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Sunday 6 March 2011

Cripes Chaps, It’s Not The M25!

London’s occasional mayor and regular collector of “chicken feed” from the Maily Telegraph Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was in maximum hyperbole mode a fortnight ago when describing the London Overground network as “the M25 of railways”. But the latest piece in the system’s jigsaw is nevertheless significant.

Although the new link, from Dalston Junction to Highbury and Islington, is only a mile or so of double track, and merely restores a link which was closed in the 1980s, a range of journey opportunities have been opened up, and the core of this part of the Overground, the East London Line (ELL), has been given real purpose as a result.

When the ELL was a stand-alone part of the Underground network, with a service operating only from Whitechapel (and sometimes Shoreditch) to New Cross and New Cross Gate, its passenger loadings and potential were not good. For many years the trains were made up of the oldest tube-size stock on the system, though more recently some short sets of Metropolitan Line “A” Stock were deployed.

With the coming of the Overground brand has come a linking in of the ELL to provide through journeys over the wider rail network: first to Crystal Palace and Croydon, and from next year around south London to Clapham Junction.

The "New" side of Highbury and Islington

Re-working the line around Shoreditch has also allowed the re-use of the formerly abandoned approach to Broad Street (closed to enable the Broadgate development to proceed). The latest extension to Highbury and Islington connects directly to the Overground’s North London route between Richmond and Stratford, as well as connecting with the Victoria Line, and commuter services out to Welwyn and Hertford.

Those with long memories will no doubt tell that it was possible in bygone days to take through trains from Broad Street to Watford Junction, Hertford and Stevenage, but the frequency of services on links like this one means that loss is not so serious.

Moreover, the Overground has brought a new and uniform fleet of trains, replacing stock less suited to this role. The new electric sets have enough seats at quiet times for those who need them, and sufficient space when it’s busy to mop up the crowds.

And when the link from Surrey Quays reaches Clapham Junction next year, this particular brand will provide a genuine “Outer Circle” line for the capital. The latest reopened section may not be long, and it certainly isn’t the M25, but it maintains recent improvements in London’s rail infrastructure.

Don’t knock it.

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