Every journey matters
As one of the fastest growing parts of TfL, London Overground has grown to the degree that it now carries over 184 million journeys across its network each year
With its iconic red buses, black cabs and tube trains, no other location around the world is as recognised for its transport system as the city of London. Combining a rich history of tradition and technical innovation, London’s transport network has grown to represent a uniquely British institution as well as a vital component of everyday life for commuters and visitors to the city alike. The capital’s transportation network is today overseen by Transport for London (TfL), which includes the running of several modes of transport and the management of London’s busy main roads. In all, some 31 million journeys are made across the network everyday, with TfL working to ensure that the city keeps moving, working and growing.
Transport for London was incorporated in 2000 as part of the Greater London Authority, following the 1999 Greater London Act. TfL subsequently gained control of most of the functions of its predecessor, London Regional Transport, and has since continued to grow while adding additional operations to its remit. London Overground operates as part of TfL and was launched in 2007 following the TfL takeover of Silverlink Metro Services. Over the subsequent years London Overground has continued to expand, adding the East London line (2010), South London line (2012) and Romford to Lea Valley and Upminster lines (2015).
Today around one third of all Londoners live within walking distance of a London Overground station and since the service was launched TfL has improved the frequency and reliability of trains; opened the East London line, which including four new stations; refurbished every station and improved accessibility – more than half are now step-free from street to platform; introduced eight new diesel trains and 57 new electric trains and added a fifth car to the electric fleet; and added Wi-Fi at most stations. By maintaining a consistently reliable and high quality service, London Overground has subsequently helped to regenerate other parts of London and aided the smooth travel of people for both business and pleasure around the city.
“The story of London Overground has been one of regeneration and indeed transformation since the early days when we took over operation of the network from Silverlink. There have in essence been two types of growth, the first of which has been through building new infrastructure with the East London line being the most obvious example of that. The second has been just keeping up with the vibrant demand in London’s economy.
“The North London line is a good example of this; it currently runs eight trains per hour in the peak that are consistently full and getting fuller; this is indicative of the success of the London Overground network. Customers know that it is a reliable and regular solution and they repeatedly return to use the service. This means that the levels of expectation in terms of its performance are equally high and we simply cannot provide the level of performance that was present on the line during the Silverlink days and expect to carry the number of passengers that we do today.”
A number of organisations work in collaboration to manage the London Overground network, with London Overground remaining chiefly responsible for ultimately delivering a seamless service to London. In November 2016 Arriva took over the concession for London Overground with a mandate to improve performance even further, along with introducing new services. In addition to the recent appointment of Arriva, Network Rail manages and maintains most of the track and signals used by London Overground trains as part of the UK national rail network. “Arriva were previously a partner in London Overground Rail Operations Ltd (LOROL) prior to the change to Arriva Rail London in November 2016. They were one of two share holders along with MTR that have had a long association with the success of the overground network. This means that Arriva is not new to the London Overground family and has in fact been an integral part of it for some time.”
Jonathan adds: “This latest concession agreement sees the introduction of a demanding new regime, which raises the benchmark threshold for the punctuality of arrivals from within five minutes of scheduled performance to three minutes. This new incentive regime is expected to increase the overall performance of the network, as well as encourage all partners involved to consider new initiatives to further improve the service. Indeed, TfL is relatively unique in national railway terms in that it is directly involved with its operational partners on a day to day basis. This allows the company to encourage on-going dialogue and discussion relating to performance expectations and innovation, to guarantee that the network is always presented with the most effective solution.
“Of course the involvement of Network Rail in this is key because the company has a wide range of assets to manage. We work with Network Rail on a regular basis and we’re one of the pioneers in setting up a ‘Virtual Alliance Board’.” Jonathan elaborates: “This was historically made up of Network Rail, LOROL and ourselves and has been an open dialogue to find solutions rather than a delay attribution committee. We have recently invited Bombardier as our train provider to join us as one of the partners on this board to further build on the level of input from our partners, which is one of the innovations that has been implemented at the same time as Arriva taking the new contract.”
The invitation of Bombardier to the advisory board has also been in response to the planned introduction of new rolling stock, as part of the transfer of West Anglia services to TfL. In May 2015, TfL took over the operation of the West Anglia lines from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town, Cheshunt, and Chingford and management of the stations on these routes. The stations were in poor condition and required significant investment to bring them up to the standard expected for the TfL London Overground network. Since taking over the operation of these lines, London Overground has delivered increased punctuality and reliability on all services. In addition, TfL is investing in new, modern rolling stock to replace the ageing fleet that was inherited from the previous operator with the new trains scheduled to enter service in 2018.
West Anglia rail devolution has further built on TfL’s proven track record of delivering transformational change when taking on suburban rail services. The West Anglia Stations Project is one such example upgrading the stations and customer facilities available at the 24 stations on the West Anglia and Romford-Upminster route that transferred to TfL’s control in May 2015. London Overground will also be introducing these new trains on the Gospel Oak to Barking line in 2018. In order to provide sufficient stabling, the existing DMU sidings at Willesden train maintenance depot are being electrified. These works are scheduled for completion in late 2017.
During the coming months and years, London Overground will seek to continue to increase its firstclass levels of service in line with the continued growth of the UK capital, while further integrating new technology across its network. “Over the next 12 months we will be introducing further train capacity on the North London line to ten trains per hour and aim to do so with unwavering focus on service to our customers,” Jonathan concludes. “I think secondly looking into the future there are some interesting challenges relating to the arrival of HS2, with a proposed new station at Old Oak Common and this will generate a whole new wave of demand for London Overground services from HS2. That may sound like a long time into the future, but we need to consider the impact of that today.”