CROYDON COMMENTARY: The ‘Fantasy Tram Network’ map, showing the various undeveloped extensions and new destinations which have been spurned over the past 20 years, underlines the desperate need for better public transport in south London, says STEPHEN SPARK
Thanks for a fascinating, if rather depressing, article. What a contrast to Manchester, for example, where the tram network is continually being extended. But then Manchester has a very active, pro-public-transport mayor, who actually achieves tangible benefits for his city.
Not all of the extensions that have been proposed to the Croydon tram network are of equal value. I am not convinced by the Sutton scheme, which largely duplicates existing public transport links and will mainly serve to overload yet further the already grossly overburdened Northern Line (as will the ill-conceived Crossrail 2). Direct links to Crystal Palace, Kingston and Biggin Hill make more sense, as does a direct link to the DLR at Lewisham.
Don’t forget the tram scheme that was proposed a few years ago between Kingston, Chessington World of Adventures, the Epsom hospitals cluster and Epsom town centre.
There is a desperate need for better public transport in south London, which too often has been ignored by our north London-focused national and regional leaders. Funds will be tight in a post-covid, post-Brexit environment, so schemes need to be really well-conceived (unlike Crossrail 2 and the Sutton link), and able to do one or more of the following:
- relieve overcrowded existing routes (the Northern Line is the most pressing example needing relief)
- serve corridors where there is high or rising demand but which currently require multiple changes en route
- stimulate development in areas that suffer deprivation especially through lack of transport access to jobs and education (Crossrail2’s route through the wealthy enclaves of Wimbledon, Clapham, Chelsea and the West End has to be the most useless in this regard).
Before thinking up new schemes, transport planners need to find out where people actually want to go. Seems obvious, but they clearly don’t do it.
They need to understand people’s “desire lines” – that is, the shortest routes between where they live and where they want or need to go for work, leisure and onward travel.
Instead of fiddling around with a silly little tram line from South Wimbledon to Belmont they should probably be looking at how to create a Paris-style RER, the Réseau Express Régional, hybrid suburban commuter and rapid transit system, from Croydon to Heathrow. Too many recent proposals for the Croydon trams seem to have been driven by a “me too” agenda rather than a real desire to solve London’s transport problems.
On short extensions and routes with lower-density traffic, at least in the early stages, costs could be reduced by not equipping these lines with overhead electric wires but using battery trams instead. Battery technology is coming on by leaps and bounds, and diesel and battery hybrid trains, converted from old Underground stock, are already in use on the Marston Vale line, for example; more are on order and under development.
Croydon should put itself forward as a testbed for alternative traction systems, for example, pure battery, battery/OHLE or hydrogen trams. Any of these would reduce infrastructure costs, provide greener and more efficient transport than diesel buses, and would avoid visual intrusion from masts and overhead cables.
More on this subject: What might have been: how Croydon Trams should have grown
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