After years of red signals, improvements to Waltham Forest’s railway connections are finally getting the green light. New trains, a new station, and perhaps even a direct link to Stansted Airport are all on the horizon.
Progress began in May when four of the borough’s train stations appeared on the Tube map for the first time. Chingford, Highams Park, Wood Street and St James Street are all now stops along Transport for London’s ever-growing London Overground network, after the Chingford to Liverpool Street line transferred from Abellio Greater Anglia.
The move reaffirmed London mayor Boris Johnson’s determination to nationalise as much of the capital’s railway network as possible – a “no brainer” as he described it, but curious policy for a high-profile Tory politician to pursue.
The publicly-owned London Overground has become one of the UK’s top performing rail services since it started in 2007, with high reliability and passenger satisfaction.
As the Chingford line was added to this network, TfL also boasted that 80 percent of rail journeys would reduce in price. But the transfer did not go smoothly. Tf L discovered that several train carriages didn’t meet its standards, and temporarily took them out of service. Capacity was reduced, with related problems soon following.
The talk among passengers in the first weeks of TfL’s takeover therefore centred on delays and cancellations. A mock Twitter account was even set up to lambast the poor service.
“Why not jump on a bus instead? Or better still, throw yourself under one?” asked @Tf LChingford, among other sarcastic questions.
Boris was soon forced to defend the service in his monthly question time session at City Hall in June. Asked why TfL’s takeover had resulted in more issues instead of fewer, he said: “You aren’t going to see miracles.
“I am confident in a couple of years you will see the sort of improvement we have seen on other parts of the Overground.
“Our objective is to invest in these stations, invest in these services and invest in new trains.”
The stations are being “thoroughly cleaned” and receiving new ticket machines and signage, while the line is due to get new walk-through trains from 2018.
Another major improvement to Waltham Forest’s railway services is likely to arrive much sooner, with work starting this summer to build a new station close to the border with Hackney.
Lea Bridge station is due to reopen in spring next year, after 30 years of dormancy, and could provide the borough’s first direct rail service to Stansted Airport.
Abellio Greater Anglia trains running between Tottenham Hale and Stratford already pass beneath Lea Bridge Road, but no passenger services have stopped there since 1985.
The old station opened in 1840 and was one of the first examples in the country of a station being built on a bridge. For many years it served nearby Lea Bridge Stadium, once home to Clapton (now Leyton) Orient FC and speedway racing. But the stadium was knocked down in the 1970s, and the station soon followed.
Interest in reopening Lea Bridge was revived in 2005, when rail services between Tottenham Hale and Stratford resumed.
Waltham Forest Council confirmed in 2013 that a deal had been struck with Network Rail and, after inevitable delays, work began to build the new £12million Lea Bridge station earlier this year.
Journey times to Stratford or Tottenham Hale will be just 12 minutes.
If Lea Bridge station proves popular, direct trains to Walthamstow and Chingford could be added in future by reviving an old railway junction known as the Hall Farm Curve – something Network Rail has listed as a possibility beyond 2020.
The timetable for improving Waltham Forest’s railway connections has been published.
By James Cracknell