As part of Transport for London's £10 billion investment programme, the East London Line is being extended. The new extended line will open in 2010, as the East London Railway, and as part of the London Overground network. The line will change from a minor stub to a key transport artery, an orbital railway linking London's suburbs.
Opened in 1869 as the East London Railway, it runs under the Thames through the Thames Tunnel, which was the oldest part of the Underground's infrastructure. The line was originally operated jointly by six different railway companies (later reduced to two) and became part of the London Underground in 1933. Of the eight stations, four are below ground.
The companies sought to reuse the Thames Tunnel, built by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel between 1825 and 1843. The tunnel was built for horse-drawn carriages and so had generous headroom, with two separate carriageways separated by arches, though it was only used for pedestrian traffic. It connected Wapping on the north bank of the Thames with Rotherhithe on the south bank. Although it was a triumph of civil engineering, it was a commercial failure and by the 1860s it had become an unpleasant and disreputable place.
The tunnel was the most easterly land connection between the north and south banks of the Thames. It was close to London's docks on both banks of the river and was not far from mainline railways at either end. Converting the tunnel to a railway thus offered an ideal means of providing a cross-Thames rail link without having to go to the great expense of boring a new tunnel. On 25 September 1865, the East London Railway Company took ownership of the Thames Tunnel at a cost of £800,000. Over the next four years the company constructed a railway line running through the tunnel to connect with existing railway lines.
The line's development progressed in several stages as money became available:
Before the development of the Kent coalfields in the early part of the twentieth century, house coal from the north for distribution in south London and as far afield as Maidstone and Brighton was an important source of revenue. Access at the north end of the line was difficult: trains were limited to 26 wagons and had to be shunted into the Great Eastern's Liverpool Street Station and then drawn forward onto the East London line. From October 1900 additional capacity was offered by a wagon lift, carrying two ten-ton wagons, from the Great Eastern coal depot at Spitalfields to a siding on the ELR near Whitechapel station. The surface junction was taken up in 1966 and the lift closed in 1967, after a fire at the Spitalfields depot.
When the Metropolitan and District Railways were electrified in 1905-1906 they ceased using the ELR; LB&SCR and GER services continued and SER services recommenced on 3rd December 1906. The line was electrified on 31 March 1913, with the controlling railways funding the upgrade and the Metropolitan Railway providing the rolling stock. Electric services ran from the two southern termini to Shoreditch and South Kensington via Edgware Road and High Street Kensington. In 1914 the service to South Kensington was diverted to Hammersmith.
In 1933 the East London Railway came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board. Although the infrastructure was still privately owned, passenger services along the line were operated under the auspices of the "East London Branch" of the Metropolitan Line. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became part of the newly created British Transport Commission along with the Underground. Goods services continued to use the line until 1962, occasional passenger trains from Liverpool Street until 1966. The short length of track connecting Shoreditch to Liverpool St was removed in 1966. The service to Shoreditch was also reduced, with Whitechapel becoming the northern terminus for much of the time; by the time Shoreditch station closed in 2006, it was open at peak times on weekdays, most of Sundays (for Brick Lane Market) and closed on Saturdays.
Westbound services were steadily curtailed during the early part of the Underground era. The service to Hammersmith was reduced to peak hours only in 1936 and was withdrawn altogether in 1941, leaving the East London branch as an isolated appendage on the edge of the Underground network. Its only passenger interchange to the Underground was at Whitechapel, with interchanges to main line trains at the two New Cross stations. In the 1980s and 1990s the line gained two important new connections: Shadwell became an interchange with the Docklands Light Railway in 1987, and a new station was added at Canada Water in 1999 for interchange with the Jubilee line.
The identity of the East London line changed considerably during the London Underground era. On Tube maps between 1933 and 1968 it was depicted in the same colour as the Metropolitan line. In 1970 it was renamed the "Metropolitan Line - East London Section", in Metropolitan line purple with a white stripe down the middle. In the 1980s it was renamed as a line in its own right (though it was still grouped operationally with the Metropolitan line) and from 1990 the colour changed to the present orange.
According to TfL, the line carried 10.702 million passengers per year before its temporary closure in 2007.
The East London line was the only Underground line not to enter Travelcard Zone 1. It was the second-shortest line (after the Waterloo & City line), with an end-to-end journey time of 14 minutes. Its length was 9 km (5 miles), with nine stations. At the time of its closure in 2007 it ran in a continuous tunnel from Whitechapel to Surrey Quays, with the remainder on the surface or in cutting. Much of the line is constructed in the cut-and-cover fashion that is typical of London's sub-surface railways. The deepest point is at Wapping station, constructed in the Thames Tunnel's original entrance shaft 18.29 m (60 ft) below the surface.
At time of closure, the line connected with Southeastern mainline services at New Cross and Southern at New Cross Gate. Underground connections were at Canada Water (Jubilee Line) and Whitechapel (District Line). A non-contiguous connection with the Docklands Light Railway was at Shadwell, with a separate DLR station some 50 m (150 ft) away. Although the interchange was via the street, through ticketing was permitted at time of closure in 2007.
A link with the Metropolitan and District lines still exists just south of Whitechapel via the St Mary's Curve. This has been out of passenger use since 1941 but was still used to transfer rolling stock to and from the Metropolitan line's main depot at Neasden. The curve can easily be seen on the northbound and eastbound approaches to Whitechapel station, although a temporary wall was built across the line in January 2008, close to the junction with the District line.
Most of the line is double-tracked, with Shoreditch station and the final sections into the southern termini single-tracked, the latter because of lack of space. This required southbound trains to alternate between the two termini.
The East London line used Metropolitan line A60 and A62 sub-surface rolling stock manufactured by Cravens of Sheffield in two batches between 1960 and 1962. It was upgraded in 1994 with improved suspension, lighting, heating and ventilation. The rolling stock was regularly interchanged with that used on the main Metropolitan line and usually carried both East London and Metropolitan line maps.
Five four-car trains operated the line, some of the shortest trains on the network, necessitated by short platforms. The small number of trains made the line particularly sensitive to disruption caused by vandalism or train faults, as the withdrawal of a single train amounted to a 20% cut in capacity — the Metropolitan line would have to lose nine trains to suffer the same percentage cut. Trains were operated by just a driver: the decision to withdraw the guards prompted an unsuccessful strike by the National Union of Railwaymen in May 1985.
Light maintenance and stabling took place at a small depot near New Cross, with heavier work at the main Metropolitan line depot at Neasden. Between 1985 and 1987 D78 stock operated the line before being replaced by A60 and A62 stock again.
In order from north to south
The East London line is currently being extended in two phases. In Phase 1, due to be completed by June 2010, is northwards from Whitechapel to Highbury & Islington, and south to Crystal Palace and West Croydon. Phase 2, approved but reportedly only partially funded so far runs west to Clapham Junction. According to Transport Briefings, London Mayor Boris Johnson "has said he will lobby for projects including the East London Line Phase 2 extension". In 2007 MP Martin Linton claimed that with funding Phase 2 could be completed by 2012.
The extension project was proposed several times during the 1990s but repeatedly fell through owing to a lack of government support and insufficient financing. In November 1990 Transport Secretary Cecil Parkinson rejected a proposed parliamentary Bill that would have authorised the project and two years later the extension plans were postponed indefinitely owing to cutbacks in Tube funding. Another proposal was made in 1993 and received the support of a public inquiry in 1994. The project was finally approved by the Government in 1996 but a lack of financing again forced the project to be put on hold in 1997.
A solution to the funding issue was found in 1999 when London Transport announced that it was seeking private funds to realise the extension plans. Control of the project was given to the Strategic Rail Authority rather than to London Underground, in view of the impact that it would have on mainline services. It was also proposed that the East London line and other sub-surface Underground lines would be transferred to Railtrack, the privatised company responsible for maintaining the mainline network. This would have seen the line being integrated with the London suburban commuter network. However, it was soon decided that this was impractical and the Railtrack proposal was abandoned.
This triple extension project is the first London Underground project to be funded through a Private Finance Initiative scheme, though the recent Jubilee Line Extension project was funded through a similar Public-Private Partnership scheme. The project will cost some £600 million and is projected to yield £10 billion in economic regeneration. It is still not entirely certain whether it will be completed, as the Treasury has not yet confirmed the full funding.
Because of an inability to extend the platforms at the existing Wapping and Rotherhithe stations and make them fully compliant with current rail safety regulations, it was thought that they would close, but on 18 August 2004 Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, announced that both stations will remain open, at least when Phase 1 of the project opens by June 2010.
On 12 October 2004 the Mayor formally confirmed that phase one of the East London Line Project would be delivered as part of the Capital Investment programme. On 16 November 2004 he announced that control of the project had passed from the Strategic Rail Authority to TfL, so that the project could be initiated and funded from TfL's five-year investment programme. The planned service was initially described as a "metro-style (National Rail) train service". On 5 September 2006 it was announced that the line would form part of the London Overground, branded with a version of the familiar Underground roundel, replacing the red roundel with orange (the colour in which the East London line currently appears on Tube maps).
It is expected that the extension will greatly increase the usage of the line. The current figure of 10.4 million passengers per year is expected to increase to 35.4 million when the first phase of the extension project is completed, and 50 million when both phases are finished.
On 23 October 2006, it was announced that a consortium comprising Balfour Beatty and Carillion had been selected to carry out the northern and southern extensions between West Croydon, Crystal Palace and Dalston Junction in a contract worth £363 million ($617 million).
Apart from the Braithwaite arches, the route of the northern extension was uncontroversial, as it reused the disused viaduct to the former Broad Street station. In contrast, the southerly route across south London's existing network of suburban railways underwent many changes. The initial 1999 proposal listed four options, all starting south of Surrey Quays:
In phase 1, the line is being extended northwards from Whitechapel, with new stations at Shoreditch High Street, Hoxton, Haggerston and Dalston Junction. A further extension along the North London Line, through Canonbury to Highbury & Islington for interchange with the Victoria line, North London Line and Northern City Line will open soon afterwards. The northern extension will require only 3.6 km of new trackbed, linking Whitechapel to the Broad Street viaduct, using existing disused trackbeds for most of the distance.
Shoreditch closed permanently in June 2006. The new line will diverge before the closed Shoreditch station, traverse the former site of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard and bridging Shoreditch High Street, before running north along the Broad Street viaduct. A new Shoreditch station will be in Bethnal Green Road very near Shoreditch High Street. Statutory planning powers for the extension were granted in January 1997.
In mid-April 2008 the main structure of the bridge over Shoreditch High Street was complete. The ground on the approaches to the bridge had been largely cleared and significant sections of the approach viaducts had been built. The building of the station was at a very early stage.
Early in the project's life mention was made of the possibility of further extending the line from Highbury & Islington to Finsbury Park to the north, and Willesden Junction to the west, through Camden Road, Primrose Hill and Queen's Park, along the above-ground Network Rail (now London Overground) North London Line. This was known as the Mayor's Orbirail project. These ideas are not in the present project. The project's web site states that Finsbury Park is omitted because of operational complexity and that the Willesden Junction branch could be considered as a separate project in the future. The present track plans show the ELL and NLL separated, without the possibility of through running.
In phase 1, the line will also be extended with a northbound flyover north of New Cross Gate to the London Bridge arm of the Brighton Main Line, through Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Penge West, Crystal Palace (by way of a branch), Anerley, Norwood Junction to West Croydon. Beyond the construction of a train servicing facility and flyover at New Cross Gate, little work will be needed to achieve this. Both of these plans were approved in October 2001.
There was some campaigning for this extension to go further, to Sutton, but estimates indicated that passenger usage would be so great that the line would be unable to take much traffic north of West Croydon and this option was not adopted.
The stations from New Cross Gate south are currently managed by Southern, and some may be transferred to TfL control as part of the extension project.
Initially it was planned to run this line via East Dulwich to Wimbledon, but this part of the plan has been shelved, probably permanently. In July 2006, the Government warned that this £250 million phase was unlikely to be approved before 2012; it is currently unfunded.
When the extended line reopens, it will be part of London Overground rather than London Underground, having been rebuilt to Network Rail standards. The existing track and the Northern extension will remain under TfL ownership and the stations from Dalston Junction to Surrey Quays will be part of the London Overground network.