Let’s build new tram lines with routes where people want to go

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

Manchester’s tram network has constantly evolved through line extensions

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:

  1. relieve overcrowded existing routes (the Northern Line is the most pressing example needing relief)
  2. serve corridors where there is high or rising demand but which currently require multiple changes en route
  3. 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).

Anthony Norris-Watson’s ‘what might have been’ version of the tram network

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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This entry was posted in Commuting, East Croydon, Sutton Link, TfL, Tramlink, Transport. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Let’s build new tram lines with routes where people want to go

  1. Lewis White says:

    Huge thanks to Anthony Norris-Watson and Inside Croydon for the source article, and to Stephen Spark for the above. Both really informative and thought-provoking.

    The development of rail-based public transport in South London (including SW and SE) has depended on the lines that fan out from London Bridge, Waterloo and Victoria. The Underground got to Morden but was never extended to Sutton, just a few miles further South. As I understand it, that was the result of pressure from the railway companies, who feared the implication for the prospertity of their lines from Sutton to London. Apart from the Northern line, the only other underground lines to the South of the river hug closely to the river, such as Richmond & Wimbledon line, and the East London Line to New Cross and New Cross Gate, where they feed in to the main rail system.

    The tram from Croydon to Wimbledon took over existing disused railway line courses in Addiscombe, and a live but sleepy line from West Croydon to Mitcham.
    It clearly has done great things to connect Croydon with Wimbedon to the NW and Beckenham to the East, and really a proper connection to the once isolated New Addington.

    The overall map provided in Anthony’s article showed that extensions to Bromley, and Lewisham, the two biggest towns of SE London, which are on the same spoke of the SE section of the London Cartwheel . Croydon is not on that spoke. Neither is Croydon on the same spoke as Sutton. It actually is a cartwheel with spokes and hub, but the outer “wheel” or rim is missing. The M25 provides a road rim further out, but not a bus , tram or train rim.

    The problem of commuting from SE to S to SW London and vice versa, is cursed due to the cartwheel effect, whereby it is far easier and sometimes much quicker– to go up the spoke from places like Sutton to the hub, rather than get by bus or train, to Croydon, on the next spoke going East. The absence of a really quick connector between East and West Croydoin stations is also a factor making train travel connections between the Brighton line and the Sutton line very slow, as the passenger either has to get off a E Croydon, take a bus or tram to W Croydon, or get to Norwood Junctiion, and get a train or Overground back to W Croydon. A tunnel from E to W Croydon with a shuttle train or travellator would clearly cost a bundle.

    The joy of Tramlink is that it cuts across the gaps between the spokes, linking places that were peviously badly connected with Croydon, such as Addiscombe and Mitcham. Modern single decker bus routes also have been routed in complicated but useful routes, linking residential areas with the town centres better than in the 1950’s , when all the buses went down the main roads

    Logically, we need a tram link from E Croydon, to Waddon, Wallington, and Carshalton, to Sutton, to give a quicker link than via the existing Croydon Tramlink route to Mitcham, then a new line down to Sutton.

    In an ideal South London, in my view, a 1 hour maximum journey time is OK.
    Additional tram routes which bridge the gaps between the spokes and link the smaller communities and the bigger centres would be excellent, as is the fact that tramstops are at sensible destances apart, neither too close nore too far apart, but the problem time for commuters between the main centres is that travel on the tram is slower than with an underground train.

    I therefore think that there is a good case for a South London Orbital Underground line to link Lewisham (with its Docklands Light railway stop) to Catford, Bellingham, Bromley, Beckenham, Addsicombe, Croydon, Waddon, Wallington, Carshalton, Sutton, Sutton West, Cheam, Ewell, Epsom, W Ewell, Chessington, Surbiton, and Kingston.

    Construction would employ a lot of people after completion of Crossrail.
    And probably cost three times as much. Sad.

  2. Biggin Hill: low density, barely worth a bus service (or should be a bus service rather than a tram).

    Crystal Palace: plenty of buses already serving catchment areas of Croydon metro centre and Crystal Palace respectively. For direct link, I’d simply introduce a better train timetable (currently poor and not usually serving East Croydon).

    So as much as I would live a tram to CP, I’d rather there was a fast, frequent train route (one or two stops).

    Perhaps an extension to Bromley town centre would make more sense.

    I think there should be more focus on intensifying the current network and perhaps bring more high density / mixed use development to the areas near Therapoa Lane, Waddon, etc.

    Of course, given Crossrail 2 commitment (of sorts) and TfL’s finances, nothing will happen. Let’s hope East Croydon can be properly redeveloped with improved capacity, and would also suit direct links to C Palace.

  3. Lewis White says:

    Dear Comrade President Putin,
    Perhaps in your comfortable Government limousine, surrounded by motorcycle outriders, enjoying the empty roads of the Covid 19 era, en route from your elegant Dacha off Czarina’s Road, to your offices in Metro Croydon, you are not experiencing the Winter time frustration of the humble proletariat waiting with heavy shopping bags in the rain and freezing weather of the Crystal Palace on the exposed mountain slopes of the Norwood Urals, nor seeing them sweat as they patiently wait beside polluted roads in summer, awaiting their buses, which are often routed via Outer Mongolia and Khazakhstan, taking a half-day’s travel to reach the food markets of Surreyevska Street in Croydon?

    It is for this reason, dear Comrade President, (that of comfort and convenience of the citizens), that a tram system, with trams that stop at convenient places for the proletariat, where they live, rather than just at the Crystal Palace and the Norwood Junction railway stations, offers a better prospekt and service than the train.

    Yours respectfully but politically correctively,
    Croydon Resident. District no 5. Croydon.

  4. It would be interesting if someone developed a PC City skylines version of the Croydon area illustrating peoples ideas on planning, development, environment and transport

  5. Dan Kelly says:

    What about trolley buses? No need for expensive rails, just an extra cable.
    With modern batteries they can go quite long distances at reasonable speeds, which allows them to get around break downs or road works. I have seen them them in Europe and travelled on them in Beijing.
    I can still remember silently, without vibration, whizzing across Mitcham Common on a 630.

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