Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Down we go

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, Infrastructure, London, Metro by Chairman Pip on 13 June 2011

Would it be fair to describe Ken Livingstone as a spendthrift? That’s an interesting question. He was certainly free and easy when it came to spending taxpayers’ money, giving guarantees to this project and that project. Invariably, not all of the proposals were bad ideas, but a number of them were not realistically affordable, which is why they have been either put to the back burner (at the very least) or thrown out entirely since Boris Johnson has occupied London’s big chair. Take Cross River Tram for instance – I’ve commented before that that was a reasonably good idea as a way of easing congestion on the Northern line. However, constructing a tram route through Central London would be enormously disruptive, and I feel reasonably confident in saying that the people affected by the construction of Crossrail will be owed a little peace and quiet for a while once it is finished. Given that the proposed route of CRT would have gone between Euston and Aldwych before crossing Waterloo Bridge, you can see the potential for chaos to abound as a large chunk of Central London is dug up to have a tramway installed (and I’m sure the residents of Edinburgh can relate to that kind of disruption in the centre of their city). It’s then that one stumbles across something, as you do.

You may be aware of the Strand Underpass, a road tunnel that allows traffic to get from Waterloo Bridge to Kingsway without the need for using the streets. This opened in 1964, but was originally built between 1902 and 1905 as the Kingsway tramway subway, an underground tram route that allowed London County Council Tramways to connect its two systems in North and South London. Not only was this a connecting route, but it also featured a pair of underground tram stops (Aldwych and Holborn), which operated almost until the withdrawal of trams in London in 1952. Obviously it is not possible to restore the Kingsway route without depriving Central London of what has become an important traffic artery. But the idea of sending light rail vehicles underground in the centre of a big city is clearly not totally outlandish. Indeed, MBTA’s Green Line (which, although listed as part of Boston’s subway, is in fact a light rail line) incorporates the Tremont Street subway, the oldest subway tunnel in North America, while the Toronto Transit Commission, when constructing the Harbourfront LRT, put part of the route in tunnel to allow it access to Union Station without the need to dig up Front Street or Bay Street. So would it be so much more difficult to have a tunnel between Euston and Aldwych, which is not, after all, a massive distance. Yes, there is a cost aspect, as digging tunnels is more expensive than constructing on the surface. But, assuming Crossrail goes as smoothly as everyone seems to be saying it is, it is likely that any savings made from that project could then potentially be diverted, while the cost of disruption to London’s economy from having the chaos of surface construction is negated by having the majority of it go underground. Something perhaps to think about, should Chairman Ken fulfil his lifelong dream (well, today’s lifelong dream anyway) of regaining the big chair in 2012.

Ken is apparently determined to resurrect the Cross River Tram - what about sending it underground through Central London as a way of easing the disruption of building it?

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