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May 30, 2019updated 28 Jul 2021 2:27pm

Could the London Borough of Havering really create a “Romford Tramlink”?

By Jonn Elledge

There’s a thread of CityMetric content called “fantasy metro maps“, in which people, basically, draw mini-tube maps for their cities and send them to me. Why this is the sort of thing anyone would enjoy spending their spare time doing remains a mystery to me…

…which is odd, really, because when I was a tiny nerd I did it myself.

At some point in the early 1990s I scrawled out what was, basically, a light rail network for the Havering, the Essex-tinged east London borough where I grew up. My putative tram network included north-south routes, linking the borough’s three main east-west railways (District line, Fenchurch Street-Tilbury line, and the Liverpool Street-Shenfield line soon to be known as Crossrail), and connecting the north Romford rail deserts of Collier Row and Harold Hill to London’s transport network. It absorbed the tiny Romford-Upminster shuttle train, today a part of the Overground. And, by a weird coincidence, it centred on the Drill roundabout, a big junction just five minutes’ walk from my childhood home.

You can’t see this map: I haven’t seen it in years, and assume it must have long ago gone to join the great atlas in the sky. But that doesn’t matter, because early this month Ian Visits unearthed a 2018 Havering council planning document, and it turns out that the local council have basically redrawn it for me:

The proposal. Click to expand. Image: Havering Council, via Ian Visits.


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Couple of things to note about this map. One is the way it ever so slightly conflates proposed transport projects from completely different planes of reality. Beam Park railway station, on the Fenchurch Street-Tilbury line between Rainham and Dagenahm Dock, is a serious proposal, to serve a new housing estate, and is due to open in May 2022. The bridge across the Thames to Belvedere is also a serious proposal, in that Transport for London has actually been considering it – but given how difficult it’s been to get east London river crossings built throughout history, it’s still in that category best described as “I’ll believe it when I see it”. The same goes for the link to the Lower Thames Crossing, a crossing which does not, as yet, exist.

But then there are the bits where even that label would be too generous. The DLR extension not only to Dagenham Dock but beyond to Beam Park was not, last I checked, on the table. The idea of a Central line extension to Collier Row – presumably from Barkingside or Hainault – is as it happen another idea Baby Jonn came up with at some point in the 1990s (honestly, there’s nothing in the way but fields). But I am not convinced that a new branch of the Central line is something you could talk about to TfL without getting laughed at.

And then there’s the “light rail (tram)” network, which is extremely close to what I drew with my crayons all those years ago. It connects Rainham in the south with Collier Row and Harold Wood in the north, via the borough’s commercial centre at Romford. It even re-appropriates the Overground shuttle, Croydon-tramlink style. Throw in an entirely unnecessary diversion via the Drill Roundabout, and I could probably sue for copyright infringement.

But it feels unlikely, let’s say, that this is going to actually happen. “We’re now carrying out feasibility studies into a future tram link to improve connections between the north and south of the borough,” the planning document says. But councils don’t have that sort of capital funding – and TfL seems unlikely to prioritise orbital transport in a relatively low-density outer London borough.

And yet, two things. Firstly, as noted, something of this sort really did happen in Croydon, where several underused heavy rail branches were connected with on-street sections to form what is now the London Trams. Croydon is a bigger centre than Romford, but not an order of magnitude bigger. This proposal is unlikely, but it isn’t entirely crazy.

The other thing is that it’s really nice that council planning departments are being ambitious with their transport planning – even if it does look, from this distance, like they’re just playing Fantasy Metro Networks, too. And it’s given me something self-indulgent to write, and isn’t that really the true meaning of Christmas?

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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