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The East London line was a line of the London Underground, coloured orange on the Tube map. It ran north to south through the East Endmarker and Docklandsmarker areas of Londonmarker, entirely in Travelcard Zone 2. It closed on 22 December 2007 for construction work, and was replaced by bus services.

In Transport for London's £10 billion investment programme, the "East London line" is being incorporated in a line to open in 2010 as the London Overground (LO) East London Railway. The line will change from a minor stub to a part of an orbital railway linking London's suburbs.

The route through the Thames Tunnelmarker was opened in 1869 by the East London Railway Company and was the oldest part of the infrastructure of the London Underground (LU). A number of railway companies, originally six but later two, operated the line jointly. It became part of the London Underground in 1933. Four of the eight stations were below ground.


Establishment of the East London Railway

The East London Railway was created by the East London Railway Company, a consortium of six railway companies: the Great Eastern Railway (GER), the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR), the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR), the South Eastern Railway (SER), the Metropolitan Railway, and the Metropolitan District Railway. The last two operated what are now the Metropolitan, Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines of the London Underground.

The companies reused the Thames Tunnelmarker, built by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel between 1825 and 1843. The tunnel was built for horse-drawn carriages with generous headroom and two carriageways separated by arches, though it was only used for pedestrian traffic. It connected Wappingmarker on the north bank of the Thames with Rotherhithemarker on the south bank. A triumph of civil engineering, it was a commercial failure and by the 1860s it had become an unpleasant and disreputable place.
Interior of an East London line A60 stock train.
The rolling stock was shared with the Metropolitan line, so the trains displayed both Metropolitan and East London line route maps.
The tunnel was the most easterly land connection between the north and south banks of the Thames. It was close to London's docks on both banks of the river and was not far from mainline railways at either end. Converting the tunnel to a railway thus offered an ideal means of providing a cross-Thames rail link without having to go to the great expense of boring a new tunnel. On 25 September 1865 the East London Railway Company took ownership of the Thames Tunnel at a cost of £800,000. Over the next four years the company constructed a railway line running through the tunnel to connect with existing railway lines.

Map of the East London Railway in 1915
The line opened in stages as finance became available:

  • 7 December 1869: Initial line from New Cross Gatemarker (then known as New Cross) to Wappingmarker opened, operated by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR). Intermediate stations were opened at Deptford Roadmarker (now Surrey Quays) and Rotherhithemarker
  • 13 March 1871: A spur was opened from just south of what is now Surrey Quays railway stationmarker to the South London Line's Old Kent Road railway stationmarker. Services were withdrawn in 1911 and the track was subsequently removed.
  • 19 April 1876: Wappingmarker to Shoreditchmarker opened, running through a cut-and-cover tunnel constructed in part along the bottom of a now infilled dock. At Shoreditch a connection was made with the Great Eastern Railway to Liverpool Streetmarker. Intermediate stations were opened at Shadwellmarker and Whitechapelmarker
  • 1 April 1880: A spur to New Crossmarker (South Eastern Railway) opened.
  • 3 March 1884: A spur linking the Metropolitan and Metropolitan District Railways to the East London Railway opened south of Whitechapelmarker. This enabled Metropolitan Railway and Metropolitan District Railway (District) trains to commence through services to the East London Railway later that year. Although passenger services via this spur ceased in 1941, it was retained to transfer empty trains between the East London line and the rest of the sub-surface network.

Early utilisation

The East London Railway Company owned the infrastructure but it was operated by its controlling railways. Steam trains were initially operated by the GER, LB&SCR and the SER. The LB&SCR used their LBSCR A1 Class Terrier locomotives, which William Stroudley designed partly with this line in mind. It carried both passenger and goods trains; the LB&SCR operated between Liverpool Street and Croydonmarker, the SER introducing a service between Addiscombemarker and Liverpool Street from April 1880 until March 1884. From March to September 1884 the SER service ran from Addiscombemarker to St Mary'smarker (MR & MDR Joint Station). Metropolitan Railway services from St Mary's to New Crossmarker (SER) and Metropolitan District Railway services from St Mary's to New Crossmarker (LB&SCR) commenced on 1 October 1884. On 6 October through services commenced from Hammersmithmarker (Hammersmith & City) to New Cross (SER) and from Hammersmith (MDR) to New Cross (LB&SCR).

Before the development of the Kent coalfieldsmarker in the early part of the twentieth century, house coal from the north for distribution in south London and as far afield as Maidstonemarker and Brightonmarker was an important source of revenue. Access at the north end of the line was difficult: trains were limited to 26 wagons and had to be shunted into the Great Eastern's Liverpool Street stationmarker and then drawn forward onto the East London line. From October 1900 additional capacity was offered by a wagon lift, carrying two ten-ton wagons, from the Great Eastern coal depot at Spitalfields to a siding on the ELR near Whitechapel station. The surface junction was taken up in 1966 and the lift closed in 1967, after a fire at the Spitalfields depot.

When the Metropolitan and District Railways were electrified in 1905-1906 they ceased using the ELR; LB&SCR and GER services continued and SER services recommenced on 3 December 1906.The line was electrified on 31 March 1913, with the controlling railways funding the upgrade and the Metropolitan Railway providing the rolling stock. Electric services ran from the two southern termini to Shoreditch and South Kensingtonmarker via Edgware Roadmarker and High Street Kensingtonmarker. In 1914 the service to South Kensington was diverted to Hammersmithmarker.

After the 1923 Grouping the goods service was operated by London and North Eastern Railway, with the Metropolitan Railway continuing to provide passenger services.

The London Underground era

In 1933 the East London Railway came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board. Although the infrastructure was still privately owned, passenger services along the line were operated under the auspices of the "East London Branch" of the Metropolitan Line. In 1948 the railways were nationalised and became part of the newly created British Transport Commission along with the Underground. Goods services continued to use the line until 1962, occasional passenger trains from Liverpool Street until 1966. The short length of track connecting Shoreditch to Liverpool St was removed in 1966. The service to Shoreditch was also reduced, with Whitechapel becoming the northern terminus for much of the time; by the time Shoreditchmarker station closed in 2006, it was open at peak times on weekdays, most of Sundays (for Brick Lane Marketmarker) and closed on Saturdays.

Westbound services were steadily curtailed during the early part of the Underground era. The service to Hammersmith was reduced to peak hours only in 1936 and was withdrawn altogether in 1941, leaving the East London branch as an isolated appendage on the edge of the Underground network. Its only passenger interchange to the Underground was at Whitechapel, with interchanges to main line trains at the two New Cross stations. In the 1980s and 1990s the line gained two important new connections: Shadwellmarker became an interchange with the Docklands Light Railway in 1987, and a new station was added at Canada Watermarker in 1999 for interchange with the Jubilee Line.

The identity of the East London line changed considerably during the London Underground era. On Tube maps between 1933 and 1968 it was depicted in the same colour as the Metropolitan line. In 1970 it was renamed the "Metropolitan Line - East London Section", in Metropolitan line purple with a white stripe down the middle. In the 1980s it was renamed as a line in its own right (though it was still grouped operationally with the Metropolitan line) and from 1990 the colour changed to the present orange.

The maintenance of the line passed to the Metronet consortium in 2003 under a Public-Private Partnership, although the operation of trains continued to be the responsibility of TfL.

According to TfL, the line carried 10.7 million passengers per year before its temporary closure in 2007.

Physical characteristics

The East London Line was the only Underground line not to enter Travelcard Zone 1. It was the second-shortest line (after the Waterloo & City Line), with an end-to-end journey time of 14 minutes. Its length was 9 km (5 miles), with nine stations. At the time of its closure in 2007 it ran in a continuous tunnel from Whitechapel to Surrey Quays, with the remainder on the surface or in cutting. Much of the line was built as cut-and-cover. The deepest point is at Wapping station, constructed in the Thames Tunnel's original entrance shaft 18.29 m (60 ft) below the surface.

At time of closure, the line connected with Southeastern mainline services at New Cross and Southern at New Cross Gate. Underground connections were at Canada Water (Jubilee Line) and Whitechapel (District and Hammersmith & City Lines). A non-contiguous connection with the Docklands Light Railway was at Shadwellmarker, with a separate DLR station some 50 m (150 ft) away. Although the interchange was via the street, through ticketing was permitted at time of closure in 2007.

A link with the Metropolitan and District lines still exists just south of Whitechapel via the St Mary's Curve. This has been out of passenger use since 1941 but was still used to transfer rolling stock to and from the Metropolitan line's main depot at Neasdenmarker. The curve can easily be seen on the northbound and eastbound approaches to Whitechapel station, although a temporary wall was built across the line in January 2008, close to the junction with the District line .

Most of the line is double-tracked, with Shoreditch station and the final sections into the southern termini single-tracked, the latter because of lack of space. This required southbound trains to alternate between the two termini.

Rolling stock

A train of A stock stands at Surrey Quays
The East London line used Metropolitan Line A60 and A62 sub-surface rolling stock manufactured by Cravens of Sheffieldmarker in two batches between 1960 and 1962. It was upgraded in 1994 with improved suspension, lighting, heating and ventilation. The rolling stock was regularly interchanged with that used on the main Metropolitan line and usually carried both East London and Metropolitan line maps.

Five four-car trains operated the line, some of the shortest trains on the network, necessitated by short platforms. The small number of trains made the line particularly sensitive to disruption caused by vandalism or train faults, as the withdrawal of a single train amounted to a 20% cut in capacity — the Metropolitan line would have to lose nine trains to suffer the same percentage cut. Trains were operated by just a driver: the decision to withdraw the guards prompted an unsuccessful strike by the National Union of Railwaymen in May 1985.

Light maintenance and stabling took place at a small depot near New Cross, with heavier work at the main Metropolitan line depot at Neasdenmarker. Between 1985 and 1987 D78 stock operated the line before being replaced by A60 and A62 stock again.

New rolling stock

As part of the upgrade of the East London line, new rolling stock will replace the A Stock, which will be 50 years old by the time Phase 1 is complete in 2010. It was announced on 31 August 2006 that Bombardier has been selected to provide 20 four-car units for the East London line and 24 dual-voltage three-car units for the North London Line. The contract is worth £223 million. On 4 July 2007 it was announced that the order had been increased by adding an extra car to the dual-voltage units and an extra three trains for the East London line at a cost of £36 million.

The trains are based on the Electrostar design and are outwardly similar to the Class 376 stock in operation in southeast England.

Rail replacement bus services

East London Line Rail Replacement Bus services advertisement
On 10 June 2006 the following rail replacement bus services were introduced:

  • ELS Whitechapel - Shoreditch (Monday-Friday 0700-1030 & 1530-2030, Sunday 0700-1530). Withdrawn on 19 July 2008 and replaced by a peak hour extension of route ELW.

On Sunday 23 December 2007 three further services were introduced:

  • ELC New Cross Gate - New Cross - Surrey Quays - Canada Water (Monday-Friday every 5–10 minutes, weekends every 15 minutes). Withdrawn on 26 September 2009 due to lack of use.

  • ELP Canada Water - Rotherhithe (every 15 minutes). Withdrawn on 24 February 2008 due to lack of use: tickets are valid between Bermondsey and Canada Water on standard route 381.

  • ELW Whitechapel - Shadwell - Wapping (every 10 minutes, evenings & weekends 15 minutes). Extended from Whitechapel to Shoredtich (Monday-Friday 0700-1030 & 1530-2030, Sunday 0700-1530) from 19 July 2008.
There is no cross-river replacement bus service.


In order from north to south
  • Shoreditchmarker - opened 10 April 1876, first Underground service 31 March 1913, closed 9 June 2006. Only station not to be reopened in 2010 (replaced by Shoreditch High Streetmarker).
  • Whitechapelmarker - ELR station opened 10 April 1876, first Underground service at ELR platforms 31 March 1913. Interchange with District and Hammersmith & City Lines.
  • - opened 10 April 1876, first Underground service1 October 1884. Interchange with Docklands Light Railway.
  • - opened 7 December 1869, first Underground service1 October 1884].
  • - opened 7 December 1869, first Underground service 1 October 1884.
  • Canada Watermarker - opened 17 September 1999. Interchange with Jubilee Line.
  • - opened as Deptford Road 7 December 1869, first Underground service 1 October 1884, renamed Surrey Docks in 1911.
  • line splits
    • - ELL platform opened 7 December 1869, first Underground service 1 October 1884. Interchange with Southern mainline services (mainline station was opened as New Cross in 1839, and renamed 1923).
    • - ELL platform opened 1 April 1880, first Underground service 1 October 1884. Interchange with Southeastern mainline services (mainline station was opened in 1850).


The East London line is being extended in two main phases, with a subsidiary phase. The original Phase 1, due to be completed by June 2010, is northwards from Whitechapel to Dalston Junctionmarker, and south to and West Croydonmarker; that will be further extended northwards to Highbury & Islingtonmarker, by February 2011. Phase 2 runs west to .

Proposals and problems

Extensions of the East London line have been discussed for many years. During the 1980s London Transport considered converting it into a light railway similar to the Docklands Light Railway, or restoring the connection to Liverpool Street. A 1989 proposal was to extend it north to Dalstonmarker and south to Dulwichmarker and Peckham Ryemarker, sharing track and stations with the mainline network, as on parts of the Bakerloo Line, District line and Metropolitan line. The plan was costed at £100-£120 million and the extended line was envisaged to open in 1994.

The extension project was proposed several times during the 1990s but repeatedly fell through owing to a lack of government support and insufficient financing. In November 1990 Transport Secretary Cecil Parkinson rejected a proposed parliamentary Bill that would have authorised the project and two years later the extension plans were postponed indefinitely owing to cutbacks in Tube funding. Another proposal was made in 1993 and received the support of a public inquiry in 1994. The project was finally approved by the Government in 1996 but a lack of financing again forced the project to be put on hold in 1997.

Funding was resolved in 1999 by London Transport seeking private funds for the extension plans. Control of the project was given to the Strategic Rail Authority rather than to London Underground, in view of the impact that it would have on mainline services. It was proposed that the East London line and other sub-surface Underground lines would be transferred to Railtrack, the privatised company responsible for maintaining the mainline network. This would have seen the line being integrated with the London suburban commuter network. However, it was soon decided that this was impractical and the Railtrack proposal was abandoned.

Launch of project

After the Government gave the go-ahead on 9 October 2001 on the basis of the line being funded through the Private Finance Initiative, the construction of the northern extension was due to begin in December 2001. However, it was held up when it came to light that the Grade II listed 19th-century Braithwaite arches in the former Bishopsgate Goods Yardmarker were to be demolished as part of the project. Campaigners launched legal action against London Underground in an effort to prevent the demolition, but the project finally received legal clearance in the Court of Appealmarker on 7 July 2003. It is now anticipated that the northerly extension to Dalstonmarker should open in 2010 (in February 2008 the work was due for completion on 19 October 2009, which is ahead of schedule), in time for the 2012 Summer Olympics being held in London, a time-scale confirmed by the project team in January 2006. As part of the work for the extension, the line will be closed for up to 30 months from December 2007, opening by June 2010.

This triple extension project is the first London Underground project to be funded through a Private Finance Initiative scheme, though the recent Jubilee Line Extensionmarker project was funded through a similar Public-Private Partnership scheme. The project will cost some £600 million and is projected to yield £10 billion in economic regeneration.

Because of an inability to extend the platforms at the existing and stations and make them fully compliant with current rail safety regulations, it was thought that they would close, but on 18 August 2004 Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, announced that both stations will remain open, at least when Phase 1 of the project opens by June 2010.

On 12 October 2004 the Mayor formally confirmed that phase one of the East London Line Project would be delivered as part of the Capital Investment programme. On 16 November 2004 he announced that control of the project had passed from the Strategic Rail Authority to TfL, so that the project could be initiated and funded from TfL's five-year investment programme. The planned service was initially described as a "metro-style (National Rail) train service". On 5 September 2006 it was announced that the line would form part of the London Overground, branded with a version of the Underground roundel with red replaced by orange, the colour used on Tube maps for the East London Line.

It is expected that the extension will greatly increase the usage of the line. The current figure of 10.4 million passengers per year is expected to increase to 35.4 million when the first phase of the extension project is completed, and 50 million when both phases are finished.

On 23 October 2006 it was announced that a consortium of Balfour Beatty and Carillion had been selected to carry out the northern and southern extensions between West Croydon, Crystal Palace and Dalston Junction in a contract worth £363 million ($617 million). The civil engineering work being conducted is being assessed under CEEQUAL to assess its environmental and sustainability performance and has achieved an 'Excellent award' for the project's client and design phases in July 2007.

Apart from the Braithwaite arches, the route of the northern extension was uncontroversial, as it reused the disused viaduct to the former Broad Street stationmarker. In contrast, the southerly route across south London's existing network of suburban railways underwent many changes. The initial 1999 proposal listed four options, all starting south of Surrey Quays:

  • through Forest Hill to West Croydon, with a spur from Sydenham to Crystal Palace, the selected route;
  • through East Dulwich and Tooting to Wimbledon;
  • through Denmark Hill to Clapham Junction, the route chosen for Phase 2;
  • through Forest Hill and Norwood Junction to West Croydon.

Northern extension

In phase 1, the line is being extended northwards from Whitechapelmarker, with new stations at , , and . A further extension along the North London Line, through to Highbury & Islingtonmarker for interchange with the Victoria Line, North London Line and Northern City Line will open soon afterwards. The northern extension will require only 3.6 km of new trackbed, linking Whitechapel to the Broad Street viaduct, using existing disused trackbeds for most of the distance.

Shoreditchmarker closed permanently in June 2006. The new alignment diverges before the closed Shoreditch station, bridges Brick Lane, traverses the former site of the Bishopsgate Goods Yard, and bridges Shoreditch High Street, before running north along the Broad Street viaduct. station will be on Bethnal Green Road very near Shoreditch High Street. Statutory planning powers for the extension were granted in January 1997. In mid-March 2009 the main structures of the bridges over Brick Lane and Shoreditch High Street were in place, and well as the intervening viaduct and the approach viaduct linking the alignment with the former brick viaduct. The building of the station is clearly in progress.

Early in the project's life mention was made of the possibility of further extending the line from Highbury & Islingtonmarker to Finsbury Parkmarker to the north, and Willesden Junctionmarker to the west, through , and Queen's Parkmarker, along the above-ground Network Rail (now London Overground) North London Line. This was known as the Mayor's Orbirail project. These ideas are not in the present project. The project's web site states that Finsbury Park is omitted because of operational complexity and that the Willesden Junction branch could be considered as a separate project in the future. The present track plans[13905] show the ELL and NLL separated, without the possibility of through running.

Southern extension

In phase 1, the line will also be extended with a northbound flyover north of to the London Bridgemarker branch of the Brighton Main Line, through , , , Sydenhammarker, , (by way of a branch), , to West Croydonmarker. A train servicing facility is being constructed. These plans were approved in October 2001.

At New Cross Gate, Platform 1 and adjacent track (southbound) are being extensively refurbished ( ), with the line continuing under New Cross Road, before merging with the existing southbound slow line. North of the station and the junction with the branch to , between Canal Road and Rotherhithe New Road, extensive works are under way to allow the Western Extension (see below) to merge efficiently with the existing alignment; this work was authorised and funded in 2008 prior to the final approval of the Western Extension.

There was some campaigning for this extension to go further, to Suttonmarker, but estimates indicated that passenger usage would be so great that the line would be unable to take much traffic north of West Croydonmarker and this option was not adopted.

The stations between New Cross Gate and Crystal Palace/West Croydon are managed by Southern, who as of 2009 run most of the trains to these stations. It was planned that some of them could be transferred to TfL control, and it was confirmed when Southern's franchise was renewed in June 2009 that all these stations will be transferred. TfL will take over the management of New Cross Gate, Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Crystal Palace, Penge West, Anerley, Norwood Junction and West Croydon stations before extended East London services start in 2010.

Western extension

In phase 2 of the extension project, a 2.5 km link is planned from south of to the Network Rail South London Line to , by way of , , , and . This would be on a disused alignment which until 1911 was used by trains from Rotherhithe to Peckham via the now defunct Old Kent Road station. A new station at Surrey Canal Roadmarker would be built. Initially it was planned to run this line via East Dulwich to Wimbledon, but this part of the plan has been shelved, probably permanently. There are campaigns for new stations at Brixton and North Battersea.

In February 2009, the government and TfL announced that funding for the Western extension to Clapham Junction had been secured with £64 million from the DfT and £15 million from TfL. It would be completed by May 2012 before the 2012 Olympics. However, the proposed new station at Surrey Canal Road has been put on hold..

Phase 2 had remained only partially funded for some time, but extensive lobbying took place, including even London Mayor Boris Johnson claiming in May 2008 that "he will lobby for projects including the East London Line Phase 2 extension".

In 2008, it was decided that the enabling works for the extension would be included under the Phase 1 contract, allowing the initial work to prepare for construction of the new stretch of line between Silwood Triangle (south of ) and Old Kent Road Junction on the South London Line. Once funding for the extension would be secured, this would allow construction to take place without disrupting passenger services once the East London Line re-opens in 2010.

Transfer to London Overground

When the extended line reopens, it will be part of London Overground rather than London Underground, having been rebuilt to Network Rail standards. The existing track and the Northern extension will remain under TfL ownership and the stations from Dalston Junction to Surrey Quays will be part of the London Overground network.


The radical changes to the line have sparked fierce debate. In September 2006, union activists protested against the Mayor of London. They said that this was a renewal of plans of effectively privatising the London Underground, although the Mayor dismissed these claims.

External links


  1. "Railway And Other Companies. East London", The Times, Thursday, September 2, 1869; p. 5
  2. East London line facts, Transport for London
  3. "Illegal subway strike called off in London", Globe and Mail, 21 May 1985
  4. "A working party set up by London Regional Transport and British Rail to examine potential sites for light railway networks in London has revealed its findings." Financial Times, 5 February 1987
  5. "Booming Tube lines may be extended", The Times, 10 April 1987
  6. "Dalston-Dulwich Tube likely to go ahead", Financial Times, 22 December 1989
  7. "Way open for private rail link to City of London." The Guardian, 21 November 1990
  8. "The cuts run deep for London Underground." Financial Times, 14 November 1992
  9. "East London Line - London Underground to seek consent." Estates Gazette, 4 December 1993
  10. "Final approval given for powers to construct East London Line northern extension." Department of Transport, 16 January 1997
  11. "Where Tube axe falls." The Times, 21 February 1997
  12. "Underground to be extended with private funds - London Transport." The Times, 8 February 1999
  13. "Railtrack lines up the prospect of non-stop travel across London." Financial Times, 16 June 1999
  14. "1999 Railtrack and the Underground." UK Government press release, 1 December 1999
  15. " London takes over responsibility for building East London line extension", Mayor of London, 16 November 2004
  16. " TfL awards £363m contract to build new East London Railway", Transport for London, 23 October 2006
  17. CEEQUAL Award - London Overground East London Line Project, Interim Client & Design Award Retrieved on 04 December 2008
  18. East London Line Extensions Phase 2
  20. [Rail Express issue 154 March 2009]
  22. "Replacement for doomed rail line 'is £50m short'", Southwark News, 4 September 2008
  23. Archived 23 May 2008.
  24. East London Line Project: Phase 2 Enabling Works Design and Access Statement - July 2008
  25. London Overground signs standard
  26. BBC News (2006) Livingstone shrugs off scab jibe, 11 September 2006. Retrieved 23 November 2006

Various sources have been used in the creation of this article, including the external links above, email conversations with the ELL Project Team and .

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