Why is Tramlink So Weak?

I’ve mentioned on Twitter that I’m visiting London. I’m taking a lot of railfan trips, one of which was on Tramlink, London’s circumferential light rail service. Tramlink runs in South London, from Wimbledon in the west to Croydon in the east and thence along several branches to southeastern outer neighborhoods. Much of the route uses former mainline rail rights-of-way that were only partly grade-separated. The trains satisfy all of TransitCenter’s principles for good light rail operating practices, but their ridership is lackluster by the standards of Paris, TransitCenter’s comparison city. Tramlink has 30 million annual riders on 28 km of route, or about 3,500 per km per weekday; Ile-de-France’s system had 900,000 daily riders in 2015 on about 100 km route, or 9,000 per km. My goal is to explain why. One reason involves route choice, but the main reason is lack of development; this problem is very common in other cities, and must be added to the other pitfalls that TransitCenter mentions.

The operating practices on Tramlink are not bad. The frequency is high: every 5 minute off-peak. There’s no fare integration with the proper rail network (including the Underground), but the buses in London have no fare integration with the trains either and still have high ridership. The connections with radial train lines are decent, though there’s one big miss (with the Northern line) and one smaller one (with West Croydon, which points to train stations that are served by other lines that do get interchanges); the two most important transfers, Wimbledon and East Croydon, require relatively little walking between platforms. The right-of-way quality is high by light rail standards, mostly in a private right-of-way with only a small extent of street running within Croydon; the average speed is 21 km/h (higher than the Parisian tramways – T3 averages 18 km/h). And yet, ridership is not so strong. London is a big city with high rail ridership, so it’s not a matter of a small city underperforming Paris on raw ridership; something deeper is wrong with Tramlink.

Part of the problem has to involve route layout. East of East Croydon, the route has three branches. Two, heading to Elmers End and Beckenham Junction, keep the route’s circumferential character; in theory it should be faster to take mainline rail and change trains than to ride Tramlink, but in reality the mainline routes that would be used have missed connections and therefore are not useful for diagonal trips. Each of these two branches runs every ten minutes, interlining to a train every five minutes between East Croydon and Wimbledon. However, a third route connects East Croydon and New Addington, a radial line, running every 7.5 minutes. This route does not run through to Wimbledon (which would be a radial-circumferential mix) and exists as an orphaned feeder line, sharing tracks with the two main branches just east of East Croydon (thus, creating schedule conflict due to the uneven frequency on the shared trunk).

But the main difference between Tramlink and the Parisian tramways is adjacent density. London is generally a less dense city than Paris. London has two- and three-story rowhouses with back gardens where Paris has five- to nine-story buildings with high lot coverage. The Tramlink route itself is even less dense, passing through suburbia, industrial sites, and golf courses. The Parisian tramways are all in the suburbs (except for T3), but serve high-density clusters, surrounded by a mixture of mid-rise buildings and social housing towers. This is especially true on the workhorse Parisian routes – T1, T2, and T3, which collectively have about three quarters of the system’s total ridership – but even the other routes, while much weaker than the main three, serve denser areas than Tramlink and get higher ridership per kilometer.

Here is a randomly-selected station on T2, Meudon-sur-Seine:

Compare it with Mitcham, one of the more populated stations on Tramlink between Wimbledon and Croydon:

Also compare both with the site of the missed connection with the Northern line, Morden Road:

I want to make it very clear that the two satellite maps of Mitcham and Morden Road are not representative of all of South London, certainly not when weighting by population. East Croydon is full of mid- and high-rise TOD, and to some extent so is Wimbledon; the two stations rank fifth and sixth in ridership in London excluding the Central London terminals. The problem is that a circumferential line is rarely used over a long stretch. The longer the angle subtended on a circumferential line, the more favorable it is to take the radials and transfer.

London in particular has four-track mainlines on most rail routes, including the London and South Western Main (serving Wimbledon) and the Brighton Main (serving East Croydon), making it easy to run express routes. Every hour, there are 9 trains running nonstop between East Croydon and Clapham Junction, and 16 trains running between Wimbledon and Clapham Junction with two intermediate stops. The diagonal commuter rail trip is faster than Tramlink, even counting transfer time at Clapham Junction.

Paris is full of express trains, represented by the RER. But T3 misses nearly all of the RER connections, which weakens the route but also means that there is no express alternative on the outer margin of Paris; but one would still not take it all the way, especially since there is a forced transfer at Porte de Vincennes. But T1 and T2 have better RER and Transilien connections. The high density all along these routes, and not just at widely-separated key junctions, ensures that there is high demand even on short segments.

In fact, there is circumstantial evidence that T1, T2, and T3 have extensive short-range ridership: their ridership levels per kilometer are very high (respectively 11,000, 12,000, and 15,000 per weekday), and if they had low turnover they would not have capacity for such high ridership. New York has 15,000 weekday subway riders per route-km, and this is with long trains, extensive four-tracking, and higher peak frequency than on the Parisian tramways. It’s hard to imagine comparable ridership levels on a surface tramway without very high turnover, which I have in fact observed riding T3.

In contrast, I saw relatively little turnover between Wimbledon and East Croydon on Tramlink. I saw some, generally involving a small net decrease in passengers on the tram at the first few stations past Wimbledon, but a large proportion of passengers who got on at Wimbledon stayed on until Croydon. To them, the tram is perhaps a slower but cheaper alternative to mainline rail. Some would also ride until one or two stations before East Croydon, within the built-up cluster of Croydon; perhaps their exact destination was closer to one of these tram stations than to East Croydon, where the tram loses a lot of time due to circuitous street running.

Reinforcing the importance of turnover, the tram was crowded. I took it at 4:30 in the afternoon, on the shoulders of rush hour, and it was standing-room only for my entire trip, with considerable crowding among the standees for the first few stations. And yet, despite the crowding, ridership per kilometer is a fraction of that achieved by Paris’s top three tramways, which do not appear more crowded.

I wrote about turnover in the context of Vancouver buses, talking about patterns of development along north-south arterials (Main, Fraser, and Commercial) versus east-west ones (King Edward and 49th). Here we see how it interacts with development on a circumferential tramway within the context of a rapid transit network with fast radial lines. It’s common in a large city to have strong demand for circumferential transit but not so much that full rapid transit is justifiable, leading to tramway networks such as Tramlink and the tramways of Ile-de-France. In this context, it’s important to attract short-hop ridership and not just end-to-end ridership, where the tramway would struggle with the radial rapid transit network. This in turn requires the region to ensure that the intermediate stops generate ample ridership, which requires either uniformly high density (as is the case in and around Paris) or a deliberate effort at TOD in the middle.

This is true for more than just tramways. The fundamental fact about Tramlink and the Ile-de-France tramways is that they are slower than their respective cities’ radial rail networks. The same fundamental fact is true of circumferential buses, even in cities where the radial rail network is light rail rather than rapid transit. In theory this could even happen in an all-bus city, provided the buses’ right-of-way quality were such that the radials were faster than the circumferentials; but in reality this is hard to arrange, since buses get stuck in traffic even when they’re BRT, and there’s more traffic near city center than outside.


  1. Michael James

    Paris is full of express trains, represented by the RER. But T3 misses nearly all of the RER connections, which weakens the route but also means that there is no express alternative on the outer margin of Paris; but one would still not take it all the way, especially since there is a forced transfer at Porte de Vincennes. But T1 and T2 have better RER and Transilien connections. The high density all along these routes, and not just at widely-separated key junctions, ensures that there is high demand even on short segments.

    Kind of true. T3a does in fact has correspondances with RER-A (at Cité Universitaire) and RER-C5-C7 (at Bd Victor) and T2 with RER-C5-C7 (at Issy-Val-de-Seine) and of course RER-A at La Defense. It’s also only a short walk (≈300m) to RER-C2-C4-C6 (at Biblio-FMitterand). The reason it misses most RERs is because the giant subterranean RER stations weren’t justified at the very edge of (inner) Paris (the ones immediately beyond the Peripherique were pre-existing above-ground (Transilien) stations); however they did build Rosa Parks specifically to connect T3b with RER-E (which seems a bit extravagant; can’t imagine it has much traffic, but then again this was in the middle of gigantic railyards so would have been much cheaper to build; and it’s probably surface?).
    However these tramways (T3a, T3b, T2) do connect with 15 Metro lines (some lines more than once; there are actually 20 T3 stops marked as corresponding stns) so do connect effectively to most of Paris. Even the further-out T1 connects to 4 Metro lines and 3 RERs (RER-E at Noisy-le-Sec; RER-D1 at St-Denis; RER-C1-C3 at Genevilliers). This high density of interconnection helps explain your high turnover without more obvious crowding.

    Further, as you point out, density is so much higher in this Petite Couronne (inner ring suburbs) that many can walk just a few hundred metres. So probably about 2-3 million residences and countless businesses are within walking distance of the tramways. I would suppose that London’s Tramlink was created to promote densification along its route, while Paris’ tramways were built to serve already-dense areas. A very rare case of advance planning for (modern) London instead of just being reactive about 5 decades too late? We should be applauding them!

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, T3 hits the RER B at Cité U, the RER C at Pont du Garigliano, and the RER E at Rosa Parks, but everything else is a miss: the RER A is a Metro stop away at Nation, the RER B and D on the north don’t stop at Poissonniers (even though they should), the RER C’s Austerlitz side misses Avenue de France, the RER D’s Lyon side expresses to Maisons-Alfort, Transilien N skips Porte de Vanves. At the time the RER was built, the Boulevards des Marchaux weren’t thought an important place to hit; the RER A correctly prioritized interchanges at the M2/6 ring. But yes, T3 interchanges with every Metro line except one of the two branches of M7. It has good connections! Just not to the RER.

      Rosa Parks is above-ground and is also bundled with subsidized TOD. France follows the same logic as the US in that if something is named after a civil rights hero then it’s targeting low-income minorities.

      Tramlink opened in 2000. Compare the extent of TOD that Vancouver’s put up in the same period with how the area around Tramlink looks. London is bad at TOD for all sorts of reasons (none of which is about the language – Australia and Canada are good at this, modulo Vancouver’s moral panic about Chinese immigrants who are rich enough to not be starving).

      • Michael James

        Alon Levy, 2018/07/07 – 07:27

        Right, but given the >40 years in evolution of these lines, it is not a bad hit rate. And all is saved by the sheer density and interconnectedness of the Metro lines.

        Did all of Tramlink open in 2000 (or just the short bit in Croydon)? At any rate, it really is the modern Brits allergy to planning–TODs or much of anything. Don’t forget the absolute imperative to hold an enquiry that takes at least ten if not 20 years to not reach a decision. And certainly nothing like that would have been supported during Thatcher’s decadw-long reign. It’s a big factor in why London has lots of extremely expensive empty apartments but almost zero affordable housing.
        Croydon was built on the awful towers-in-a-park fad of the era. Not only were the buildings uninspiring crap but they were far apart and didn’t generate any urbanity at ground level. I only know Croydon because I had to go there to some awful Department of Kafka to get my work visa; literally a kilometre long queue, outside the building without roof cover in the grey rain (not joking, it was exactly like that, so awful I remember it to this day; the French give you the runaround too but nothing as diabolical as that, especially for someone who essentially already has his visa thru sponsorship with the MRC).

        Re Rosa Parks: I presume you have noticed Delphine Seyrig, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosa Parks, Colette Besson and Passage Susan Sontag (the only one not to score a transit station, so far). All female icons in various fields and created by Mayor Bertrand Delanöe to honour them. Stranded in a no-mans land of rail yards etc. However, as you say, probably a big TOD similar to MLK district in the 17th on the tracks out of St-Lazare. You should be pleased as it looks like potential to add a fair bit of new housing (and bound to be affordable in that location). I see just last week that Simone Weil scored a more prominent location: Place de l’Europe-Simone-Weil, but still above rail tracks!

      • rational plan

        Tramlink opened in 2000. Compare the extent of TOD that Vancouver’s put up in the same period with how the area around Tramlink looks. London is bad at TOD for all sorts of reasons (none of which is about the language – Australia and Canada are good at this, modulo Vancouver’s moral panic about Chinese immigrants who are rich enough to not be starving).

        London is smothered with dozens of conservation areas and every resident will campaign virulently against densification of existing residential areas. Politicians from all parties will pander to local campaigns and while with one mouth the national parties may call for greater house building, nearly every MP or councilor will have lent support to various campaigns against multiple housing projects. Indeed all parties have ruthlessly run against incumbents who have let through any unpopular large scale schemes.

        The only areas where large scale density can easily be built on is former employment land, whether office or industrial. Even then there will be a battle if it looks like it is too high. Sometimes the planets align and you could see what could happen if council planning committees were easy to get past.

        For example, Lower Richmond Road between the tube station and the national rail station used to be lined with office blocks from the 60’s through early 80’s. About ten years ago the council redesignated the land for high density housing, within a few years every block was torn down and luxury blocks replaced them (Well it is Putney what did people expect, the national liberal leader lived just round the corner in a very nice Edwardian house).

        At the lower end of the market you can see a much more vigorous response around North Acton tube station. The station is on the edge of the Vast Park Royal industrial estate to the North, with the thunderous A40 to the South and a big cemetery to the West. At a further distance are some low density public housing estates (and well funnily enough their opinions don’t seem to get heard so easily).

        In the tangle of roads from the trading estate to the A40 the council redesignated the land and pretty much let anything be built as long as it was not too near existing residential. Turns out being a 1 minute walk from a tube station less than half an hour from the West End is popular no matter how dire the surrounding area, First came the student housing mob with ever increasing towers and now the private rent developers have arrived. With each wave the towers have got higher and now 40 storey towers will beginning to sprout.

        As you drive down the A40 a strange little glassy citadel seems to sprout out of the horizon with no gradual decline in size to the surrounding two storey sprawl. It’s a little strange wondering around this little pocket of high rises with it’s smattering of convenience stores and coffee shops.

        The vast redevelopment surrounding Wembley stadium is a better development, still a bit souless, but at least it has a small out door mall , with restaurants and a cinema. There is also the new library and civic centre plus half a dozen new hotels with the thousands of new flats that are springing up. Apart from the occaisonal tower it’s mostly 8 to 10 storey blocks. It might be nice when it’s finished , at least is busy with people at all hours of the day.

        • Michael James

          rational plan, 2018/07/07 – 16:50.

          London is smothered with dozens of conservation areas and every resident will campaign virulently against densification of existing residential areas. Politicians from all parties will pander to local campaigns and while with one mouth the national parties may call for greater house building, nearly every MP or councilor will have lent support to various campaigns against multiple housing projects. Indeed all parties have ruthlessly run against incumbents who have let through any unpopular large scale schemes.

          All true, but we need to ask how do the French do it (so well, comparatively)? The Paris region has more heritage-listed sites than any other place on the planet (but ok, mostly concentrated in the centre). As to the form of urban (re)development, the past week or so I’ve been (re)reading Evenson (Paris: A Century of Change, 1878-1978) and Sutcliffe (Paris, An Architectural History) and it seems like Paris trod a very similar early path. After WW2 there was a considerable sentiment everywhere for modernisation and rejection of the old, which started to take hold in physical form from the mid-50s. In France this persisted until the early-70s (some projects’ momentum carrying them into the late-70s early-80s, eg. Forum des Halles). In Paris there are a clutch of such scars like Maison-Radio-France, Porte-Maillot/Palais-des-Congres, Tour Pleyel, Annexe Mairie IV, the Jussieu Campus (these last two taking the wooden spoon for most hideous & insensitive in a fabulous heritage location), Chatelet-les-Halles and of course the relocation of Gare Montparnasse and Tour Montparnasse. Not to mention residential efforts (neglecting banlieu hi-rise) at BeauGrenelle and the eastern half of the 13th (with 31-storey apartment blocks). Was there ever such a hideous collection built in such a short period in such a beautiful city? I don’t think anyone, including architects or urban planners wouldn’t like to tear all that lot down if it was practical–and in fact, les Halles has had its famous facelift, and so too has Gare Montparnasse and BeauGrenelle. The others are too monumental to do anything (so far).

          Norma Evenson writes that there was plenty of popular support for this modernisation project–including for the Tour Montparnasse–but it suddenly changed once the TM was complete (coinciding with the controversy over the demolition of Les Halles and its replacement). While TM is a perfectly acceptable hi-rise (in fact notably superior to all the others on this list of infamy), everyone except a clutch of modernise-at-any-cost types quickly realised it wasn’t ok in the middle of old Paris, and it would destroy the very thing that made Paris special. Having avoided war damage and millenia of other destructive forces (unlike London) were they going to destroy Paris by their own hand? Non! French rulers didn’t lose their propensity to impose their personal stamp on the capital, in fact it accelerated under Mitterrand, but luckily the horrible and tatty International Style was supplanted and in Paris, going high was no longer the fad. The Next-Gen of monumental building was vastly superior: Centre Pompidou, Pei’s Louvre redevo, Bastille, Musée d’Orsay reno (rather than demolition, whew, a close call), Biblio F.Mitterrand. Les Halles was in the transition period and was kept low, indeed mostly subterranean, that proved a saving grace (curiously we have Chirac to thank!)

          The other big factor was in fact in transit. Simultaneous with this above-ground transformation were the grand plans for RER and TGV. No accident that the first RER was to span east-to-west and bring La Defense within easy range of all Paris. If hi-rise was really necessary, here was where it could be built without endangering the timeless beauty of Paris and with little compromise. IMO, it saved Paris. (Alon has a different view.) But it took very bold planning and action (La Defense as the real business district, abandoning ditto for Paris-Montparnasse and the expensive building of RER deep under all the other infrastructure). This is where London so manifestly failed. It took decades longer (’80s versus ’50s) before they did the same thing with Docklands, and then they took as long to properly connect it to rapid transit (and the Jubilee Line takes forever and 4 river crossings! DLR is a toy railroad.) Moreover, east London and its vast now-superfluous docks could have supported truly grand plans to incorporate affordable housing in large amount. Alas, it unfolded under Thatcher and “planning” was anathema, and voila you have today’s mish-mash development and mostly reserved for the very wealthy and often for foreign money looking for a safe cache. Instead you got Croydon and its ilk which was a leftover of that horrible post-war period, and not a zone in which anyone would aspire to live.

          It is not as if there were not some people and politicians with vision, but they were crushed under Thatcher and Hayekian neo-liberalism. Even after she left politics it took a generation to recover. Take Michael Heseltine, in some ways an old-style Tory (in reality not so different to France’s elite planners) who eventually got HS1 built (12 long years after Thatcher) with its implicit Grandes Projets of St-Pancras-Kings-Cross quarter redevelopments and Stratford etc. Funny though, some will claim this proves that laissez-faire free-market works but I’d say it just demonstrates how it doesn’t deliver, either in a timely fashion (and as they say, time is money as reflected in the mega-cost of every mega-project today; all these projects are 40-50 years behind the equivalent in Paris) or for any kind of equality: London is not sustainable for normal people. And a mirror of the Anglosphere everywhere.

          • rational plan

            The problem was with the Idea of a grand plan for Docklands was the failure to envisage anything like as grand as La Defense. There had been several failed attempts at attempting to redevelop the Docks from the late 60’s as the Docks began to close and trade move downriver. The first big plans in the early 70’s called for a docklands ‘mini tram’ and high rise development on the docks including offices (though not on the scale of Canary Wharf). This plan was fiercely resisted by the local councils and during the militant tendency take over of old labour councils in the early eighties various peoples plans were launched, which consisted of new council estates reopening the bigger docks to shipping and new factories on the smaller docks that were to be filled in. These were of course hopelessly unrealistic .

            There are some fascinating social history books on the redevelopment of docklands. The early days the Development corporation (legislation pretty much copied from the old new towns act). had to fight hard for money and a vision to redevelop the area. No large British business would consider going east and the corporation had to fight the treasury for the initial DLR system as it wanted something modern and visible and did not want a tram or to be fobbed off with the Treasury preferred enhanced bus service. In early days all that was envisioned was that the nice old warehouse would be converted to apartments, like what had happened in Wapping already and the rest would typical inner London mix of terraces and small scale flats with low rise offices and business units, typical of the neighbourhoods surrounding central London. The some foreigners had a vision of moving their bank to a converted warehouse with large floors after being frustrated with the City’s highly planning environment. The city had often publicly stated that London did not need skyscrapers, that ground scrapers were the future not old fashioned towers!

            Once the Reichmans teamed up with Travelstead the idea of Canary Wharf was born, The sense of shock that reverberated around the system when it was unveiled was huge. It was too big to suceed, never be built etc, and if the British planning system had been in place in Docklands it never would have been. It was not in an existing centre, it was too big in size and height etc. The planners had already determined that Docklands was going to be a city fringe area, no British developer would imagine or even try to change it.

            But with the Wharf came a big increase in government spending on new roads and finally a tube line into the area, plus upgrading the DLR to 90m trains and many more routes. It also changed planning opinion to high rises in London. London would still be pretty low rise without it. So in the typical British fashion major change happened almost by accident and with no real plan. Large plans almost never get through in this country and so are rarely proposed.

          • Alon Levy

            First, re Michael Heseltine, I’m obligated to share Spitting Image’s take:

            Second, it’s not correct that La Defense is the real business district of Paris. The peak job density at La Defense is higher than around Auber, but it’s small, whereas the Paris CBD is 4 km^2 covering the 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 9th, with a total of maybe 250,000 jobs. The highest office rents are in the 8th.

            Third, BNF is such a shitshow that the nearby pub is called “The Frog and British Library” just to rub it in how much better things are in London. The Musee d’Orsay is nice but that’s because it wasn’t built by the postwar French state.

            And fourth, yes, Paris has more affordable housing than London (though less than most rich European cities, with a notable exception of Stockholm), but it also has more racial segregation (less than Stockholm or American cities, but “less segregated than America” is a bit like “less genocidal than Hitler”).

          • Eric

            London is “not sustainable for normal people” for the one and only reason that building to height is restricted. So it’s the *lack* of a free market which causes its problems.

          • Michael James

            Eric, 2018/07/08 – 10:57

            London is “not sustainable for normal people” for the one and only reason that building to height is restricted. So it’s the *lack* of a free market which causes its problems.

            If you mean not allowing Haussmannian 6-8 storey buildings around Tramlink TOD, then I agree with you. But if you mean real hi-rise then no. The kind of developers who build hi-rises is only interested in premium locations where they can charge mind-numbing prices (if their buyers are exclusively footloose international capital seeking a home, what do they care). If allowed to, they might build hi-rise shit reminiscent of the 50s and 60s (that are all being demolished today) perhaps with a blingier facade, and skimp on amenities and security like Grenfell Tower.

            You won’t be able to provide a single example anywhere in the world where giving the free market free reign to build hi-rise, or super-talls, has led to a moderation in cost or affordability. It is as true for Hong Kong and Moscow as it is for NYC and London or Sydney. OTOH if the government designated, say, ten regions as future TOD on the Tramlink, of about 800m radius and permitted (in fact mandated) 6-8 storey apartments (along with mandating good standards) then, voila, suddenly there is potential for 2.5m residents in affordable locales with reasonable transit links … And yes, Millennials and next-gen would be happy to live there and would begin to create very livable, walkable communities …

          • Eric

            If a city builds a few supertalls and allows no other building, it will remain unaffordable.

            If the city allows building anything anywhere (the free market situation!), then a few supertalls would get built, but also lots of 6-8 story buildings – and prices will go drastically down! (Down to the cost of construction, more or less)

        • Michael James

          rational plan 2018/07/08 – 06:33

          I think you’ve proven my point. Such projects need large-scale planning including transit and housing etc. that only a government can bring, and central government (to bring the local councils etc along with the plan). I was living there at the time a lot of that happened. If I remember, the Reichmans went broke because they over-extended themselves as that kind of developer does; did they even go to jail? Of course the whole thing happened, or depended upon, the Big Bang.
          Personally I think the fad for hi-rises in old London is misplaced, but OTOH it was a shithole anyway, part of which was Adolf’s fault. I’m sure there remain bomb sites undeveloped to this day.

          Alon Levy 2018/07/08 – 07:36
          I’m afraid you leave me no choice but to nitpick your nitpicks.

          Using your own figures:
          La Defense: 112,500 jobs/km2
          Paris CBD: 41,700 jobs/km2
          And a lot of those jobs are not in business; eg. it includes the grand magasins. Of course the rents are higher in Paris and that is one reason why La Defense was created (and Canary Wharf). The big banks etc ornamental HQs will still be there, which they wouldn’t be if the early plans to Americanise Paris had gone ahead. Have you seen inside the SocGen and Credit Lyonnais (whose staircase alone is worth preserving; probably the most magnificent one in Paris and one of the best in the world).
          Re the BNF, I really don’t know what you mean. The building, especially the reading room, is magnificent and parts are from Mazarin. Most of the library is of course elsewhere these days, I assume mostly at the BN F.Mitterrand. Oh, I do remember that the new BL building was one of those ridiculous Brit projects; it was begun (or the enquiry began) when I was first lived in England then it was finally built years after I returned after 10 years in Paris; it cost a boggling amount and IMO is hardly worth the fuss (the building not the library per se).

          On the last point, Paris is the largest city in Europe (not counting Moscow) so those comparisons are hardly appropriate. London is of broadly similar size and is a disaster by comparison.

          • rational plan

            I was not trying to disprove your point, just Britain rarely does the ‘Grand Project’. Docklands was governed by a loose development framework but there was nothing set in stone, so if a developer proposed something else the plan could be changed. The thing with the Docklands redevelopment was it was started in the early 80’s, long before Big Bang which set London’s re emergence as a prime Global City, not that the true scale of change let loose was appreciated at the time. Docklands was caught in the Worldwind of change and instead of taking 10 years to agree a new structure plan and up to 20 years to the opening of large scale infrastructure, they just said ‘OK then’ and tried to cope. With hindsight the state should have jumped in with billions for a new transport network and new street plan etc, but there is no way any of that could have been done in less than 5 years, even 10 is fast paced change in a Western democracy. The days of bull dozing the ordinary people out of the way collapsed by the early 70’s. No more black lines on maps and clean slate development. In c,ame multi stage consultations, and cost benefit analysis plus the political slog to big projects funded. The DLR has proved so successful because it has been able to expanded and upgraded in smallish chunks. it’s been able to grow with it’s passenger numbers.

            Why should the Reichmans go to jail? The recession arrived and tanked the commercial property market, the state was slow in upgrading infrastructure to cope with the level of development. They went bust along with a lot of other developers and banks lost a lot of money. But the seeds were set for the next round of growth and the government could not let those skyscrapers rot, so the Jubilee was built and as was well, sort of!

          • Michael James

            Rational plan, I was agreeing with you, and pointing out what you wrote in your latest post: it should have all been planned by the state. Early post-war, a lot of this stuff was obvious; eg. that’s when London Crossrail was first conceived but shelved. “there is no way any of that could have been done in less than 5 years, even 10 is fast paced change in a Western democracy.” Exactly. By the 80s the pressure was uncontainable. My whole point is that we should expect our governments to pre-empt these things and act in our interest (which will also be in the interest of business, of course). Look at how La Defense has taken immense pressure off those (like Alon) who would destroy historic Paris; and today La Defense is claimed to be Europe’s biggest business district (despite what Alon likes to claim). What you’ve missed in your latest post is that this painfully slow “development” in London has not served its citizens and residents: no matter how many glossy stories are told about modern blingy London, the reality on the ground is horrible for more and more people. (For all the crap–dare I say fake news–one reads in the Anglosphere press about Paris, it is simply nothing remotely as difficult a city.)

            In Australia, it is the same thing. Zilch serious planning for the day when the city (Sydney & Melbourne, and a decade or so behind Brisbane) cannot continue to pretend to be a big country town. Exactly like London, Sydney has run into a brick wall created by this unplanned property bubble (fueling a financial bubble) and the next-gen can never hope to buy property anywhere they want to live and rent is unsupportable. The only new houses are 50km from the centre and are still expensive tatty McMansions which trap them into total car-dependence. There were plans over 30 years ago to relocate Sydney airport so it could expand and operate all hours without disturbing millions of Sydneysiders but of course it was forever delayed, and now there is immense pressure to deregulate those hours of operation (by a privatised airport monopoly!) which will further degrade the quality of life of large numbers of Sydneysiders.

            Paris has none of this. It acted much earlier to solve the business expansion needs, it created an extensive RER network to serve the suburbs, it relocated its major airport well away from the city (on a huge block of land that would serve it forever) and connected it to the RER (and eventually TGV), and maintains a more compact city including the banlieus so that moving around the city is not a massive drama. (Heck, I lived in Oxford for 6 years and moving around had more drama than Paris!). Oh, and they have sensible macroprudential lending rules for housing that prevents it becoming a gambling den for those with excess capital.

            What I try to do in my posts is try to understand why we in the Anglosphere are cursed with this appalling lack of planning for our own future, and what we can do about it (other than migrate to France…). You seem to be suggesting that this incrementalism works but it manifestly fails. (And I don’t fall into the trap of judging success by the size of the financial “industry”.)

            Re the Reichmans, I am only (unwisely) relying upon my memories from the time and I recall they had indulged in all sorts of shady practices. Perhaps it was no more than what any big developer does (they were probably New Yorkers, friends of Donald?). I agree that at least they had a vision that was to fill a real need; the UK’s big property speculators or fat cats who inherited their property-based wealth like Gerald Grosvenor (owner of all of Mayfair) wouldn’t do anything so bold. At the time (in the 90s) I thought the government should have created a new big university there, in partnership with Wellcome Trust (who fund more research than the MRC these days; they were funding me in Oxford) and with a big new hospital (with a med school etc). The opportunities were enormous but mostly wasted in financial services and blingy hi-rise apartments only affordable to a tiny cadre and foreigners.

        • Michael James

          Your post provoked me to go and refresh my memories, and I was surprised that everything occurred later than I recall. The first building (1 Canada Sq) opened in Canary Wharf in 1991. The Big Bang was initiated in 1983 but not into law until 1986. It was significant because it resulted in an increase in size of the old players of The City, including takeovers by American big banks and others (many of whom would locate themselves at CW where they could build their traditional phallic symbols). The DLR was really too small to cope with traffic like any of the Tube lines carried so perhaps as well it began life terminated at Fenchurch St (Tower Hill) too far at the eastern edge of The City to be any use; attempts to connect, and use, part of the Tube (District line) were abandoned because they were really not compatible, and it was apparently out of the question to do the sensible thing and extend the District Line to CW. It wasn’t until 1991 that DLR finally extended to Bank in The City proper.

          But it took until 1999 until the Jubilee Line (extension) finally reached Docklands. And why? Bien sur: “However, when the Conservative Party came to power in May 1979 under Margaret Thatcher, the plans to extend the Jubilee line were halted and the new government insisted that a lower-cost option should be pursued.[11]” This late opening of the Jubilee Line is often attributed as a major factor in the initial failure of Canary Wharf which went bankrupt in 1992. (I remember now that the Reichmans were from Toronto–via Vienna, Paris & Morocco.) Of course CrossRail is the direct link it always needed and it will open December this year (and link to Stratford at one end and Heathrow at the other) only 29 years too late.

          By contrast Paris M1 operated to Pont de Neuilly in 1937. Still a bit of a walk across the river to La Defense, which didn’t get its M1 extension into La Defense (2 stations including terminus) until 1992. It did have mainline rail to Etoile (or shuttles to). Eventually, RATP had purchased various tracks and tunnels from SNCF that connected La Defense (and points west) to Etoile (ie. Arc de Triomphe which had M1, M2, M6), then built a tunnel Etoile to Auber (Gare St Lazare) in 1971, which connected the old business district directly to the new one at La Defense. This full-size railway was of course the precursor that led to RER-A which opened in 1977 with a long tunnel from Auber to Nation (via Chatelet-les-Halles and Gare de Lyon) and spanned outer Parisian suburbs ≈110km east to west via all the main centres in inner-Paris. Sounds familiar to a Londoner today, because CrossRail was explicitly modelled on Paris’ RER-A Just 42 years later.

          • rational plan

            The Jubilee line extension in the late 70’s was not going to the Isle of Dogs, it was to take over the old East London line and extend to Lewisham. London reconnections has a good history of the various political shenanigans at the GLC and department of transport at the time and the various failures on all sides. It was later in the eighties when Ken proposed the Jubilee line be extended to Thamesmead the entire length of DOcklands and renamed the River line. But it was never more a serious proposal he was having too much fun winding Thatcher up.

  2. rational plan

    Prior to tramlink, there used to be an infrequent rail shuttle between Wimbledon and West Croydon. Apart from New Addington, the other routes also use lightly used rail branches. New Addington was the largest London settlement (built as social housing in the post war era) without a rail or tube stop.

    Tramlink was promoted as a way to boost Croydon Town centre. It’s been in decline since the 1980’s.
    As a side note, a peculier aspect of London geomorphology is a hold over of old planning restrictions.

    In the booming post war era national planning was about decogesting London and deliberately moving businesses and people out of London to more struggling parts of the country. Manufacturers and office based employers had to get permission from governent to expand in London and prove they could not do the business elsewhere. By the 70’s they realised this had gone to far and that forcibly making business move to sub optimal locations and often split sites was not a recipe for greater economic growth. The rules were scrapped in the late 70’s.

    At one stage it was very difficult to build large scale office buidings in Central London, the result was a boom inspeculative building around suburban stations that last till the 70’s. These places were filled with back office functions and Central London held smaller headquarter buildings. You can see these slab blocks littering almost every suburban town centre around London. Now technology has moved on and those back office functions no longer need to be anywhere near London. Croydon was the biggest of these centres and the place was flattened in the 60’s for this new vision. Prior to Canary wharf, it was the only place with a semi american a high rise skyline (for those people who had never been to the US). But with M25 built business that required a suburban London setting moved to towns next to it. Croydon until redevlopments plans finally took off had no new office buildings built since the early 90’s. These days the only large occupiers are government departments, plus it still is a major regional shopping and leisure centre. These days multiple high apartment towers are in the works to replace the old office slabs.

    The only high density development to occur in London is in town centres with express rail stops and on old industrial and warehousing land. At best in residential areas some down at heal suburban homes maybe bulldozed for small low rise apartment buildings (these tend to be on main roads, where traffic has reduced the appeal of suburban living). Otherwise the nimbies will prevent anysuch upzoning.

    There are relatively few underused rail lines in London these days, so no chance of these being turned into tramlines. And London was never blessed with many boulevards,so fitting trams down tow lane roads has proved poltically toxic.

    Anyway current plans for Tramlink are to carry on with up grade works to eliminate as much single track working as possible to increase frequencies on all branches. The problem is there are only so many trams they can fit round the loop in Croydon centre without getting gummed up on the short blocks. There was a propsal for an additional loop around the Eastern Officedistrict near Croydon East station so that some trams from the East could miss out the congested centre. But that’s gone quiet at the moment.

    The biggest proposal is for a North South line between Sutton town Centre, St Helliers estate (large housing area with biggish gaps to other rail lines) , the main hospital and across the Wimbledon route to South Wimbledon Tube station.

    This route is possible to the mainly large grassy avenues through the estate, so little in the way of street running.

    • Si Hollett

      The current plans for Tramlink talked about by RP (save, of course, serving St Heliers and Sutton) being all about trying to eke out more capacity suggests that transit-orientated densification of the suburban fringe (which is what most areas that Tramlink serves are) isn’t a good idea when the transit is pushing capacity limits without additional demand.

      The key failure of Tramlink in its mission is that Croydon didn’t become the (to use current parlance) ‘Satellite Activity Zone’ hoped for. Most of the new development nowadays is residential, rather than offices. For that, Tramlink isn’t to blame as much as unforeseen things like high rise in The City, Docklands booming well beyond 90s predictions, Stratford becoming far more than planned, and Crawley-Horley taking off (pun intended) for similar reasons to the Thames Valley.

  3. ardecila

    What does this comparison tell us about the prospects for DC’s Purple Line? It would seem to be serving a very similar role to Tramlink and Paris’ tram lines. Unfortunately most of the route is lower density than even the London examples, with lots of postwar detached housing. Also the added negative that most of the route will be at-grade on wide suburban roads, with lots of sharp 90-degree turns at intersections, even if it will be (mostly) on exclusive medians. On the plus side, it will connect several suburban nodes (Bethesda, Silver Spring, UMD, New Carrollton) and not just two like Tramlink does.

    • Alon Levy

      The ridership projection on the Purple Line isn’t much lower than what Tramlink gets – presumably it’s because there are more centers served.

      The Purple Line’s main problem is that its upfront cost is $3.3 billion whereas Tramlink was built for 200 million pounds.

      • Eric

        The Purple Line costs half as much per mile as the MBTA Green Line extension. It’s not so expensive by US standards.

  4. Darren Angus

    Don’t forget that the tram is being extended into the northern line by Morden and Sutton so I suggest that you update your information before sagging off a system that works

  5. Edwin

    There is an interchange with Tramlink at West Croydon, although it’s on the one way loop so changing there onto a tram towards Wimbledon would require a circuit of Croydon and another change at East Croydon.

    The current Tramlink network was planned and opened as a single project. Sutton/Morden extensions are being studied and developed but not committed.

    No regular route terminates at East Croydon. The New Addington route runs round the town centre loop to return eastwards, so serves all the central tram stops.

  6. dudleyhorscroft

    A major reason for Tramlink was the need for better transport for New Addington. It was probably the largest area in Greater London – excluding the various commons – without a decent rail service. Add to that the perceived need for a decent rail link between Croydon and Wimbledon – BR several times tried to close the line, which operated 2 car trains at 45 minute intervals – and hardly saw any passengers. Add in also the BR desire to get rid of the Addiscombe Branch and the Sanderstead Branch – one station of which, Bingham Road Halt played a part in a Tony Hancock film. Buses were not satisfactorily serving New Addington, and it seemed that the best solution would be a tramway connection between New Addington and central Croydon, and it could be usefully extended to Wimbledon and take over the various BR Branch lines. And so it came into being. I did actually travel on the BR West Croydon Wimbledon line before BR closed it – a nice rural branch, but not a valuable transit link!

    Re Docklands – this was originally planned as a tramway – largely on street – but objections ruled against this and the presence of disused BR tracks provided the incentive to create it as light rail. The objective was to “revitalize” the Docklands area and provide better internal connexions to Stratford. The City connexion was almost an after thought. It just happened that the old rail tracks went there, so why not provide a service? It was thanks to Rupert Murdoch and his shift of the newspaper business from Fleet Street to the docklands that others saw the value in moving out of old and inconvenient office blocks to newer, more spacious and more efficient offices that got things moving, and the DLR grew from almost a ‘toy train’ – because we had to have something – to the the major transit system it is today.

    Reverting to Tramlink – it should be remembered that Croydon was already a town of a quarter million (before Coulsden, etc, was annexed) and the area had been almost completely built over in the Victorian era. Shirley was the last private development completed before WW2, and New Addington was the only large area permitted to be built upon after WW2. So there was negligible chance of large scale development of new high density suburbs contingent on development of Tramlink – Tramlink had to be fitted in.

  7. lcpitkan

    You analysis of the factors seems perfectly valid, but the starting point feels a bit odd to me. I would think it obvious that Tramlink will have less boardings than the Ile-de-France systems. I still wouldn’t call it weak.
    Tramlink operates far from the centre of London in predominantly low rise areas and rather long stop spacing. Paris T3 is very much an urban tramway in densely built up areas with the 0,5 km stop spacing typical of French urban tramways. It might not be radial, but it still serves shorter trips. Stop spacing is not chosen at random and thus is a clear indicator of what the line was intended for. T1 is similar. T2 has longer stop spacing, but is still located much closer to the centre in much higher density. And La Defense is maybe a bit more significant than Wimbledon or Croydon 🙂
    To me Tramlink actually has a lot of the characteristics of a suburb to centre feeder for Croydon and Wimbledon. Although these are probably not the final destinations for most trips, the pattern of travel is similar. This will typically mean longer trips eg. more passenger kilometers, which are often a relevant metric alongside boardings. The low turnover you mention is also typical. A special factor for Tramlink is the train services in the area are often over capacity so even a slightly slower direct service is an attractive proposition.
    So at least T3 and T1 are a combination of local travel and urban heavy rail feeders. Tramlink is more a suburban feeder to local centres and the regional rail system. These will almost inevitably have different characteristics, which you describe well.

    • Alon Levy

      T3 is urban, sure, but T1 is in the suburbs and is at a radius of 9 km from Chatelet; Wimbledon is 11 km from Charing Cross and East Croydon 14 km. The big difference is that London is just a less dense city than Paris.

  8. Pingback: An Ode To The London Trams - London News Station

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