London is growing – 1.4m new jobs have been created in the service sector in the last 20 years, whilst the population has increased by 1.6m – and that trend is forecast to continue. The growth in jobs and population is outstripping the supply of new residential properties, driving property prices up and so forcing people to live further away from their work. Therefore both the number of people travelling and the distance they travel is increasing.

The Tube is bursting at the seams, and demand for travel on the suburban network to the London mainline stations has also increased. However stations on the surface network are under-used by comparison with the tube – for example while Morden underground station sees almost nine million entries and exits per year, nearby Morden South mainline station sees only one hundred thousand.

By 2035 the Underground network will have been upgraded to the practical limit of its capacity. Yet demand for tube and rail is expected to grow by 60 per cent and 80 per cent respectively, by 2050. To accommodate this growth, Centre for London, a politically independent, not-for-profit think tank focused on the big challenges facing London, proposes transforming the Southern metro services into a fast, trusted, high frequency service, following the London Overground model.

“There is a burning platform for doing something like this in south London in order to stop the whole thing falling over by 2050,” said Sam Sims, a co-author of the report.

On services which have been transferred to London Overground, ridership has increased by 80% in four years. This is attributed to high frequencies of up to sixteen trains per hour, offering a reliable ‘turn up and go’ service; higher capacity carriages; first until last train station staffing for improved safety and accessibility; and improved, deep-cleaned station facilities with seating, shelter and modern passenger information.

This will not be easy. The track layout, station facilities and rolling stock currently used on these services are not designed for a modern high-frequency urban rail system. The delivery of ‘Orange’ standards will require:
  • Improved signalling and train management systems.
  • Track layout amendments including flying junctions.
  • Improved rolling stock.
  • Better platform management
which could increase capacity by 130%. As well as these network-wide reforms, the creation of a number of new stations and interchanges is proposed, together with major remodelling of the network near Wandsworth and Streatham.

The report recommends the transfer of these services to TfL, which has the capability to invest in the upgrades needed to deliver extra capacity, safe in the knowledge that they will reap the rewards from subsequent revenue growth.

Railfuture’s London Metro division supports the transfer of London’s metro services within the Zone 6 boundary to TfL. It also advocates a new outer orbital route, further out than the existing Overground but inside the M25, connecting suburban centres which might include Ealing, Kingston, Sutton, Croydon, Lewisham, Bromley and Woolwich, and sharing part of its route with the Railfuture Thameslink 2 proposal.

Turning South London Orange - Centre for London report