TfL forced to bin costly £560m tram extension into Sutton

Transport for London has binned the proposed Sutton tram extension due to its “weak business case”.

End of the line: the abandonment of the Sutton extension makes it unlikely there will be any expansion of the tram network for at least a decade

According to a senior official at City Hall this week, it’s unlikely that the Sutton link will be revisited any time soon. “It’s hard to see how anything could change that would mean we are able to come back and take it forward,” they said.

The decision appears to end any prospect of the highly successful tram system being expanded for the foreseeable future, with another extension, from Croydon to Crystal Palace as favoured by previous London Mayors Livingstone and Johnson, seemingly long forgotten.

Cost estimates for the Sutton extension, which would link to the Northern Line Tube at Colliers Wood, were put at £560million – more than five times the cost of the entire tram network from Wimbledon to Beckenham Junction when it was built in the late 1990s.

TfL together with Sutton and Merton councils have between them budgeted less than £120million for the project.

Off track: Option 2, linking to the Northern Line at Colliers Wood, was the preferred route

The scheme proposed was part of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s 2018 transport strategy, much of which has had to be abandoned due to the cost of covid and the Tory Government’s stern terms of the post-lockdown financial bail-out for the capital’s transport system.

The decision was announced at the Greater London Authority’s transport committee on Wednesday, where Trish Ashton, TfL director of rail and sponsored services, said: “We are no longer able to commit the funding that we were at that time.”

She also indicated that “costs are likely to have increased significantly since 2019 because of inflation and rising material costs”.

Ashton said, “I know there has been some interest recently in revisiting that business case but we would be looking for something that has a great journey time impact and benefit to offset the considerable costs we are looking at.

“It’s hard to see how anything could change that would mean we are able to come back and take it forward. It’s really hard to get increased journey time.”

The tram network consists of 39 stops along 17 miles of east-west track through south London. It has been largely unaltered since it opened in 2000.

Ashton said other commitments, including increasing tram usage by 85% by 2030, were being reviewed. Sutton was the only tram line extension included in the Mayor’s 2018 strategy. TfL confirmed it is not currently looking at any alternatives.

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7 Responses to TfL forced to bin costly £560m tram extension into Sutton

  1. £560 million seems a lot of money.

    But it’s less than half of the £1.2bn TfL are spending on the unwanted Silvertown tunnel.

    It’s a fraction of the estimated £1.7bn being spent on digging an unpopular damaging tunnel under the world-heritage site at Stonehenge

    And it’s a pittance when you consider that the parliamentary watchdog on public spending said the Tory government lost 75% of the £12bn spent on Personal Protective Equipment to inflated prices and kit that did not meet requirements. That includes the £4bn worth that would not be used in the NHS and would have to be disposed of.

    It’s not that there’s no money to extend the tram system, rather that there are other priorities, like keeping motorists and the road building lobby happy, and helping top Tories get rich quick

    • Dan Kelly says:

      It’s obsolete technology. Search for “Trackless Trams” to see where we should be going.
      Failing that why not use trolley buses? They don’t need expensive tracks or heavy batteries and they don’t have to sit around whilst recharging. We know they work!

    • Ian Kierans says:

      Priorities – on that you are right. the rest is arguable.

  2. Tim Lewis says:

    If only that ‘money saved’ could go towards sorting out the East Croydon bottleneck that was proposed… I’ll keep dreaming!

  3. darr8824 says:

    So they have billions to spare for HS2 but not a single penny for something that will actually benefit London

  4. Ian Kierans says:

    Yep London and Manchester are screwed royally but HS2 is likely for the chop too.

  5. Ian Kierans says:

    I am sanguine about this cancellation even though I would bemoan not having it and think it is a shame and of perhaps local detriment to not have it.

    TfL will base investment on maximising benefits to passangers that is proven. It always has, as has its predecessors.

    If they feel the spend does not give the benefit required, they usually have that data and will have done detailed research into the case and are rarely wrong and even then by small margins.

    Transport needs are always changing. Every development impacts on transport and who has the greater need. Geographically that, over the decades, is very fluid especially on the outskirts.

    In my working life we have had more transport links built by LRT LUL and latterly TfL including our trams. The first new line was the Victoria Line to Victoria when I was barely out of nappies and then it went to Brixton later.

    Then the Jubille extension, East London Line both ends, Northern line to Battersea, Trams in Croydon, Elizabeth Line, all done. That does not even cover the improvements to signalling stations, track, signals working practices, business investments to make it self sustaining. All delivered by people working to provide a service to London and make the most of the money they have.

    So unless things have changed – those plans will not be binned. They will sit there and if the situation changes they will be dragged out of mothballs and reworked. They may even be adapted for other purposes and other builds.

    Look at the East London Line in the 90s it got Royal Assent but not enough money. So it worked the North part of the extensions as it gave the better benefit and did that.
    When it got more dosh it did the south to Croydon. Obviously being in Croydon I would have liked it the other way around but I could not argue with the business case – it was right – my wish and desires does not change that reality.

    but there is even more hope moving forward that Politic’s will impact less on delivery.

    The recent ”re-purposing of the Commercial property arm as an independent entity and to develop land and premises including new homes for Londoners will help to provide TfL with funds that can be used for investing back into the system and building new transport links will be of benefit in the future- but I suspect the fruits may not come this decade.

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