Barking-Gospel Oak

No longer a Cinderella line backwater

The line to Barking has become a victim of its own success, urgently needing the longer trains which electrification will bring For many years prior to Transport for London taking over the line in November 2007 as part of the new London Overground, Gospel Oak-Barking was one of London’s forgotten railways, neglected and unreliable. Its trains were among the oldest on the network and were often lightly used as a consequence. Its unstaffed stations also made it a route to be avoided, given a choice. Almost perversely, despite those deterrents, ridership in the latter days of Silverlink Metro continued to rise and some additional services, using the class 150 DMUs, were introduced.

The past eight years with London Overground operation have seen major investment and resulting changes, including new class 172 2-car Turbostar trains with better reliability and improved frequencies following resignalling, and improved staffed stations. This has led to a very significant further upturn in passenger numbers, such that London Overground Rail Operations Ltd (LOROL) are using every available diesel train they have to the maximum possible extent ahead of electrification of the line and platform lengthening for new 4-car electric trains. The extra route capacity from resignalling has also meant that more freight trains are being routed over the line.

Funding for electrification of the line was announced by the government on 27 June 2013, for a start of works in 2016 and completion in 2017. In late-September 2015 it was reported that a local contractor had been awarded the civil engineering work required to electrify the line, ending anxious months of speculation about when the work would proceed. In February 2016 Network Rail announced that there would be a partial closure from June to September 2016, followed by full closure from October 2016 to February 2017, for the electrification work to be completed.

STOP PRESS 6 April 2016 - drop-in sessions at stations announced, mid-April to Early May. See e-GOBLIN for details.

Victim of its own success

Services are operated at 15-minute intervals by two-coach diesel multiple units. The growth in passenger numbers means that during peak periods trains are heavily overloaded, with passengers often being left on the platform. LOROL run some extra 'PIXC-buster' trains using their maintenance spare stock, but otherwise capacity is constrained; there are no spare paths to run extra trains, no rolling stock available to lengthen trains, and platforms at some stations (for example South Tottenham) are too short to accommodate longer trains.

This will be resolved when the line is electrified, platforms lengthened and 4-coach electric trains are available. This is planned for 2017, but:
  • Network Rail has committed to a massive programme of electrification nationally, for which skilled resources are short.
  • Transport for London announced in June 2015 an order for new electric trains, but delivery is not expected until 2018.

It is important that TfL procure additional stock in time for the planned completion of platform lengthening and electrification, to provide the necessary extra capacity as soon as the new infrastructure is ready for use.

Gospel Oak-Barking will be electrified

This short briefing restates the case for electrifying this crucial missing link.

The Gospel Oak to Barking Line (GOBLIN) is a 21st century anomaly among London’s railways. It is a 12 mile non-electrified rail route linked to electrified lines at each end.
Along the route it links to four more electrified lines: the Thameslink/Midland main line, the East Coast main line, the Lea Valley line (between Stratford and Tottenham Hale) and the Enfield Town and Southbury Loop lines via Seven Sisters.
Since the line is not electrified, it can only be operated by diesel trains; electric trains (whether passenger or freight) from other routes cannot use it. Electric-hauled freight has to use the North London Line, and pass through very busy junctions at Camden Road and, more importantly, Stratford and Forest Gate, where freight trains can delay passenger services.

Benefits for passengers and train operations

Electric trains have better acceleration and an Overground fleet of 4-car electric trains would be able to carry many more passengers, relieving overcrowding. All-electric extensions of the service at each end of the route, which TfL wants to run, become possible, such as to Barking Riverside in the east and/or to Willesden Junction/Clapham Junction (even Ealing?) to the west. Some other works would be needed, such as new platforms and subways at Gospel Oak on the through lines.

Freight strategy benefits

Thirty container trains a day are expected eventually from Thameshaven, on the Essex Thameside route, which is currently being expanded. Most will go to the West Coast main line but without electrification of the Barking-Gospel Oak line electrically hauled freight trains will add further pressure on the Great Eastern main line and the North London Line.

Electrification adds operating flexibility

Electrifying Gospel Oak-Barking and its connections will give rail operators greater flexibility for maintaining services during disruptions and engineering work. It will also provide an important alternative route for electric container trains from Tilbury, and any traffic that comes from the Channel Tunnel high-speed line at Ripple Lane Barking.
Electric passenger and freight services between Stratford and Gospel Oak could be diverted through Temple Mills and South Tottenham, away from the North London Line. During weekend engineering works, or even during an extended blockade of the Camden Road to Stratford section, some North London Line trains could also operate this way to Stratford.

Links to two other electrified lines will be electrified. These are to Carlton Road Junction on the Thameslink/Midland main line, and the Harringay Park curve to Ferme Park, providing a vital link to the East Coast main line.

A better greener image - improving the environment

Electric trains are cleaner and quieter than diesels, and will fit in with TfL’s aim of promoting the Overground as a fast and modern equivalent of the Underground. This in turn will boost the image of the service and areas served by the line, thus assisting regeneration.

Cutting emissions and pollutants

Electrification will play rail's part in reducing oxides of nitrogen, one of the worst by-products of diesel propulsion.

Commitment to electrification at last

Transport for London, the Rail Freight Group, the line’s passengers, and informed rail experts are all convinced of the unanswerable case for an electrified GOBLIN.

In the Chancellor of the Exchequer's Autumn Statement on 5 December 2012 the scheme lost out again. On 20 December Jeremy Corbyn MP received the following written answer, to this question: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent (a) information, (b) advice and (c) reports he has received on the case for electrification of the Barking to Gospel Oak section of the North London Line; and if he will make a statement.(134793). Mr Simon Burns: Although there is no new funding available, the Department is working with Transport for London and Network Rail to review the case for electrification. A detailed breakdown of the £90 million cost of electrification has been provided by Network Rail. Transport for London has provided its business case for using longer electric passenger trains and has offered £25 million towards the cost of electrification.

Network Rail's Strategic Business Plan for their Control Period 5 from 2014-19, published in early-January 2013, was the next official word on the subject. The ORR ran a public consultation on the SBP until 19 February. The next step was publication on 12 June of their Draft Determination on that Plan, accompanied by the start of a consultation until 4 September. Then the ORR's Final Determination was issued on 31 October. Finally, just before the start of Control Period 5 on 1 April 2014, Network Rail published their five-year Delivery Plan for 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2019. Full details on the ORR website here.

Then, at long last, a day after the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the Comprehensive Spending Review for public spending in 2015/16, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander published "Investing in Britain's future" on 27 June 2013 and there in para. 3.21 is the good news!

Electrification of Gospel Oak-Barking is now embedded in Network Rail's Enhancements Delivery Plan for CP5. See 'England and Wales Projects: Anglia' in which "infrastructure ready for use" is given as June 2017.

Railfuture continues to champion the cause of an all-electric GOBLIN!

YOU can write to MPs along the line: see GOBLIN MPs map and contact GOBLIN MPs