Just five minutes end-to-end, the 1.5-mile-long Bromley North branch is the shortest in London. Trains run between its three stations at Bromley North, Sundridge Park and Grove Park and there is no direct service to any other station, although there is a track connecting the branch line to the rest of the southern network -is.
The unique nature of the line means that it has been proposed by transport groups, politicians and businesses for future conversion to either the London Underground (given the proximity to Grove Park in Lewisham, where the Bakerloo line is expected to terminate). by the 2040s) or the DLR (again, the proximity to Grove Park in Lewisham), but nothing came of those plans.
Instead, the line continues as an anomaly – a suburban branch line barely 10 miles from central London.
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The Bromley Race
South East London is known to be National Rail territory. Historically, largely devoid of metro services, the soil being more difficult (chalk) to dig than north of the river (clay). This meant that in the late 1800s a host of competing railway companies built and then operated rail lines to develop a passenger base as London industrialized and developed.
Bromley, then in Kent, was a target both for the South Eastern Railway and then for London, Chatham and Dover Railway who built Bromley North and Bromley South stations in 1878 and 1858 respectively, the former terminus of the small Fork in Grove Park know us today.
Before the use of the car, the railroad was the most efficient means of developing the city, now connected to both London and the ports of Kent. In 1878 the two companies merged and until today both Bromley stations are now operated by the same rail operator, Southeastern.
As Bromley South sits directly on the Chatham Main Line, offering a quick 16 minute ride to / from Victoria, it has become the city’s main station. Bromley North, the end of the small branch line, lost its importance and in 1990 all direct train services to / from central London were discontinued. For the past 31 years, trains have been “stuck” on the branch, with only empty trains continuing to other destinations for operational reasons.
The layout of the track at Grove Park is what prevents the line from seeing through services to central London or Dartford. In order for a train to access the branch, it must take the Up Fast line, the track which is also used by South East Main Line trains from Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Hastings , Ashford and Ramsgate.
All of these trains would have to wait several minutes for a train to Bromley North to enter the spur, a wait that would delay more people than those who would see their trip to Bromley North sped up. Therefore, direct services are unlikely to ever return. It’s a bit like trying to join a country road to a freeway at a flat junction with traffic lights – it’s theoretically possible but no one would seriously consider it.
The only way for the Bromley North Line to plausibly join the wider network and provide a meaningful transportation alternative for Bromley is to connect it to a new track alignment that would be built along, above or below the line. railway line between Grove Park and Lewisham, where it would encounter either an extended Bakerloo line or a redeveloped DLR.
Both of these options would cost hundreds of millions of pounds and were rejected due to poor value for money, although they are being considered in official studies for the extension of the Bakerloo line.
Nonetheless, local and national activists are determined to use the line’s spare capacity (spaces between trains that may be filled) to provide additional services to and from Bromley. The rail passenger campaign group Railfuture calls for “the extension of Overground services from New Cross to Bromley North, creating new travel opportunities between Bromley, Docklands and the city to relieve the Bromley South route” on its list of campaigns for London and the South East.
The London Borough of Bromley also examined viability extend London tram services from Beckenham Junction to Grove Park via a mix of on-street tracks and a converted Bromley North line
At present, the passenger numbers for the Bromley North line do not justify such a large investment, which means that all of the above options are highly unlikely over the next several decades. The number of annual passengers entering / exiting Bromley North has only exceeded half a million once in the past five years. By comparison, Bromley South hovers around eight million over the same period.
The entire row is also duplicated by bus line 261, which has the added benefit of ending at the transport hub, Lewisham Station. The route has seen buses pass every 12 to 20 minutes for the past 20 years, with little sign of massive overcrowding or skyrocketing ridership, suggesting there is massive untapped demand.
There could be some immediate minor improvements if the line were absorbed by London Overground, which was speculated in the wake of the government takeover of Southeastern. TfL’s funding crunch could take a peek in the works, but its improvements on the similar Romford to Upminster line show there could be a passenger benefit on the horizon (new trains, additional staff / CCTV, more accessibility provisions).
For now, during the pandemic, trains continue to their reduced schedule every 30 minutes and there are still no trains on Sundays or holidays. The line could be a nifty little way to cross part of South East London, but it will likely do a lot of other things in the near future.
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Have you ever traveled on the Bromley North line? What were your impressions? What do you think should be done to improve the service? Tell us in the comments below!
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