A Summer of Strain: An Olympic Task for Rail Infrastructure

8 August 2011 (Last Updated August 8th, 2011 18:30)

When London opens its arms, train platforms and carriages to the millions of spectators for the Olympics, will it be ready? Liam Stoker catches up with the capital's transport plans and potential problems that could derail the proposed gold medal services.

A Summer of Strain: An Olympic Task for Rail Infrastructure

London's failed bid to host the 2000 Summer Olympic Games, eventually won by Sydney, Australia, was subject to lofty criticism regarding the rail infrastructure and how it would cope with an influx of spectators.

The successful bid to host the 2012 games resolved these fears with significant improvements made to a host of rail services, including the London underground and the high speed line more commonly used by Eurostar.

The Olympic Delivery Authority, established to oversee the fulfilment of London's Olympic Games, established a first edition of its transport plan as early as 2007, outlining precisely how the 7.7 million spectators will reach their desired venues.

Although the problems posed by London's already existing rail infrastructure may not be as difficult to resolve as those affecting the city's troubled road network, Transport for London (TfL) has referred to the work as 'challenging'.

Some 33 venues make up the successful bid, with the majority located in London and the surrounding areas with a central focus point of Stratford, situated in East London.

Owing to improvements in rail infrastructure, amendments of current services and the addition of the high speed Javelin, established especially for the games, a total of ten public transport rail lines will feed into Stratford by 2012 resulting in an arrival every 15 seconds.

Importance of the Javelin

"The successful bid to host the 2012 games resolved these fears with significant improvements made to a host of rail services."

The Olympic high speed Javelin service was regarded as an integral element of London's successful bid to host the games, improving public transport to the Stratford area that was previously considered as 'poor' by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

The service will be run between St. Pancras International and Ebbsfleet International stations via Stratford International, a stones throw from the Olympic Park. The service will operate on the existing high-speed 1 line, more commonly used by Eurostar services that will not call at Stratford International during the course of the games.

The British Class 395 trains that usually operate on the line will continue to do so, offering spectators a high speed service to the Stratford site from international rail connections.

Eight trains an hour will operate between St. Pancras International and Ebbsfleet internationals, with a further three trains operating between 11pm and 1am during the course of the games, providing the capacity to transport 25,000 fans an hour. The service itself will be capable of transporting spectators from St. Pancras to Stratford in just seven minutes.

Although the games will take place during the summer, a time when demand for rail services in London traditionally dips, some 240,000 spectators are due to arrive at Stratford every hour, which combined with an extra 500,000 tourists expected in London, will place local transport links under considerable strain.

Underground on top

An essential element of catering for spectators has been ensuring that London's extensive underground is running efficiently.

"Some 33 venues make up the successful bid, with the majority located in London."

As such, between 2006 and 2011 £1bn has been invested annually, with station refurbishment and track upgrades ordered across the network. In total, £6.5bn has been invested in upgrades and the extension of services to provide a legacy of improved transport links for when the Olympics and Paralympics has finished.

Underground lines that service important sites have seen their capacity increased, with the Jubilee line receiving a 46% increase and the Central line also receiving extra services.

The driverless Docklands Light Railway (DLR) will also have its capacity increased by 50%, whilst the line will also be extended to Woolwich and Stratford International to provide the service for Olympic spectators.

Rolling out new rolling stock

In order to cater for the increased services and line extensions, fresh rolling stock has been ordered. The high speed Javelin service, increased for the duration of the Olympic Games, will receive 29 new Class 395 trains, whereas other services will not only receive more rolling stock, but also improved rail cars.

Bombardier received the majority of contracts handling rolling stock improvements, with the manufacturing company chosen to contract 1,738 new cars for various London underground services, with deliveries scheduled between 2008 and 2015. In addition, London's new overground service will receive 44 new Class 378 units from Bombardier.

The DLR line, subject to numerous improvements in the lead-up to the games, will receive newly designed trains in order to fulfil the expected demand. The increased service will benefit from 55 new cars that are designed in a three-unit format, which offer 50% more space for passengers over traditional models.

Although plans to cater for spectators flocking towards London have been planned with all due care and attention since 2007, the growing concern is not for the spectators, but for commuters who travel into the city on a daily basis.

Problems on the horizon?

Recent estimates have predicted substantial delays on London underground and mainline services traditionally used by those who commute from London suburbs.

Travel advice issued by London2012 for businesses has suggested that during peak hours in the morning and early evening, delays of more than an hour could be possible on the Jubilee, Central, Northern and DLR lines for the duration of the games, while mainline services into London Liverpool Street station could be delayed by 15 minutes.

"The Olympic high speed Javelin service was regarded as an integral element of London's successful bid."

The announcement of such delays was met by dismay by some commuters, with TfL admitting to requiring a 30% drop in daily commuters in order to reduce such waiting times. The organisation responded by issuing advice for businesses specific to areas of demand, such as Stratford and Kings Cross, hoping to encourage commuters to work from home or use different transport methods.

The plea was echoed by transport minister Norman Baker, referring to the games as a 'once in a generation test' for the transport infrastructure, who urged commuters to travel to work differently after modelling predicted a further three million trips to be made on 3 August 2012 in addition to the 12 million journeys made by commuters on an average working day.

It is hoped that cooperation between businesses and employees, with some choosing to work from home or alter their working hours slightly to avoid times of huge demand, some strain could be lifted off the network in order to compensate for Olympic traffic.

"Of course Government has to play its part - at the Department for Transport (DfT) we'll be cutting our travel footprint by half during the Games, with similar initiatives across Whitehall. But all businesses need to play their part too, there's plenty of help and advice out there, so no excuse why we can't reduce the amount we travel during the 17 days of the Games," said Baker.