This post was originally written in 2020 for the 10th anniversary of the East London Line but it never got published! It was to be a follow up to the earlier East London Line 10 years on. The difference was the first feature (published April 2020) covered the line’s history from its inception as the Thames Tunnel through to closure of the line (as part of the London Underground system) in December 2007. This second part essentially looks at the development of the route as part of the new London Overground system. The title is misleading in respects because the history of that in fact goes back further! In terms of London Overground, planning began at the end of the 20th Century under London Regional Transport with greater input during the early years of the 21st Century. It was 2006 when the decision was made to incorporate the line as part of a new London Overground system.
The problem with the East London Line was in the second half of the 20th Century it didn’t really go anywhere. Prior to that until around the sixties it had performed as a useful cross London route mainly for freight. Following the cessation of its use as a through freight route, it remained somewhat useful as a cross-river route until the seventies. That was because it linked up the once vast London docks system and conveyed thousands of dockers to work daily. Once the docks system had closed, especially that known as the Surrey Docks, the line’s days were essentially numbered. There had been proposals to close the line however it was soon envisaged the line would be important in terms of the forthcoming Docklands redevelopment. In that respect the East London line received some upgrades and enhancements including new station surface buildings.
The biggest enhancement however was a totally new station at Canada Water with full accessibility and escalators – built 1995 to 1998 – and that was because this would be an important interchange with the Jubilee line. Thus for eight years this new station was an interchange between two different London Underground lines. Clearly Canada Water has the honour of being one of the shortest lived underground interchanges! The East London line platforms closed in 2007 as part of the works to rebuild the line for its new role as a London Overground route.
Conversely the other interchange point with the London Underground was at Whitechapel. Those platforms too were closed between 2007 and 2010 and when that reopened it was often said this is the only location where the London Overground actually passes under the London Underground! Anyway we’re a bit ahead in terms of the line’s history so lets go back a few years…..
The closure of the Broad Street line in 1986 soon led to thoughts about re-using the former railway alignment between Shoreditch and Dalston and various options were explored.
The first time the East London Line had closed! Or rather that was the old Broad Street Line! It shut in 1986 fortunately the alignment survived for use as the new East London Line. Source: Twitter.
The East London Line closed here too! That was to allow realignment in order to cross the Great Eastern main lines and thus attain the new Shoreditch High Street station. Source: Twitter
By 1989 London Regional Transport was considering the extension of the line towards Dalston/Highbury and East Dulwich. In 1992 the project was confirmed and LRT said it would cost £100 million. Government approval was however not forthcoming. There were in fact various proposals of a similar nature throughout the 1990s. The sticking point was the nature of funding and it wasn’t until October 2001 when the plans were finally approved by the Government.
This December 2003 view shows the former Bishopsgate Goods site demolished for the forthcoming new Shoreditch station. Pic by author.
Work was intended to begin on the northward extension from Shoreditch in Dalston during 2001, however there was considerable objection to the demolition of the historic Bishopsgate Goods Yard when it was found most of that site would make way for the new station. Thus pending construction work was suspended to await a legal outcome. The case against TfL/London Underground’s intent to demolish Bishopsgate Goods was given a hearing in 2003. Ultimately the court judged in July 2003 the demolition could go ahead. Almost immediately the work to demolish the site began, although actual construction work on the new line’s viaducts and approach ramps was deferred until 2005.
Article on the new northwards extension of the East London line. Source: Twitter
The inception of TfL in the 2000s brought about the idea that the East London Line needed to be better that it currently was. Proposals were for it to go to West Croydon, Clapham Junction, Wimbledon and Willesden Junction. In the event the last two were dropped (although Willesden was later attained as part of the Overground Network expansion.) The map below shows the plans as they were decided in March 2003. The project was endorsed by the Department of Transport in July 2003.
Both Rotherhithe and Wapping were under review because these sites did not meet the current safety standards required. At the time it was thought these stations would be closed and that even though Wapping station had already been rebuilt once. However common sense prevailed and in August 2004 the Mayor of London confirmed these stations would be retained although Wapping was rebuilt entirely at surface level. Although not marked on the map, Finsbury Park and Brixton were also included for consideration. Ultimately it was deemed Finsbury Park would be complex in terms of operation regarding trains that needed to terminate there. Brixton on the other hand needed new high level platforms and these were not within the current scope of financial means.
The earlier plans made during the 1990s for the East London Line envisaged a new depot within the Silwood triangle south of Surrey Quays. As has been seen earlier it was ultimately decided to extend the route further south onto the main rail network and that alone prompted the need for a bigger depot at a different location. The former rail yards to the south and west of Canal Junction were instead utilised for the line’s new depot.
Plans for a depot at Silwood 1993.
If the depot had indeed been built at Silwood it would have prevented extension of the ELL towards Clapham Junction. Of course that wasn’t planned in the project’s early days. But when the desire to extend towards Crystal Palace and West Croydon originated, the potential for a new route to Clapham Junction via Peckham became easily envisaged and this was enabled by use of a disused route towards Old Kent Road junction.
The disused trackbed between Silwood and Old Kent Road junction long before it became part of the London Overground network. Source: Twitter.
Early TfL page (c2005) on the new London Overground project.
The ticket hall in the former Shoreditch station during its last years of operation. Pic by author.
Shoreditch station November 2001. I took this view especially because it also showed the former Bishopsgate Goods signalbox which can be seen above the A Stock. Pic by author.
Canal Junction in 2008 – with the metal frame of the ELL’s New Cross depot evident. Source: Google Streets.
In 2006 it was decided the ELL would become part of the new London Overground (LO) network. One of the moves towards this was to find an operator to run the new railway. A consortium consisting of MTR and Laing was the successful bidder and it became known as London Overground Rail Operations Ltd. The move towards real world operations was officially made in March 2008 when the Silverlink services (Euston-Watford and Stratford-Clapham) were transferred to the new LO authority. See BBC News
In November 2007 TfL were already advertising the services as London Overground’s even though the existing trains were still Silverlink branded. Clearly it would take time for the new corporate identity to shine through, Londoners were being told they were getting a new train set!
London Overground – the new trainset for London!
New trains for the ELL. Advert from 2009. Source: Twitter.
Besides the controversy that surrounded the demolition of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, there had been one other substantial concern in terms of historic infrastructure. The Brunels’ Thames tunnel which was an important part of the line’s infrastructure was getting on in terms of its age. It had been opened for the first time in the late 1820s as a partially finished concern offering the public an opportunity to view what had then been built of this great project – thus parts of it were getting on for two centuries in age. The entire completed structure was eventually opened in 1843 and even though it was a recognised listed historic structure, it simply wasn’t seen as suited for modern needs.
There was dispute over just how much of the original structure should be compromised in order to bring it up to date. It was agreed a short section of the original tunnel should be left and cleaned up, whilst the rest of it would be totally rebuilt to modern standards. This work was in fact done during the line’s earlier refurbishment between 1995 and 1998. Fortunately that work left the tunnel in good stead for the new London Overground project – thus the only work basically required was the conversion of the track for third rail operation plus new signalling and communications systems.
The Thames Tunnel in 2010. Source: Twitter.
Canal junction signal box. It seems few took pictures of this rather unloved structure! Pic by author.
This interesting article on the East London Line’s signalling was written prior to the route’s reconstruction. The one and only signal box for the entire line – Canal Junction – overlooking the divergence between the two routes to New Cross and New Cross Gate, was demolished as part of the upgrade and within the new ELL depot a replacement signal control room was built. The former signal box was apparently of the ARP style, being built during WWII and unusually for an Underground line in London, the box overlooked the Grand Surrey Canal which was closed in 1970. The canal’s presence evidently ensured the box and railway junction were named after it!
The London Overground Control Centre at New Cross. Source: Twitter
The first ever train was tested throughout the new line on Monday 5th October 2009. See BBC News.
The ELL console for train movements. At this time it just covered Dalston to New Cross. Source: BBC News
Interior of New Cross depot. Source: Sharpfibre
Outside London Overground’s New Cross depot. Source: Sharpfibre.
Opening of the new East London Line in 2010:
In terms of the Official Re-opening 27th April 2010 TfL announced on its web pages thus:
‘The first section of London Overground’s new £1bn East London route opens at midday today at Dalston Junction station, bringing passengers fast reliable cross-river rail travel. A limited service will initially operate between Dalston Junction station and New Cross Gate (7am to 8pm, Monday to Friday) before it fully opens on May 23.’ (Source: Internet Archive.)
The East London Line was opened by Boris Johnson, the then Mayor of London, on 27 April 2010. Twitter is old enough to have recorded the opening of the East London Line even though its tweets were more basic then and no-one saw it as having much influence at the time – however here’s a few tweets from that day:
Some East London Line tweets from 27 April 2010 – screencapped from Twitter.
TfL page briefly detaining the new line and the date of full opening (eg from New Cross to Crystal Palace/West Croydon) which would be 23 May 2010.
Haggerston station on the first day of opening. 27th April 2010. Pic by author.
Dalston junction station on the first day of services. Pic by author.
The first passenger train seen at Surrey Quays being photographed by enthusiasts. 27th April 2010. Pic by author.
Curiously (and perhaps confusingly) the new East London Line featured two opening day trains. One had plaques announcing it as the First Train April 2010 over the new line. This was in fact the official opening ceremony train and used by dignitaries such as councilors, MPs and the Mayor of London. The second was marked with plaques announcing it as the First Passenger Train April 2010. This was the first public service working after the official opening had taken place. The First Train was compromised of Class 378 154 whilst the First Passenger Train utilised Class 378 152.
Detail on the new London Overground route from TfL’s annual report 2010-2011.
On 28th February 2011 the East London Line was extended from Dalston to Highbury. This move was kind of a 25th anniversary (not seen as such though) of the closure of the old Broad Street line.
Class 378 on training run over the yet to open section of line to Clapham Jct at Silwood Junction. Source: Flickr
Extension of the ELL to Clapham Junction December 2012. Source: Flickr
The new section of East London Line opened in 2012 leading towards Peckham and Clapham Junction. View looking south from Silwood junction. Source: Twitter.
Updated April 2023.