Ghost Stop: The Centrale / Tamworth Road Stop Fiasco
Web Published: 10th April 2004 (updated 1st January 2006)
On 2nd April 2004, the new Centrale Shopping Centre between Tamworth Road and North End opened. A new 1000 space car park with cheap parking opened in the heart of the town centre but what didn't open with it was the long awaited tram stop to serve the development.
Soon, the stop will be built at the entrance and 21 trams per hour, each carrying hundreds of passengers and potential shoppers, will pass the doors of one of the most prestigious shopping centres in the south east. But the trams won't be stopping and shoppers won't be able to alight - Absolute Madness!
This is hardly in keeping with policy to reduce car traffic and encourage public transport use within the capital and Croydon in particular.
passes the site of the new stop, ideally located for the entrance to
|The reasons behind this failing are complex but essentially come down to the inability of Transport for London, Croydon Council, St Martins Property and Tramtrack Croydon to get round the table and work out a sensible solution.
When construction started in May 2001, I visited Croydon Councils Planning office at Taberner House and retrieved the plan of the new tram stop.
Plan of the new stop, as submitted to Croydon Council
In the original design of Tramlink, a straight 40m section of line was built in Tamworth Road for a future stop. The design shows how an island platform would be built on the Croydon loop, with trams stopping on the left side, and buses turning off to stop on the right side of the platform.
Passengers would alight outside a main entrance to the centre and could work their way east through Centrale, onto North End, through the Whitgift and board a tram home from Wellesley Road, having spent their money in the wide variety of shops in the town. In short, an ideal public transport provision for a forward thinking town with excellent integrated public transport.
St. Martin's (developers of Centrale) made provision in the Centrale scheme for a tram stop in Tamworth Road. Over and above that, Croydon Council negotiated a further contribution to fitting out the tram stop as part of the planning agreement that goes with the planning permission. These negotiations were carried out with the full knowledge of TCL (Tramtrack Croydon Ltd - The Tramlink Concessionaire) and TfL (Transport for London).
It was even built into the planning agreement that a tram stop would be provided, although it isn't an obligation through some clever wording - without it, people would almost certainly drive to the new centre. So why has it not been provided?
|The Price Rockets
Meetings were held as construction began on the centre into how the stop would be built. At this stage, it is believed TCL decided to try and get more than just an extra stop out of the deal. They claimed that to stop trams at Centrale, the additional time taken in the busy town centre loop would wreck the timetable. An extra tram, enhanced Wimbledon line capacity and extra signalling would be needed just to maintain TCLs contractual obligations to TfL to run 21 trams / hour round the town centre loop.
Extra trams and extra capacity are badly needed, especially on the Wimbledon line. No one doubts this fact; TCL are in a poor financial state with additional debt from the construction of the system and can't afford such investment. Clearly, if someone else could foot the bill, they would have hit the jackpot.
Unfortunately, St Martins Property were not so gullible - The modest cost of a platform and shelters had suddenly shot up to some £6m! Unsurprisingly, they were unwilling to spend this kind of money.
Of course, TCL would disagree that they are trying to get something for nothing, their explanation is that at the time of the agreement to provide a stop, "Tramlink had not opened and we had no practical experience of the ability of the system to meet the contractual timetable obligations for service frequency, journey times and service gaps set out in TfL's Tramlink concession."
"The modeling that we have done suggests that revenue would be significantly undermined if the service performance to each of the current destinations were to deteriorate. Similarly the potential for generation of additional revenue is less clear to us as many passengers alighting at Centrale would already be using other central Croydon stops. You will appreciate what this means is that with TCL operating reliably, any change which degrades its service performance could worsen the TCL revenue position."
The situation has reached a stalemate: -
The wording of the planning permission for Centrale does not make the provision of a Tram stop an obligation on St Martins.
Similarly TCL does not have an agreement to service such a stop were it to be built. TCL does however have an agreement with TfL, to run the existing timetable.
TfL have allocated their money on other projects and could probably meet any obligations it has to serve this development more cheaply by running additional buses, a situation which is ludicrous given the provision of the tramway with stop outside the entrance!
In the meantime, Centrale has partly opened, the trams don't stop and more and more of the four million car journeys a year won by Tramlink will go back on the roads as people opt for the easiest method of getting to the shops.
The Car Park (left) is ready - Shame about the tramstop (right)
I believe there are solutions: -
A: Just stop the trams at the platform!
People using Centrale stop, will largely be existing customers and so dwell times at existing, more crowded stops like George Street will be less, compensating for the extra stop.
Will 45 seconds really wreck the timetable? Can it be saved in other ways?
B: Change the Tramlink Service Agreement
They could relax the reliability target triggering penalty payments - this would reduce the financial risk for TCL. In any case, with reliability of 99.5%, Tramlink is already the most reliable public transport in London and is comfortably inside the targets set.
TfL also needs to mandate the stopping of trams at Centrale Stop.
C: Give TCL the flexibility to change the service patterns
The service could be rearranged to better meet passenger demand by changing the routes to Wimbledon - New Addington and Beckenham Junction - Croydon - Elmers End - Croydon - Beckenham Junction.
Calculations by experts in the field have concluded this would work without the need for an extra tram and with the Centrale Stop included, if a slight reduction in New Addington frequency was acceptable.
This would give a better service on the Wimbledon line and by evening out the service on the Beckenham leg, would improve the service there too.
A slight reduction in Beckenham line frequency could release a tram to achieve an enhanced Wimbledon - New Addington service or better still, a 22nd tram could be released into service during peak hours only.
The astonishing view of TfL - London Trams on this matter is summed up in this quote - "we consider that issues such as capacity and the provision of the stop are matters for TCL to address."
And despite the simple measures that could resolve this situation, TfLs best course of action is "…currently procuring a study to pull together all of the work carried out on the Centrale tram stop to date with the aim of developing a definitive technical and operational case for the stop. In light of this report we will assess whether or not a case can be made for TfL funding being put towards this project."
As things stand, TfLs rigid and inflexible service agreement is preventing such cheap and simple options from being considered. There are ways of stopping trams at Centrale and they are not impossible and don't cost £6m.
It doesn't need a study to be procured to develop the case - it just needs common sense! Of course Tramlink needs extra capacity - that is clear for all to see but TfL need to treat this as a separate issue, it will cost money and take time.
However, stopping trams at Centrale is easy - it is essential for Tramlink, essential for Croydon and is fast becoming a major embarrassment.
Those at TfL and TCL should be ashamed that they can not come up with the most basic of realistic options to serve a major new traffic generator in the heart of Croydon.
St Martins and Croydon Council, together with local politicians should be ashamed that they have allowed this situation to develop into the farce it has become.
Someone needs to act and bang heads together to resolve this simple problem.
I'll leave the final quote to Scott McIntosh, former Head of Tramlink at LT, former Head of Trams at TfL and international expert on light rail: "Dreadful! Awful! Both TfL and TCL deserve a good kick up the backside!"
Don't let Centrale Stop become a ghost stop - Act Now
|Open at Last!
From the start of service on Saturday 10th December 2005, Centrale Stop opened to the public at last. A new timetable and tram is planned, but to start with, the trams just stop at the new stop which has basic ticket machine, shelter and lighting together with traffic light control to merge with the bus lane.
Congratulations to every one on achieving this milestone - turns out that after 18 months of arguing, I was right all along - you can just stop the trams without wrecking the timetable.
|I'd like to thank those who have supplied the information for this feature.
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