Tuesday 9th June 2020
Network Rail have launched its second consultation into the extensive plans to sort out the Croydon bottleneck on the Brighton Main Line as well as enable more trains to run on enhanced frequencies.
Once complete “it’s expected there would be capacity to run an additional 2 trains per hour to each of London Victoria, London Bridge and Thameslink. Exact starting stations would be up for consultation nearer the time. This will require additional fleet, with the exact number determined by where the trains originate from and how long they are”.
The unblocking project involves a complete rebuild of East Croydon Station (including moving it 100 metres north) incorporating a new larger entrance and ticket hall leading to eight new platforms (increased from the current six), together with a brand new and wider Windmill Bridge (the A222) just north of the station with eight tracks (instead of the current five) passing underneath, and a new assortment of flyovers and dive-unders north of that at Selhurst Junction triangle to reduce conflicting movements as tracks diverge towards Victoria or London Bridge.
East Croydon Station was last redesigned in 1992 when the current station building was constructed. To cope with continued passenger growth it was given another (£20 million) makeover between 2011 and 2013, when the subway connecting the platforms midway along was closed in favour of a new footbridge across all six platforms which also linked major new developments on the western and eastern sides of the station.
These latest plans go much further than both those schemes with the reconfigured platforms accessible by lifts (2 per platform), stairs and escalators (eight per platform). The 2011/13 scheme footbridge will be retained and repurposed to form a new gateline and entrance into the station with an enlarged ticket hall. “Access to this main entrance would be available from the tram and bus stations” but will inevitably involve a much longer walk from George Street due to the station moving further north (see plan above).
Benefits of the new station are listed as improved passenger facilities, better access to platforms, increased concourse space, more retail opportunity and, naturally, “improved urban realm”. The drawings show a new plaza with green spaces and fancy paving with an artisan coffee stall or two at ground level above the platforms.
In the first consultation in November 2018 the plan envisaged adding the additional platforms to the track layout in the existing location, but “our design development has identified it is not possible” to do that due to “the tight railway corridor constrained by high-rise buildings on both sides”. It seems a bit odd this fundamental point wasn’t spotted at that time.
Which is why the station is now moving 100 metres north where there’s greater width for the extra platforms. It’s envisaged the new platforms will be constructed with the new platform 1 built first on the extreme western side, and then the other platforms in sequence, closing two at a time (London Bridge rebuild style), until the new platform 7/8 is available on the eastern side.
Network Rail reckon they can keep five platforms open during the rebuild and admit “this will result in changes to services but we are planning our proposals to keep trains moving and minimise disruption to passengers”. Crucially it advises “the aim is to operate the similar level of train service as today”. This is welcome, particularly as the work is expected to take up to nine years to complete.
To create some slack “one option is for the current service from Milton Keynes which terminates at East Croydon to turn back at another station (possibly West Croydon or Selhurst). Exact timetables are yet to be developed”. I’m all for that if it keeps Brighton trains running.
The Windmill Bridge rebuild so it can take eight tracks (instead of five) will be one of those impressive Network Rail projects where they construct a new bridge right alongside the exiting one…..
…then allow pedestrians and cyclists to use it while the existing bridge is closed to traffic and demolished ….
…. and the new bridge is then literally slotted into place where the old one was located. It’s envisaged that manouvre would take place over a Christmas period.
There’s a natty animated sequence showing how this will be done on a video embedded on the website.
North of that is Selhurst Junction triangle where the flat junctions cause frustrating delays as trains criss cross each other to Victoria or London Bridge, while East Grinstead trains to and from Victoria have to manoeuvre from the fast lines on the west side north of the triangle over to the far eastern side south of the triangle.
The new flyovers and dive-unders will sort all that out.
Before any of this can happen, Network Rail also need to sort out the layout of Norwood Junction Station lying just north of Selhurst Junction on the tracks to London Bridge. This doesn’t involve a Transport and Works Act Order so forms a separate project which has already been consulted on.
It involves two new wider and longer (for 12 car trains) island platforms dedicated for northbound and southbound services as well as dedicated tracks away from these in the centre for fast non-stopping trains. The current five tracks will icnrease to six, there’ll be two new footbridges (one with lifts) and the existing cramped subway will be closed. These plans were consulted on a year ago with 94% of respondents saying they either ‘agree’ or ‘strongly agree’ with the upgrade plans, although I was a bit surprised only 144 people provided feedback.
While having an online chat with Robin at Network Rail yesterday morning (I was impressed with how efficiently and professionally he dealt with my queries) I asked how much all this was going to cost as there’s no mention of this in the documents and it explains there’s currently no funding available. Robin explained “a total cost of the scheme is not yet available. Network Rail is currently in the process of developing the scheme to identify the most optimal solution in terms of benefits delivered and delivery costs”.
The website explains “the Outline Business Case is currently being submitted to government, along with a funding request to further develop the scheme. Government will assess these over the remainder of 2020, before a decision is made on how to proceed”.
I asked Robin if there were plans for overdevelopment above East Croydon’s new platforms which look enclosed on the artists’ drawings, as I was sure I’d seen large tower blocks of flats when looking at earlier drawings in the first consultation, but he replied “oversite development is not currently being considered”.
It’s explained on the website “we have carefully considered the option of building above the new station. Our current view is that this would take too long to build, would add significantly to the overall cost of the Scheme and would cause an unacceptable level of disruption to train services.” So that’s reassuring.
It goes on to explain “the Scheme does present the opportunity for developments around the site. The developments would be delivered once works are complete and these options are now being explored.”
The consultation addresses the question of whether the “scheme is still necessary given the reduction in passenger numbers” as a result of Covid-19.
It explains “while these are clearly challenging times for the country and the rail industry, things will return to normal, and when they do passengers and freight users will still expect their trains to run safely, reliably and on time. That’s why it’s important for us to continue to plan for the long-term and progress proposals to unblock the railway bottleneck at Croydon, which will remain the single greatest constraint on train punctuality and capacity for services on the Brighton Main Line and its branch lines, unless action is taken. We are still forecasting growth along the Brighton Main Line in the long term, and we need to continue planning to ensure we are able to provide reliable services and meet future passenger growth.”
The consultation opened on 1st June and because of Covid-19 has been extended from the usual six weeks to sixteen so runs through until 20th September. It’s worth a look, especially, if like me, you travel on the Brighton Main Line and as often as not get held up at Selhurst Junction waiting for a platform at East Croydon on your southbound journey. This should make that a thing of the past, as well as lead to more frequent services.
It just needs paying for.
Although I note the timeline is fairly prolonged with a nine year construction from 2024 giving an indicative completion in 2033. Hopefully the recession will be over by then.