Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

East London Line special: An introduction

This week the London Overground East London Line opened a full service from West Croydon in south London to Dalston in the north. In a remarkable achievement, the project has been delivered early. Jackie Whitelaw reports.

One day after the opening of the core route of the London Overground East London Line last month, passengers were wandering around wide-eyed, taking in the wonder of the capital’s newest rail route.

Londoners who know the detail of the Underground better than their bank pin numbers were cooing contentedly to themselves while looking at a map of the route which revealed a whole new circuit board of travel possibilities.

As the first section of ELL opened they could go from Dalston in Hackney in the north, south to the Docklands at Canada Water and then on to New Cross. From this week, since the full line opened on 23 May, the route will take them as far into the south London suburbs as West Croydon and Crystal Palace.

By early next year when phase 1a of the East London Line opens, Croydon will have a direct connection to Highbury and Islington, and at Dalston travellers will be able to switch onto a newly upgraded North London Line to go east to Stratford and the Olympics or west to Willesden Junction and Richmond.

And by 2012, construction of a link from the East London Line at Surrey Quays to railway at Old Kent Road will allow a western trip to Clapham Junction via Peckham Rye and Wandsworth Road and link to the Overground Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction Line.

“We are changing the face of London and the way we think of and use London in a permanent way. It is really dramatic”

Howard Smith

The capital will have an outer orbital metro railway under the banner of London Overground, interconnecting along the way with its Underground lines and serving 20 of its 33 boroughs; and commuters will have opportunities aplenty to avoid central bottlenecks when they are trying to cross the city.

The key to creating this will have been a £1bn Transport for London investment in infrastructure and new rolling stock.

This has reinvigorated and expanded the old East London Line Tube line, reusing Victorian infrastructure and introducing some new modern landmarks along the way.

There are going to be huge benefits in terms of regeneration and new jobs for some of the less developed parts of the City, rail-deprived Hackney will at last have a metro, and east and southeast London will acquire some life changing infrastructure.

Around 33M passengers are expected to be using the route every year by 2011, rising to a projected 39M by 2016.

“As a client team, we worked very hard towards letting the main works contract to programme”

Peter Richards

“The really good part of this job,” says London Rail chief executive Howard Smith, under who’s remit the East London Line falls, “is that we are changing the face of London and the way we think of and use London in a permanent way. It is really dramatic.”

There has been a plan to upgrade the East London Underground Line that ran from Shoreditch to New Cross Gate since 1997. London Underground had the idea to take a railway into Hackney on a disused viaduct that had once carried the North London Overground Line from Broad Street Station, which had disappeared under the Broadgate development in 1986.

It got Transport & Works Act (TWA) powers for the scheme, which was then expanded again when it was realised the railway could interconnect with the North London Line.

Another Transport & Works Act was acquired, and as the project by that stage had effectively become part of Overground rather than Underground rail, it was passed to the newly formed Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to manage.

ELL plans languished there without a champion. But over at Transport for London it did have its backers − Smith and his managing director Ian Brown at TfL’s developing London Rail division in particular. And when the SRA wound up and the route was bequeathed to TfL in 2004 they fought for, and won the funding.

London Overground- the future

“There was pressure to make a decision as the TWA powers were about to run out, and then the Olympics came along, which finally tipped the balance and we could get on with building the project,” Smith says.

Peter Richards was brought in from the SRA to run the job as infrastructure director for the now dubbed London Overground, along with Mike Stubbs as engineering director, and they got stuck into design.

There had been a brief flirtation with funding the route through private finance. “But the ELL is a grey asset,” Smith says. “There is a lot of old infrastructure it would have been difficult to box up for PFI, and a PFI takes time to put together.”

With the 2012 Olympics fast approaching, it was decided to go for a design and build option.b It was a good decision. The scheme, built by a Balfour Beatty Carillion joint venture (BBCJV), opened early on 23 May. BBCJV won the contract in October 2006, started design immediately, and then started the major structures in 2007.

It got onto the tunnel and south sections of the site when the old East London Underground was closed in December 2007 and handed over in late January 2008.

“From the start, we stressed to everyone that this job is about delivering an operational railway − infrastructure, rolling stock and operations,” says Richards.

“We have managed the integration between these aspects and given the responsibility for managing the interface between the existing infrastructure and main works structures and rail systems to Balfour Beatty Carillion as our main works contractor.

Howard Smith

Howard Smith

“That is why we went for a single NEC3 design and build main works contract. It has meant that BBCJV has managed the interfaces, and all the responsibility has rested with one party to get on and do the whole thing.”

When Richards set up the job he wanted to create momentum, so he formed an integrated client team to manage the job and drive its progress. This included himself, Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Ashok Kothari as head of programme management and designers from Mott MacDonald as technical adviser to the project.

Refurbishment work along the route on some of the older structures like the Kingsland Viaduct was let as enabling works contracts to Murphy and Taylor Woodrow (now Vinci Construction).

“Refurbishment is risky and it was prudent to do some of that first before we let the bigger contract,” Richards says.

“And then, as a client team, we worked very hard towards letting the main works contract to programme.

“We didn’t let ourselves slip. By doing that we created float for the rest of the project and that has helped us come in early.

We are delighted to have opened on 23 May, ahead of a programme set back in 2004.”

Who’s who?

Client London Overground for Transport for London
Other parties London Underground, Network Rail
Contractor Balfour Beatty Carillion joint venture (BBCJV)
Contractor’s designers Scott Wilson, Tony Gee & Partners
Programme manager Parsons Brinckerhoff
Client’s technical adviser Mott MacDonald
Rolling stock Bombardier Operator LOROL


The East London Line in brief

Signalling,communications and power systems, 3.5km of new or refurbished viaduct from Whitechapel to Dalston Junction; 3.2km of track in tunnel south of Whitechapel to Surrey Quay

New stations at Dalston Junction, Haggerston, Hoxton and Shoreditch High Street; refurbishments at Whitechapel, Shadwell, Wapping, Rotherhithe and Surrey Quays; an operational control centre; depot; and 44 four car Electrostar 378 trains − 20 for the East London Line and 24 for the North London Line.


East London Line special: An introduction

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.