Saturday, December 10, 2011

Case Study: London Overground

Source: Wikipedia / Sunil060902
London is well known for London Underground with its high frequency metro services, and London's National Rail network (run by various private franchises) is one of the world's most extensive commuter rail networks. One of franchises was previously run by an operator called Silverlink, who ran the orbital services around London. These included the North London Line, West London Line, Gospel Oak Barking Line, and Watford Line. These lines were well known for an infrequent off-peak service (every 15-30 minutes), shabby trains, dreary stations, and overcrowded peak services.

In 2007, Transport for London took over London Overground, with services operated by the LOROL (MTR Laing) consortium. This contract also included taking over the extended (ex-London Underground) East London Line services in 2010. New electric 3-car class 378 trains were purchased with longitudinal seating to increase capacity. These have since been extended to 4-car trains. The un-electrified Gospel Oak Barking Line has received new 2-car class 172 diesel multiple units. Trains have driver only operation (no guards) for improved staffing efficiencies compared to Queensland Rail (QR). 

Crucially, service frequency has been increased, aided by re-signalling and some track layout modifications. The majority of the London Overground Lines now run off-peak services at 15 minute frequencies, with higher frequencies on the core sections of the network up to 12tph/5 mins frequency. Even the diesel operated Gospel Oak to Barking Line, the Cinderella of London's railway network now runs a 4tph/15 minute off-peak service.  Freight traffic uses multiple sections of the North London Line, with freight traffic travelling to busy ports of Felixstowe, Harwich, and London Gateway. QR should take note that the North London Line can run 8tph worth of passenger services as well as considerable freight traffic on the same track (and yes there are multiple grade junctions as well)!

Stations around the London Overground network have been refurbished, with many stations gated. This means that 95% of journeys involve having to pass through ticket gates. This has reduced the number of fare evaded journeys from 10% to just 2%. Two new stations (along the existing route) have also been added, one to serve a new shopping development, and the other to serve a housing development. 44% of stations are fully accessible to the disabled with step free access - useful as 8% of passengers have a long term disability. London Overground also have a policy of staffing stations to improve personal security.

The results of these service improvements is impressive. The number of users of London's Overground network has increased from 0.6m journeys/week in 2007 to 2m journeys/week in 2011. Much of this is due to a larger network, but even the existing lines have seen an 80% patronage increase against an approx. 20% patronage increase for London Underground over the same period. One of the largest drivers of this patronage increase is due to increased service frequency, service quality and performance. 12% of the new passengers to London Overground previously used cars instead. This is an impressive figure for a city with relatively low car ownership, and will help reduce carbon emissions. Customer satisfaction has also increased from 71% to 89%. 

Aside from huge patronage increases and improved journey times due to increased service frequency, there have been other benefits. Tourist attractions along the routes have seen increases in visitors. House prices along the East London Line route have increase by more than the average. On-time running has also increased from 91% to 95%, impressive given the frequency increases on a  mixed use railway. The success of London Overground now means that extending class 378 trains to 5-cars, and class 172 to 3-cars is planned. Extra peak services may even be added a year ahead of schedule, in contrast to SE Queensland where new timetables are currently nearly 2 years behind schedule! 

So what is relevance to this case study for Brisbane and SE Queensland? The Queensland Government, TransLink, and QR have failed to provide 15 minute inner-suburban off-peak services. This appears to be through a mix the Queensland Government reluctance to fund services, and QR finding it "too difficult" to reliably timetable freight and passenger services on the same track. As has been seen with the huge success of Brisbane's high frequency "Buz" bus routes, this case study shows that improving train service frequency will also result in huge patronage increases. It is also possible to run high frequency passenger and freight services on the same tracks whilst retaining reliability. If you provide a decent service the passengers will come! 

London Overground Impact Study:


  1. Hello from London! Just thought I'd point out one small error in your item. Only the East London line and Euston to Watford route uses driver only trains, the Gospel Oak to Barking, Richmond to Stratford and Clapham Junction to Willesden trains still have guards.

  2. Yet again you have hit the nail on the head. Its a pity our great ACPO leaders don't give a toss about anything or anyone - but themselves.


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