Final Overground section opens; BBC mourns ‘loss’

A view from a train driver's cab, showing trees to the left, trackbed in front and a block of flats behind it.Tomrrow (Sunday) the last section of the London ‘Overground’ (a mostly overground but partly underground group of railway services which run mostly just outside central London) is opening; this is a line from Clapham Junction to Surrey Quays, where it joins the old East London line which is already operating Overground services from Islington to Croydon via Whitechapel. No new station is opening — the line runs through Clapham, Camberwell and Peckham, and there is one bit of line which has been built across the industrial area north-east of Peckham. This provides an important link from south-east London to the Docklands, but it also ends the Victoria to London Bridge service which has been running, says the BBC, since 1867.

The report claims that several stations along that line will lose their link to both Victoria, an important gateway for the West End, and London Bridge, which is convenient for the City. There are five terminals for the southern and south-eastern railway services (a sixth for the south-western), because railway prospectors built both City and West End termini (the south-western built only one, which is fairly convenient for both). The West End termini are Victoria and Charing Cross; the City termini are Blackfriars, Cannon Street and London Bridge. Denmark Hill and Peckham Rye are still served by trains that run into both Victoria and Blackfriars, so they have direct trains into both the City and West End, contrary to what the BBC story reported. Not having the link to London Bridge does mean that the connection to some south-eastern destinations become less convenient (i.e. those on the main lines through London Bridge), but the link to Clapham Junction adds more in the southern, south-western and even western areas.

I would argue that the London Overground is not a true ‘orbital’ railway, because part of the east London section (through Shoreditch High Street) goes through Zone 1, which means fares are much higher than if that station was designated a zone 2 station. Surely, the whole point of a line running through the inner suburbs from north to south is that it bypasses central London and enables people to avoid paying central London fares, as they do when using the Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction line or the old North London Line, both of which are now part of the Overground. You would actually have to look quite carefully at the zone maps to note that Shoreditch High Street is in Zone 1, and even then it might not register that travelling through it would mean paying zone 1 fares. It would appear that this decision might have been intended to trap people into paying higher fares or fines.

However, the new line will be invaluable for anyone coming from the south-west (as I do) needing to get to the Docklands and to inner suburban locations like Peckham; previously they would have had to go to Waterloo and then make two changes of Tube in central London; now, although there will still be two changes for most Docklands destinations, they will not be in quick succession or in the busiest areas of London. It means places I go a lot will be a lot easier to get to. The new line is an important new link and required only a little bit of new building, so if it is well-used, then it will have been a sound investment.

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