Crystal Palace tram decision is “disgraceful and inexplicable”

One of the country’s leading transport experts has described Mayor Boris Johnson’s decision not to fulfil his promise to deliver a tram extension to Crystal Palace as “disgraceful and inexplicable”.

The Croydon tram system is widely hailed as a success: yet London Mayor Boris Johnson has broken his election promise to extend the system to Crystal Palace

Croydon tram system is hailed as a success: yet London Mayor Boris Johnson has broken his election promise to extend the system to Crystal Palace

Christian Wolmar, the author of several books on transport policy and a correspondent on transport in London for a range of national newspapers over the past four decades, was speaking at an open meeting in Croydon on Monday.

He is critical of Mayor Johnson for his “stop-go policy” on transport issues and an “amazing lack of vision”.

Johnson, together with Conservative candidate for the London Assembly Steve O’Connell, had made tram extensions to Crystal Palace and Sutton the centrepiece of their London election campaign in Croydon earlier this year. Within months of being re-elected, though, the pledges of these regenerative schemes have been dropped, without a mention in the Transport for London business plan published last week. Even the normally arslikhan Croydon Sadvertiser, once they got round to covering the story, described the decision as “Boris’s Tram Scam”.

According to Wolmar, the business plan for transport “contains no big schemes going forward, and is merely patching up London’s infrastructure. There is an amazing lack of vision”.

“I think the decision not to extend the tram to Crystal Palace is disgraceful and inexplicable. It was promised originally, then scrapped, then reinstated for the election and now scrapped again. It is exactly the sort of journey for which trams are suitable.

Christian Wolmar: unimpressed with London Mayor's lack of vision. Picture by Paul Bigland

Christian Wolmar: unimpressed with London Mayor’s lack of vision. Picture by Paul Bigland

“In Paris, they are building trams precisely in this type of area, orbital routes away from the main city centre. I think that is the future for trams in London, and yet this delay means there are unlikely to be any additions this side of the next mayoral election.

“We need to encourage non-motorised transport, and yet we are having this sort of stop-go policy.”

Wolmar, an expert on the privatisation of Britain’s railways, was giving a talk about his book On The Wrong Line: How ideology and incompetence wrecked Britain’s railways.

Today he was with Harriet Harman at an event at Peckham Rye station. Dame Tessa Jowell this week called for a primary election to choose Labour’s next candidate for the London Mayoral election, and Wolmar – a “Man in the White Suit”-type candidate without any previous political baggage – is considering putting himself forward for election in 2016.

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8 Responses to Crystal Palace tram decision is “disgraceful and inexplicable”

  1. Wolmar would be an excellent Mayor, it would be incredibly refreshing to have someone with an in-depth understanding of transport at the helm.

  2. Christian Wolmar has an excellent pedigree in that respect, as he was previously a trustee of the London Cycling Campaign (the world’s largest urban cycling group). I also recall him speaking impressively at the Fairfield Halls in the late 90s at a transport mini-conference organised jointly by Croydon Cycling Campaign and Croydon Friends of the Earth.

  3. I am not entirely surprised that Boris has decided not to go ahead, after all the Tories were standing in the by-election on a promise to deliver the tram extension less than weeks ago and Boris reversed his position on the tram once before after becoming Mayor. Just like his Lib/dem partners he feels free to overturn election promises immediately after elections without any shame.

  4. mraemiller says:

    I think extending the tram to Crystal Palace is dumb. Probably it was aborted because it would mess up the rail network … Ms V Shortcross has been getting very cross in the local media recently about this

    It’s the knock on logistical effect of extending the tube to West Croydon. The South London Line service “So we all celebrated in Feb 2009 when it was announced that the Mayor and the Government had agreed on phase 2b of the East London Line and that it would open in May 2012, giving us a direct service to East London. But it emerged that TfL had also proposed to fund the East London Line by withdrawing the South London Line entirely and cancelling the plans for the Bellingham diversion.”

    Hum … commuters from Sutton have also had their journey times extended by the rebranding of the Overground train as an Underground. When will people wake up and realise that this is all financial smoke and mirrors and no real financial investment is being put in at all in order to turn train tracks into tram or underground tracks. They all run on the same gauge – you simply change the rolling stock.

  5. mraemiller says:

    Well, let’s put it this way – there’s an overground train to West Croydon every 10-15 minutes at the moment from Crystal Palace. Exactly what capacity would be added to the network by this tram extension anyway…? Unless it’s going to run on the road which I cant see happening (but I may be wrong) it’s got to be at the expense of the existing rail infrastructure …or have I misunderstood? Would the tram go up the East Croydon line, the West Croydon line or the road. At the moment sometimes the trains go from West Croydon to Crystal Palace (mostly) but sometimes from East Croydon. They used to go to both but it depends what mood they’re in …so how exactly was this going to actuall work anyway…?

    • You really ought to get out more, Anthony.

      The proposals were published here: This was at a time when plans to build on Crystal Palace Park were being bandied about with alacrity.

    • ndavies144 says:

      There are four trains an hour off-peak southbound from Crystal Palace, two to West Croydon (not five or six) and two to Beckenham Junction. There’s a vast amount of capacity that can be added by extending the tramway and providing a fast turn-up and go service within walking distance of far more people due to more stops along the route.

      Trams are an attractive alternative to the slow and crowded buses, the more so because many car drivers who won’t go on the bus are for more comfortable with trams.

      • mraemiller says:

        I’m not against the principle of extending the tram to Crystal Palace but I dont want it to be done at the expense of the existing train services.

        If the plan is to use the rail line between Birkbeck and Crystal Palace that might work so long as the tram doesn’t run along the actual Crystal Palace line breaking the link with West Croydon.

        This would be option 2 or 3 in the consultation document. Going along the road along side the track would be option 1. I think although I find the consultation document to be quite opaque so read it as it would involve disrupting the Crystal Palace West Norwood to London Bridge train service …because I am a cynic. If someone could make this clearer I would find it most helpful. If this involves actually building another track then it wouldn’t be completely stupid but the consultation document is not that clear…?

        Even if it was built it would still be quite a long way round you would have to circumnavigate 8 tram stops to get to East Croydon instead of going two stops on the train directly?

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