Monday, 3 March 2014

Old Oak Common - Central Viaduct option

Old Oak Common, where the high-speed HS2 railway meets Crossrail, provides a huge opportunity to create a fantastic transport hub. But Tfl, Network Rail and the DfT are missing the opportunity.


The site at Old Oak Common, next to Wormwood Scrubs, is planned under by HS2 Ltd to provide a new station linking the high speed line with Crossrail and the GWML (Great Western Main Line) to Reading and beyond. All trains on HS2 and Crossrail are intended to stop, and potentially every train on the GWML as well.

Current HS2 plans include a station at Old Oak Common. There are to be 6 platforms on HS2, deep within a cut-and-cover box, and 8 platforms on the GWML. The eight would be divided into 4 for Crossrail and 4 for the main line:

On the maps, the Central line is in red, the Bakerloo in brown, HS2 in blue, London Overground in orange, Southern services from East Croydon to Watford in green, Crossrail/GWML in black (across the south side of the site) and the WCML (West Coast Main Line) in black (across the north side of the site). Freight lines are shown in black and a narrower. The base map is taken from an official guide to the regeneration and thus shows future buildings, not current buildings.

However, there are no finalised plans for integration of other railway lines in the area. These include the Central line, the Bakerloo line, the Overground line to Richmond and the Overground line to Clapham Junction. To remedy this, TfL have been working on plans to link the new Old Oak Common station to the Overground.

Unfortunately, TfL's plans are very poor.

TfL have proposed a new line along the south side of the site from North Pole Junction to Acton Wells Junction (see this map for junction names). This line would include a new station, "Old Oak South", parallel to the GWML Old Oak Common station, but separated from it by about 100m. There would also be a new "Old Oak West" station, located just north of Acton Wells junction, a good 400m or more from the HS2/Crossrail station. The line also requires a tight curve on a viaduct and some land take from Wormwood Scrubs itself:

This option (known as 8.2) is very poor, for a number of reasons:

  • No direct integration with Old Oak Common station itself
  • Passengers from Richmond face a 400-500m walk
  • Passengers from Clapham Junction face a 100-200m walk
  • No integration with the Central line
  • Extended journey times
  • Land is required from Wormwood Scrubs
  • Minimal land is freed up for development

TfL have also put forward a cheap as chips option (known as X) which does not include the southern station and only includes the western station, forcing passengers on the Overground from Clapham to North London to endure a 10 minute longer journey and a reversal of direction. It is so bad its not even worth covering here.

A better approach

The challenge of Old Oak Common is threefold:

  • Allow London Overground services to serve the main hub station
  • Continue to provide rail links for freight
  • Open up the site for redevelopment by minimising the railway lines

The first is the obvious one - without a good rail connection into the heart of the hub, millions of potential passengers in South West London and beyond will face a much worse experience accessing HS2 than they should. As a result, many will choose to travel to Euston rather than Old Oak Common, overloading Euston's capacity.

The second point is freight. The Old Oak Common area currently supports many links between the various lines, allowing freight to move around the country. These links need to be protected.

The final point is redevelopment. A key rationale for the site is enabling a major redevelopment of the area. Achieving redevelopment is hampered by the presence of lots of railway lines, each requiring bridges and taking up lots of land.

As such, I propose a solution which tackles the three points above, while also providing a link to the Central line:

The plan consists of the following elements:

  • Two new "high-level platforms" at Old Oak Common (one island) located directly above the four Crossrail platform
  • Direct access from the Overground platform island to both Crossrail platform islands
  • A new line from the Overground Richmond line and the Ealing freight line to the high-level platforms
  • A new line from North Acton to the high-level platforms
  • A new line from the Overground Clapham line to the high-level platforms
  • A new line, the "Central Viaduct", from the high-level platforms to the existing Willesden Junction high-level station
  • A new link to allow freight from Clapham to reach the North London Line, also used by Southern services from Clapham to Watford
  • A new line from the Central Viaduct to the Dudding Hill freight line (in the top left) with a link to the WCML (mostly built across railway land)

The result is a dramatic improvement in the viability of the rail hub.

Overground services from Clapham would run from Shepherds Bush to Old Oak Common and then on to North Acton. Beyond North Acton there a various options (not discussed in detail here) including High Wycombe, Alperton, Uxbridge and West Ealing.

Overground services from Richmond would run from Acton Central to Old Oak Common and then on to Willesden Junction. Passengers travelling from Clapham to Willesden Junction and beyond would have a simple cross-platform change at Old Oak Common.

Southern services would run via the Central Viaduct without stopping at Old Oak Common.

A new Overground service would be possible from Old Oak Common up the Dudding Hill freight line to Neasden and beyond.

A good set of freight links are provided, including a new one from the Dudding Hill line to the West London Line. However the link from Reading to Euston is lost.

So why do I propose this scheme rather than other possibilities?

The key is that, as shown on the map, a large number of railway lines could be removed entirely, opening up the site for redevelopment. In particular, the eastern side is opened up to Scrubs Lane, and the western side is completely opened up between Old Oak Common Lane and Victoria Road.

All that would remain would be a single central viaduct, designed to handle all north-south traffic. And it is that unifying factor that makes the plan work most effectively.

It is likely that the central viaduct approach is more expensive than TfL's option. However, that extra cost is paid back by the value of the additional land that is made available for development. A cheaper version is also possible if required.

As a final note, if a Crossrail link to the WCML is built, that works fine with this scheme. Southern services would be diverted via the new Crossrail link. In addition, it would be possible for the London Overground Clapham route to run to Watford Junction via the same link.


I propose a plan for Old Oak Common based around a unifying central viaduct. Such a viaduct allows the replacement of all the north-south lines in the area, making redevelopment much more effective and increasing the land available. It also enables the London Overground to be integrated into the heart of the hub, where it needs to be to be effective. Finally, additional Overground links to North Acton for the Central Line and Neasden for the Jubilee line become possible.

Feel free to comment and ask questions!