Rail passengers have suffered long enough

The chair of Barking-Gospel Oak Rail Users’ Group, Graham Larkbey, on the latest delays to its long-awaited upgrade

Blackhorse Road Station

A London Overground train departing Blackhorse Road Station

It was all supposed to be so different. By now, long-suffering passengers on London Overground’s Barking to Gospel Oak line through Walthamstow, Leyton, and Leytonstone, were supposed to be enjoying the luxury of new four-car electric trains – ending the nightmare of cramming into overcrowded two-car diesels.

But this is not the case. Why? Firstly, the work of electrifying the line was spectacularly badly managed. Wrong parts were delivered to work sites and holes were punched into sewers, resulting in a major overrun and necessitating further line closures to sort out the mess.

A new Network Rail management team was drafted in, and to their immense credit got the job done within the hastily-revised schedule, despite having to fit it in around other long-planned projects (not least Crossrail). By the start of July everything was ready for the long-promised electric trains to start running.

But the new electric trains are nowhere to be seen. Originally they were supposed to begin arriving in spring, and phased in as they became available. However, it became apparent that this would not be possible; all new trains have to be thoroughly tested before they can be put into public service and there was a backlog at the UK’s train-testing centres. Some of the trains even had to be ferried over to Europe to be put through their paces on test tracks over there.

The date for the introduction of electric trains on the Barking to Gospel Oak route slipped from spring to summer – and then to November. Passengers resigned themselves to months more discomfort. But at least things couldn’t get any worse, right?

Oh yes they could! Towards the end of June it emerged that Transport for London was obliged to give up the line’s existing fleet of two-car diesel trains by November, for redeployment in the West Midlands – and that one of them would have to go immediately for testing. This meant that the line’s five extra ‘crowd-busting’ services could no longer run during rush hour and also left insufficient cover for train breakdowns.

This became immediately apparent, with trains being cancelled on a daily basis and resulting in 30-minute gaps, even worse rush-hour overcrowding, and passengers being left behind on platforms. In short, far from having a new fleet of four-car electric trains as promised, passengers now have to squeeze into even fewer of the existing inadequate two-car diesel trains than before, with no prospect of relief for another three or four months.

Needless to say, the Barking-Gospel Oak Rail Users’ Group has been very busy throughout, keeping passengers updated and pressing strongly at all levels for urgent action to be taken, including hiring in trains from elsewhere as a stopgap. As this article goes to press, we await the outcome.

Maybe – just maybe – our new trains might be ready for Santa to deliver them as a Christmas present?

For the latest news on developments with the Barking to Gospel Oak line:
Visit barking-gospeloak.org.uk