With plans for new trains, new services and a programme of station modernisation on the cards, London Overground has entered a year that it believes will help define the next stage of its future development
As Jonathan Fox, Director of Rail and Sponsored Services at Transport for London, astutely says, ‘reputations are hard won, yet easily lost’. It is a statement that rings true for businesses in all walks of life, and is a phrase that should always be in the minds of Train Operating Companies (TOC’s). Clearly, this is indeed the case for London Overground, which is consistently one of the best performing railways in the country, regularly appearing in the top three of Public Performance Measure (PPM) tables compiled by Network Rail. It is a hugely positive trend that continued throughout 2017, the first full calendar year that the group partnered with train operator Arriva Rail London.
“All in all, 2017 was a positive year for London Overground,” Jonathan begins. “Our experience with Arriva Rail London has been a very good one and together we have been laying the foundations for a lot of exciting new developments that will be coming to fruition in this current financial year. This has included the creation of a Right Time Regulation policy to facilitate the improvement of our services on the East London Line, which is currently the least punctual of our key routes, and the continued focus of our Virtual Alliance Board including Bombardier Transportation as our rolling stock partner.”
These efforts culminated in December 2017 with the launch of the new London Overground Night Service. Operating at weekends between Dalston Junction and New Cross Gate, its introduction follows in the footsteps of the highly successful Night Tube service which commenced in the summer of 2016, which today sees over half a million users taking the tube after 22:00 on Fridays and Saturdays.
“Our commitment to the London Overground Night Service was embedded within the concession agreement we signed with Arriva back in 2016,” Jonathan explains. “After months of careful planning we took the decision to begin these services in advance of the Christmas season in 2017, which proved to be a shrewd move that generated a lot of interest from the very first night of operations. Since then we have seen steady usage throughout the month of January and we expect this to pick up significantly as we move out of the winter months and into spring and summer.
“The frequency of four trains per hour appears to be working well, and we have received very low levels of reported disruption or disruptive behaviour amongst customers, which has also been welcomed. The key flows we have witnessed to date have been south bound, with passengers travelling to connect with the Jubilee line, however once we have completed our planned extension of the service to Highbury & Islington at the end of February, we anticipate strong north bound passenger flow, which will also result in increasing passenger volumes.”
2017 was also something of a preparatory year for London Overground, with the group training its eye towards new services, new trains and improved infrastructure. Central to this work will be an investment of more than £260 million in a fleet of 45 new trains, 30 of which will be dedicated to the group’s West Anglia services. A further eight dual voltage trains will be utilised on the busy Gospel Oak to Barking line, with the remainder deployed strategically across the rest of the network to handle expected uplifts in services.
“One of other key benefits that this investment will be bringing into 2018 will be the lifting of the train service pattern at peak times on the line between Stratford and Clapham and Richmond from eight trains per hour to ten,” Jonathan continues. “This line represents one of our main flows and is where we have historically experienced our main demand constraints. By adding additional services here we believe we will be able to not only increase passenger flow, but also unlock more demand.”
Improvements to London Overground’s network have similarly extended to the modernisation and expansion of various stations, including those along the Gospel Oak to Barking line, as well as the building of new canopies at Crystal Palace station. The group has also been working closely with Haringey Council during its efforts to regenerate the North Tottenham area as it rebuilds the station at White Hart Lane. This work includes the construction of a new station entrance, ticket hall and station forecourt. Access from street level to its platforms will also be improved, with new lift access deployed, while the surrounding area will also see the addition of new cycle parking spaces.
In the last 12 months, London Overground also received the green light from the Department of Transport to tender for work linked to the construction of Barking Riverside, the largest housing development in east London. The group’s proposal is to develop a four-kilometre extension (1.6 kilometres of new track) of the Gospel Oak to Barking line into the Barking Riverside development, supported by a new station at its heart, delivering what it says will be an essential rail link serving both new and existing residents.
For Jonathan, it is anticipated that 2018 will represent an important next stage in the development of London Overground. “Much in the same way that the original 378 Electrostar trains were a key catalyst in the changing perception of London Overground when it was first established, we believe that the arrival of Class 710 trains into Liverpool Street later this year will act as the next chapter in our story in the eyes of our passengers, as they experience new state-of-the-art trains getting them into and out of town,” he states.
“Then, as we progress through the year, we are excited to see how our plans come to fruition with the 25 per cent uplift in capacity on our North London Line and our vision for increasing the frequency of services on the East London line, as we present a business case for 20 trains per hour from 16 trains per hour to satisfy passenger demand. So, as you can tell, there is a lot of work still to be done over the course of 2018, but we look forward to the challenge of delivering further success for London Overground for the years to come,” Jonathan concludes.