reliable and taxi fares are not a long term solution.

    The railway is very expensive to get into central London.

  9. Adam Edwards says:

    How much would a single track loop in a tunnel with a couple of sub surface (open to the air) stations in Harlow cost in comparison to the tube? Trains from London would run to Harlow Town and then go around the loop and back to London. Still mega bucks which I doubt Harlow or Essex has, but less intrusive/distructive than extending a packed tube line.

  10. John Kerry says:

    Hope we finally will have a tube station 🙏🏼 Let’s do it 🙂

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