Warning over crucial railway upgrades

Meridian Water Station
The new Meridian Water Station, which will replace Angel Road when it opens, is nearing completion

Call to boost services at new train station to support home-building plans, reports James Cracknell

Plans to build tens of thousands of new homes in the Lea Valley could be scuppered if rail services are not drastically improved, a local transport group has warned.

Fears are growing that the funding needed to both build Crossrail 2 and upgrade the West Anglia Main Line is in jeopardy, potentially impacting Enfield Council’s flagship housing project, Meridian Water.

Delays and cost overruns to Crossrail 1 are likely to have a knock-on affect with Crossrail 2, currently expected to open in the early 2030s and serve stations in both the east and west of Enfield borough – including the new Meridian Water Station due to open this May. Meridian Water is slated to provide 10,000 homes over the next 20 years, but has itself been delayed after two deals with master developers collapsed in 2017 and 2018. The council is now leading on the project and the first 725 homes are under construction.

However, Meridian Water Station will only be served by two trains per hour when it opens. It had previously been hoped that a daily service of four trains per hour – seen as a minimum requirement for suburban routes – would be ready much sooner. The council lost a judicial review case against the Department for Transport three years ago after discovering Network Rail would not provide such a high-frequency service when the new station opens.

Philip Ridley, from Enfield Transport Users Group, told the Dispatch: “You have got 10,000 new homes being built and a station with only two trains per hour to serve them. Crossrail 2 is now on ice. How are you going to get people living there if they have to wait half-an-hour for a train?”

Documents recently obtained by Philip via a Freedom of Information request reveal that Network Rail sought savings of £25million in the construction of a third track at Meridian Water and in doing so made the future construction of a fourth track – a crucial component for boosting service frequency to six-to-eight trains per hour – more difficult.

Philip added: “We don’t actually know what additional costs there are for Network Rail to boost capacity of the line, but we now know they have made savings. When you get a train every 15 minutes, they call it ‘turn up and go’ because you don’t have to look up the timetable before you go to the station. That is what they need for Meridian Water and without it I don’t know how they can build 10,000 homes there.

“The future of the whole borough rests on this. Without delivering homes in this part of Enfield they are going to have to build homes on the Green Belt in other parts.”

The council is currently bidding to win government funding for a series of transport improvements in and around Meridian Water, some of which is earmarked for upgrading the West Anglia Main Line to provide six-to-eight trains per hour. Crossrail 2 could subsequently provide twelve trains per hour, allowing even more homes to be built at Meridian Water and elsewhere in the Lea Valley.

West Anglia Main Line
With only two tracks on the West Anglia Main Line, only two trains per hour can currently serve stations such as Brimsdown, Ponders End and Angel Road – soon to be replaced by Meridian Water (credit James Cracknell)

A council spokesperson said: “The new Meridian Water Station will receive two-to-four trains per hour from September 2019. The council is also exploring further improvements through its Housing Infrastructure Fund (HIF) bid which seeks £156m of government investment. If the bid is successful, £40m will be spent on improving the train service to six-to-eight trains per hour by 2024, in advance of full four-tracking to Broxbourne, and Crossrail 2. The resulting frequency of trains will support the accelerated delivery of up to 10,000 homes at Meridian Water.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said: “We have had early discussions with Enfield to provide advice on how their future proposals could interface with our wider strategic plans. The infrastructure we are constructing for the £170m Lee Valley Rail Programme has been designed to provide provision for a potential fourth track to be laid in future, avoiding substantial costs where possible, should the West Anglia element of Crossrail 2 be delivered.

“The new station at Meridian Water, the new footbridge at Northumberland Park and the bridge across the Lea Navigation have all been designed to accommodate both the new third track and a possible future fourth track, reducing the potential costs for any future project.

“As part of our wider strategic vision, we always consider what we can do now to ensure future capacity enhancements can be accommodated, but this must always be balanced with the responsibility for delivering value for money for the taxpayer.”

Enfield North MP Joan Ryan has been campaigning for the West Anglia Main Line to be upgraded for several years. She told the Dispatch: “Politically speaking, Crossrail 2 has good support, but the overrunning and overspend of Crossrail 1 is not good news for Crossrail 2. I think the government making a funding commitment is the issue. The government is not proving itself competent at delivering big infrastructure projects.

“Four-tracking would have a big impact in Enfield because we don’t have the underground here and our train lines are critical. I get a lot of complaints about this line because we have got a lot of commuters who depend on it, and a growing population, particularly in the eastern part of Enfield.

“Two trains per hour are useless, it needs radically improving, and we are told we need four-tracking to make that happen. Compared to Crossrail 2 it is also cheaper and can be done sooner.”