I took a trip on my bike last week to north London. Up from the Woolwich Ferry, through the docks, up the Greenway to the Olympic Park, through Victoria Park and Hackney, along the canal and up to Highbury, where I stood in the middle of the old Arsenal Stadium, gawping at the redevelopment as the sun set. Somehow, I could still see Thierry Henry backheeling the ball past Dean Kiely as I stood under the Clock End, looking at the flats that surrounded me. The Highbury ghosts glowed as brightly as the flat screen TVs out of each window. I shuddered, and moved on. Time to go home.
I cheated and took the bike on the train. Canonbury to Kidbrooke via the all-new extended East London line – not glamorous, but it did the job. But it got me thinking. Why was the East London line extended from New Cross Gate, but not New Cross? In fact, the New Cross route is the Cinderella service of the shiny new Overground. Trains only run to and from Dalston Junction, so if you travel from Highbury or Canonbury you have to change trains and face a five or 10-minute wait.
It seems such a waste to have kept the line running only to New Cross. An Overground link to Lewisham would be tremendously useful, and from there there’s a host of places it could run. But it dawned on me as I got to Kidbrooke that there was a big housing development here – and one crappy station with a rubbish service that Southeastern, with its newly-extended contract, is unlikely to improve. Will Kidbrooke Village‘s new residents really tolerate a miserable two trains per hour in the evenings? As I pedalled out via the still-dismal bus interchange, the question hit me. Why on earth isn’t the London Overground going to Kidbrooke?
There are obstacles in the way of this – you’d have to build new junctions at New Cross, and the tangle of train tracks around Lewisham station (which contains a “temporary” bridge erected after the 1957 crash) would have to be sorted out. Yet this shouldn’t be a reason not to do something here – surely all south-east London’s train services would benefit from fixing the junction at Lewisham, where capacity is limited because trains clatter across each other’s paths. In fact, it’s that limited capacity which saw Blackheath lose some of its trains to central London, to free up space for extra trains from Orpington.
If this can be fixed, then you could have Overground trains running through St Johns and Lewisham through to Blackheath, the new homes at Kidbrooke, and to give a much-needed boost to transport in Eltham too. Further on, an Overground connection would help Bexleyheath feel less remote. It’s not as if Kidbrooke Village developer Berkeley Homes isn’t keen on investing in local transport – it’s paying for initial work on the Woolwich Crossrail station – so surely it and Barratt Homes, which is building new homes at Lewisham, could be tapped up for cash for these improvements which will add extra value to their developments.
I’m thinking aloud here, because I’d like to know what you think. But it does strike me as strange that nobody lobbied for such an extension to the Overground when it was being built – and that nobody’s lobbying for it now.