Greenwich Council’s cabinet is preparing to mull over proposals for a £1 billion Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham, which it claims could be built above the A102 and A2 dual carriageways – and pits the Labour council against the transport policies of the party’s mayoral candidate Ken Livingstone.

The report, commissioned by the council from Hyder Consulting – the company behind the shelved Greenwich pedestrianisation scheme – suggests an extension could be built via tunnel from Silvertown, then on top of the Blackwall Tunnel southern approach through Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath and then above Rochester Way Relief Road through Kidbrooke and Eltham to Falconwood, on the borough’s western boundary.

It suggests narrowing the lanes on both roads and building the railway above the central reservations.

A road tunnel from Silvertown is one of current mayor Boris Johnson’s long-term proposals, and got backing from chancellor George Osbourne earlier this month. But Ken Livingstone has said a tunnel there would be “mad”. Nonetheless, the report suggests building the railway inside a road tunnel.

Eight stations would be built, including two in tunnels at Woolwich Road and the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout, where building above the dual carriageways would not be possible. Indeed, the flyover at Woolwich Road may even need to be completely rebuilt, the study says.

The report also acknowledges difficulties in building at the Kidbrooke interchange, where traffic stops at signals, and at Eltham station, where the A2 runs in a tunnel.

Cabinet members will discuss the report on Tuesday. The study, which has not been released to the public, was originally announced early in 2010 and was due to be completed in the summer of that year. After 18 months, the £25,000 report concludes that further work is needed on assessing passenger demand an alternative route options. Council officers recommend spending £45,000 on that extra work.

It’s hard to assess quite what the impact of the scheme would be without seeing the report – all we have to go on are the cabinet papers. We lack important details like where some of the stations would be (North Greenwich, Woolwich Road, Sun-in-Sands, Kidbrooke, Eltham and Falconwood are a given) and where on earth these trains would go to in the first place (Bank? Stratford International?).

But, on first sight, and I can’t think of any other way of putting it… this is crackers.

Above is Deptford Bridge station – see the size of the viaduct? And they’re planning to build that above the road? Obviously it’s wider here because there’s platforms on either side, but what’s basically being proposed is turning the A102 and A2 into a box with the DLR running on top. I can’t imagine anyone who lives alongside the Blackwall Tunnel approach – and a lot of people live very close to it – wanting trainloads of people peering into their bedroom windows.

There’s also the engineering challenges – including years of disruption if the 44-year-old Blackwall Tunnel southern approach has to be rebuilt. It seems to me that this report mistakes the DLR for what it was 20 years ago – a small railway with little bolted-together stations, whereas now its trains are three cars long and stop at stations as well-appointed as mainline stations.

It also relies on the assumption that a road tunnel will be built underneath the cable car site – which is by no means a done deal. Indeed, it seems mad to restrict road capacity while encouraging more traffic to come up the A102 with a new tunnel.

Reports like this can come up with good things – the Greenwich and Lewisham extension came out of a Lewisham Council study, for example. But construction in Greenwich and Lewisham town centres aside, the construction of that line was relatively unobstrusive. Hyder’s plan for an Eltham line would be anything but.

Greenwich is understandably anxious about public transport links in the south of the borough – Eltham’s long had poor connections and the Kidbrooke Village scheme will put big pressure on Kidbrooke station. But this seems a strange solution. And remember, an Eltham extension isn’t even on TfL’s list of ideas at the moment.

Lewisham Council has commissioned a study into extending the Bakerloo Line, which includes options through Eltham and onto Bexleyheath. If there’s a billion pounds – a billion pounds! – kicking around, then why not sort out the junction at Lewisham, extending the Overground into the area?

I can’t help thinking the only winner from this is Hyder Consulting – who’ve already led the council up a blind alley with its botched scheme to pedestrianise central Greenwich. Hopefully this time, the council’s cabinet will realise it can spend £45,000 on better things than this weirdly insular scheme.

Am I right to be so dismissive of this proposal, or is this as plainly nutty as I think it is? I’d love to know what you think…

10pm update: This gets weirder. I’ve just found on Eltham MP Clive Efford’s website a proposal for exactly the same scheme as Hyder were paid £25,000 to come up with – from six years ago. “Clive pointed out to them… might be possible to run a service above the A102 to Eltham.”

21 replies on “Greenwich Council report suggests DLR on stilts to Eltham”

  1. How would this get past the bridge carrying Charlton Road? Living by the A102 is bad enough without shoehorning a railway in as well. It seems an expensive way of keeping Clive Efford happy. To quote Boris, this is nonsense on stilts.

  2. I can’t understand the strategic thinking behind this. Cross Rail will connect Falconwood with Canning Town, Stratford and through central London to Heathrow and beyond. This will link with lots of underground and DLR lines as well as giving rapid and direct connections to central and west London. So if the objective is to improve transport links in the south of the borough, a bettter cheaper way might be to improved bus links from Eltham and other locations to Falconwood so that people can benefit from crossrail.

    On a personal level, I would be delighted to see DLR staions at Woolwich Road and Sun in the Sands, but would need to be convinced about local environmental impacts.

  3. Cross Rail will connect Falconwood with Canning Town, Stratford and through central London to Heathrow and beyond.

    It won’t – Crossrail will run from Abbey Wood and Woolwich to Custom House, Canary Wharf, Whitechapel and stops west. Another branch will head in from Stratford to Whitechapel.

    Perhaps the idea is that people could connect from an Eltham DLR route to Crossrail at Custom House, but that’s not going to happen if it’s branching off from the DLR at Silvertown (which implies the wrong branch).

  4. Sorry, mixed up Abbey Wood with Falconwood somewhere in my brain. I thinkthis means everyone should disregard my previous comment.

  5. The traditional contempt for improvements to public transport has kicked in rather early. Improving public transport in the area is a high priority and any proposals deserve to be given serious thought. I believe the principles set out in the Hyder report are worth considering. East and West London have a significant public transport offer. Why should South East London be in a different position. Taking a lot more cars off the road sg
    Gould be welcomed. The majority of schemes coming forward have been ridiculed but became policy very quickly. This proposal is no exception.

  6. But it doesn’t make sense John, it’s a massive engineering job, and no clear ideas of how it would connect to the Tube.

    I tend to think that a better option would be to work with Lewisham council, and get the London Overground extended beyond New Cross, through Lewisham to Eltham/Falconwood. It’s not as bigger project, but you get the connections to the DLR and tube network.

  7. I don’t have any particular contempt for improvements to public transport – but Eltham is already connected to Lewisham via the overground rail link; which then gives access to that part of the DLR; and also has a pretty speed bus service that connects Eltham to the Peninsula – so why is this extension needed?

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to connect Eltham with Woolwich Arsenal (an increasingly major transport hub). That way Eltham would have a direct link to two lines of the DLR, another overground line, Cross-Rail, the River Service and a whole host of buses. The Eltham-Woolwich route is currently only served by one bus (the 161, though the 122 gets close) which is frequently packed and frustratingly slow given the road traffic up Well Hall road, and the fact that the bus diverts via the QE Hospital…

  8. Sorry Cllr Fahy, but this one deserves to be ridiculed, and I say that as a committed non-driver & public transport user. It’s an answer to a question that no one other than Clive Efford seems to be asking. I can’t see any way that this is worth spending £1bn on. Chris’ idea seems far more sensible.

  9. Councillor, I wouldn’t just dismiss this critiicism as a knee-jerk reaction against ‘improvement’. I think Darryl and the other Chris make particularly pertinent and viable points.

    For me, the disruption the building of the thing would cause is just not worth the end result. How would it be financed anyway? Whatever the initial costing is, double or triple it. I guarantee unforeseen problems will occur during it’s construction. Please get someone to look into the problems that beset the the building and subsequent operation of the Bangkok skytrain. I’m serious. I lived in Asia during its construction and saw everything going TU from the word go.

    Now Eltham/Woolwich as proposed by Chris is a lot more logical in terms of transport connections, but that’s a different matter.

  10. This scheme is simply ridiculous – all the more so when you consider there already is a railway line that could go straight from the penisula to Eltham, Blackheath, Woolwich and Lewisham, with little in the way of modification. Okay you’ve have to get rid of its current owner, the aggregates plant at the end of Horn Way, but that must be prime development land anyway. And think of the possibilites. An interchange at Westcombe Park, with a covered walkway over the A102 linking the two lines; a station at Blackheath Standard situated in the Blackheath tunnel (that’s what all underground stations are surely?); a station at Penisula Park for all the retail parks. Obviously most of these lines are already network rail, but could a dlr line not run alongside? Or above, since that;s what’s proposed for the A102!

  11. I agree with Chris (original version) about the buses. Eltham/Woolwich links were actually better 30 years ago before the 161 was diverted to serve the hospital. Perhaps this bus should take the direct route down Academy Rd and one of the routes from the south that currently tertminate at Eltham Station (162, 233?) could be extended to QEII hospital.

    When the population around Kidbrooke Station begins to increase again hopefully the B16 will be extended from there to North Greenwich (and bigger buses).

    As to the DLR proposal it’s possibly worth £25k to get it up the flagpole and see whether anyone other than Clive Efford salutes it. God knows why the report has taken so long though.

  12. Bobby T’s idea is an interesting one. The Blackheath tunnel is underutilised these days – there are no peak services anymore for a start. If North Kent line services are recast after Crossrail, there could be something in it. The DLR started by reusing abandoned & underused railways. This might be a workable alternative and is at least worth a look.

  13. I do think John Fahy is completely missing the point here. Transport improvements when they happen are to be welcomed but this scheme is never going to happen. It will cost too much money, it wont get planning permission in its current form and it is not even on the DLR’s radar in terms of their future developments. I think we can all see through this for what it is, just another opportunity for the Council to claim it is taking positive action in Greenwich. It will be followed up with a few pretty pictures in Pravda and some more empty promises for the people in Eltham. Meanwhile another £25,000 is wasted when it could have been spent on something useful. Do Hyder do work for anyone else as I suspect Greenwich probably keeps them afloat with a series of ‘feasibility’ reports that never come to anything.

  14. Hyder Consulting was not commissioned to “come-up” with a DLR scheme above the A102 – A2, simply to carry out a preliminary assessment of a concept suggested some time ago by others.
    The findings were that an elevated alignment along the A102 – A2 would pose many problems and that there may be better options within the road-corridor involving some tunnelling.
    Hyder has now been asked to consider how a DLR extension towards Eltham could possibly be linked into the existing network north of the river and, using TfL’s assessment formula, to investigate whether the idea is worth further consideration.

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