Rail Link Chingford – Stratford
Hearing the announcement of the High Speed Rail Link from London to Birmingham has prompted us to report on our local rail link in urgent need of reinstatement.
Local campaigners have been seeking agreement to reinstate the rail link from Chingford to Stratford via the ‘Hall Farm Curve’ (look out of the left hand side window on the Chingford – Liverpool Street Line after the train leaves St James Street on its way to Liverpool St).
Such a link (low speed!) would make the jourmey to the Olympic Park Legacy developments and Stratford so much easier, and provide good access to jobs and shopping and whatever developments take place over the coming years.
Below is an important document setting out the details of the campaign.
THE CAMPAIGN FOR THE RESTORATION OF THE HALL FARM CURVE AND LEA BRIDGE STATION
Introduction – Historical Background
The Hall Farm Curve linked two railway lines in North East London; the Stratford – Tottenham Hale line, which formed part of the original London – Cambridge route along the Lea Valley, and the Liverpool Street – Chingford line via Hackney Downs and Clapton. The Chingford line passes over the Lea Valley line on a bridge in the middle of Walthamstow Marshes. The Hall Farm Curve (HFC) branched off the Lea Valley line on the Tottenham side of the closed Lea Bridge station and joined the Chingford line before St. James Street station.
There was a regular service along the curve running between Stratford and Chingford until it was withdrawn in 1940, presumably as a wartime economy measure, but it was never reinstated. The curve was, however, used regularly through the 1950s for summer weekend services from Chingford to Southend and Clacton. With electrification of the Chingford line in 1960 but not the Lea Valley line at that stage, these services ceased and British Rail lifted the track as an economy measure in 1970.
The service on the Lea Valley line through Lea Bridge meanwhile suffered a slow decline. Electrification from Clapton through Tottenham Hale to Cheshunt in 1969 had the unfortunate by product of reducing the then Stratford – Broxbourne service to a Stratford – Tottenham Hale shuttle. This was extended from Stratford to North Woolwich for a few years but this ceased when the North London line was reopened. The frequency of the service was reduced from half hourly to hourly and then to two hourly. By this time, the number of passengers per train had fallen to single figures. The end came in 1985 with the withdrawal of the service and the closure of Lea Bridge station.
The Reopening Campaign
During the 1990s Railfuture and Waltham Forest Council initiated a campaign to reinstate the HFC and reopen Lea Bridge station. Following this the Chingford Line Users’ Association (CLUA) was formed to represent the interests of passengers and campaign for service improvements, including the all day every day 15 minute frequency service which now operates on the line. In addition to this, however, we campaign for the HFC and Lea Bridge. It is fair to say that it has been a long hard struggle to convince the “outside world” of the merits of our case.
Progress was, however, made with the electrification of the Stratford – Tottenham Hale line for freight trains. This enabled us to make a case to the bidders for the then new Greater Anglia franchise for a reinstated service linking Stratford with Tottenham Hale and points northward, with no further capital investment required. National Express subsequently won the franchise with, among other things, a commitment to introduce a half hourly Stratford – Stansted Airport service. Unfortunately, Network Rail then ruled that the half hourly frequency could only operate during peak hours owing to the need to keep paths open for freight, so the off peak service runs hourly. There was a view among some of the managers at the time that this would prove to be a short term experiment which would fail owing to a lack of custom. What we now have is a very well used service which is approaching “standing room only” conditions in the rush hours. Four car trains are being replaced by eight car trains at busy times.
Network Rail Route Utilisation Strategies
Any further improvements beyond this point require capital investment, which, with “railway inflation” is extremely expensive. The quoted cost of reopening Lea Bridge station is £4.64m., plus a further £20m. for the HFC. The mechanism for making bids is through Network Rail’s Route Utilisation Strategies (RUS). The first relevant RUS for this area was the Anglia RUS of 2007. This acknowledged that representations had been made for HFC and Lea Bridge but stated that a business case had not yet been made. Accordingly, Waltham Forest Council commissioned a cost benefit study which produced a good benefit cost ratio of 3.57 for HFC or 3.02 if Lea Bridge is included.
Network Rail subsequently consulted on a London & South East RUS which was specifically designed to address the problem of peak hour overcrowding. It is a little difficult to argue this case for a service or station which does not yet exist! Nevertheless, there is a major capacity problem nearby on the Lea Valley line going northwards from Tottenham Hale. This arises from the need to run fast Cambridge and Stansted Airport trains as well as local stopping services on a two track railway, with the result that no train can stop at all stations. Also, there is no capacity for any extra services via Clapton where the tunnels would make additional tracks horrendously expensive with major disruption to the surrounding area. This enabled a case to be made for a 2 trains per hour (tph) Chingford – Stratford service via a reinstated HFC on the grounds that this would free up two paths per hour through Clapton for Lea Valley services.
In the event the finalised RUS, published in July, determined that additional Lea Valley services will run to Stratford. Despite earlier Network Rail objections, the December 2011 timetable will increase the frequency of the Stratford – Stansted service, now to be truncated to Bishops Stortford, to half hourly all day, but the extra trains will not stop anywhere between Tottenham Hale and Waltham Cross, so will be of little use to local people. The new RUS sets out options for infrastructure improvements, to be implemented by 2019, which will facilitate an additional 2tph all stations service between Stratford and Brimsdown. This will have the effect of increasing the overall Stratford – Tottenham frequency to 4tph. The RUS does not make any provision in Network Rail Control Period 5 (2014-2019) for HFC but does “pencil in” HFC or further infrastructure improvements to the Lea Valley line north of Tottenham to enable the 4tph service to be increased to 6tph, with either option to be implemented in Control Period 6 (2019-2024). This is not ideal but it is the best recognition of our case that we have so far got from the “powers that be”. It is up to Waltham Forest and CLUA to make a very strong case that HFC will attract a greater number of additional passengers than increasing the frequency of the local Lea Valley service from a train every 15 minutes to one every 10 minutes. It is also clear from the costs quoted in the RUS that the track enhancements required to increase the Lea Valley service to 6tph could be approaching 10 times the cost of HFC.
Lea Bridge Station
The planning permission which Newham Council granted to the developers of Stratford City shopping centre included a Section 106 Planning Gain payment of £4m. plus, which is available for the reinstatement of HFC or the reopening of Lea Bridge station. If it is not contractually committed by the end of 2012, it will be shared by all five Olympic boroughs for other purposes. Waltham Forest and neighbouring Councils have therefore agreed to use this money to reinstate Lea Bridge station. As a by product, this also improves the benefit cost ratio for HFC.
The Current Position
The prospects for reopening Lea Bridge station currently look promising, with the likelihood of trains calling there from 2014. Reinstatement of the Hall Farm Curve depends on making a strong enough case to Network Rail in response to the RUS consultation for Control Period 6 (2019-2024) and having previously done the research required to back it up. A high profile campaign by Ken Livingstone would be very helpful in reinforcing the case and, possibly, speeding up its implementation.
The restoration of the Hall Farm Curve to facilitate a direct Chingford – Walthamstow – Stratford service would dramatically improve access to Stratford and to the connections available there to Canary Wharf and other parts of Docklands, as well as to the Central, Jubilee and Overground lines and to places in East Anglia. The reopening of Lea Bridge station would make a significant contribution to the regeneration of this part of the Lea Valley and improve transport links up and down the valley including to Stansted Airport and Cambridge as well as to Stratford and the connectional opportunities there as outlined above. In turn, this will vastly improve the range of accessible employment opportunities in financial services, retail and other occupations available to Chingford and Walthamstow residents.
Chingford Line Users’ Association.