New electric trains still not ready for Gospel Oak to Barking route, reports James Cracknell
A rail users’ group has warned that a London Overground line is “on the brink of collapse” as long-promised electric trains have still not been introduced.
The Barking to Gospel Oak Rail Users’ Group (BGORUG) claims the route – which stops at four stations in Waltham Forest – is just days away from being left without enough trains to run a full service.
A major electrification upgrade of the ‘Goblin’ – itself delayed by a year – was eventually completed last summer, but Transport for London (TfL) has been unable to run new four-car electric trains on the line because of technical problems. Now, the line’s existing diesel trains are due to be removed as part of a pre-arranged deal for them to be used by West Midlands Trains.
BGORUG secretary Glenn Wallis told the Echo: “Passengers should be outraged. It is another kick in the teeth for them and shows a total disregard by TfL.
“TfL like to say that ‘every journey matters’ but Barking to Gospel Oak journeys don’t matter, because they have done next to nothing to guarantee them.”
Options said to be under consideration by TfL to keep services running include taking carriages from other London Overground lines, but this would have a knock-on effect for other services. Rail replacement bus services would be a last resort, but seem increasingly likely.
Passengers endured an eight-month closure of the line between June 2016 and February 2017, within which time the electrification upgrade was supposed to be completed, but a series of gaffes by Network Rail meant further weeks-long closure periods were necessary through to spring 2018.
The upgrade should have meant four-car electric trains could replace two-car diesel trains, on a route that has seen soaring passenger demand over the last decade. But there is still no firm indication of when the new trains will be ready to run.
Rory O’Neill, TfL’s general manager for London Overground, said: “We are sorry for the continuing delay to the introduction of the new fleet of trains on the Gospel Oak to Barking line.
“The latest update we have been given by the manufacturer, Bombardier Transportation, is that they need more time for software development.
“We share our customers’ frustration and are working with Arriva Rail London to progress driver training as soon as the software issues are resolved. We have secured a further extension to the return dates of the diesel trains and are doing all we can to bring the new electric trains into service as soon as possible.”
So-called “supplementary” bus services have been running between stations on the route since November, after two of the line’s diesel trains were removed from service. The remaining six diesel trains are set to be removed between the end of January and late March.