Reasons reasons: why the Tube never reached Croydon

East Croydon station

This morning I watched a video on YouTube about a plan to build an Underground line that would link King’s Cross and Victoria stations, major London rail terminals serving the north-east and south respectively (and the neighbouring suburbs), which would have ran through both Finsbury Park in north London and Croydon to the south. A version of the line was eventually built as the Victoria Line, opened in the 1960s, which runs from Brixton to Walthamstow and takes a shorter route than originally planned between Victoria and King’s Cross. It never reached Croydon, though, and someone in the comments claimed it was “absolutely scandalous that Croydon has no tube stations”. As someone who grew up in Croydon, I explained why this was, and why it’s really no scandal and no great cause of discontent locally. He dismissed my explanation as “excuses excuses”.

Well, they’re not just excuses. South London doesn’t have many Tube lines, it’s true; the Northern line stretches all the way out to Morden along the A3 and A24, the District Line goes down to Wimbledon on a surface-level track acquired from British Rail in the 1990s and that’s it (there was the East London line which served New Cross, but that’s been integrated into the Overground and that now does reach Croydon). What south London has is lots of suburban overland railways and they criss-cross the area, making it possible to get between most places by rail without making huge detours, albeit often requiring a change of train. Croydon itself has a main-line station where fast trains to and from two London terminals (Victoria and London Bridge) and the south coast stop every ten minutes or so. There is also a tram system which serves the suburbs east and west of Croydon and the new Overground service, which runs up to the north-east and links Croydon with north, east and south-east London and the Docklands. It would have been possible to extend the Victoria Line southwards to Croydon, but this would have been used more for local journeys than by people travelling between south London and Croydon, who might well prefer the fast train from Victoria to East Croydon than a rattly underground stopping train and almost everywhere on the A23 corridor to Croydon already has a rail link. If this line were to have been built, it would mostly be used for local journeys, not for journeys into London.

As a child I only travelled on the Underground when we went up to London (Croydon, although part of Greater London, was not really considered to be London as such and had been a town in Surrey until the 1960s) and I disliked it intensely; it was noisy and dark and there are places where the lights go off because the train passes over a gap in the power line. This may just be a child’s reaction, but an overground train, all other things being equal, will always beat an underground one as there is natural light, less noise and more to see out of the window. Even in north London, most of the ‘Underground’ lines that reach the outer suburbs actually run above ground along converted old main-line railways; many of them were not intended to become part of an underground railway system when first built, among them the District and Metropolitan lines. There are also suburban main-line trains there, so not everyone in north London travels by Tube when commuting into London, and it’s not always a choice. As few of the existing Underground lines go south of the river, there is little scope for connecting southern suburban lines to Underground lines; only the Victoria and Bakerloo lines have loose ends south of the river. The Bakerloo line is now set to be extended at least as far as Lewisham (where it may link up with existing suburban rail lines, possibly to Hayes in south-east London) via a line under the Old Kent Road, while there are no such plans for the Victoria Line.

We did eventually get our rail link to Finsbury Park, via the new Thameslink connection to the line out of King’s Cross (the trains run from Peterborough to Horsham and from Cambridge to Brighton); it runs fast to London Bridge on an overland line, so it still beats a noisy stopper under the A23 to Brixton. In short, there are good reasons why Croydon never got the Tube and why that’s not considered a problem there.

Image source: ‘Hzh’, via Wikimedia. Released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike (BY-SA) 4.0 licence.

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