In an interview with Isabel Dedring, London's deputy mayor for transport, the Financial Times last week reported that a new high-speed “rail bagel” line, encircling London is one of several proposals for the capital as its population soars to 10m over the next 20 years.
Boris Johnson’s transport adviser Isabel Dedring said that new light-rail and tram services are under discussion for some outer London areas – but these would be “only an intermediate measure” and the extra capacity would be soaked up by a growing population.
“Over the longer term, what we need is high-speed public transport connections to tackle congestion and help [outer London] town centres thrive” she said.
Ms Dedring is preparing a long-term infrastructure plan for the capital, due for publication in Spring 2014; it is expected to tackle rail and airport capacity, as well as roads.
“The more you look at it, the more you realise the road network staying as it is today just isn’t going to work over the next five to 10 years,” she said, adding that new roads benefit cyclists, pedestrians and bus users, as well as car owners.
History of proposed London Orbital Routes
London's first orbital rail service was the Inner Circle, now the Circle line, operated over the central sections of the Metropolitan line and District line. By 1884 this linked most of the main-line stations and was a commercial success, according to Wikipedia.
Previous London orbital routes failed to attract the passenger numbers hoped for and were eventually cut back or ended while other, radial services on the lines continued.
As stated in Wikipedia's Orbirail entry,"Other semi-orbital routes fared little better. Throughout the 20th century London's railways operated on a radial model and the few remaining semi-orbital passenger routes withered, with the lines used mainly for freight services. The national railway network was privatised with radial franchises. Only the Circle line enjoyed success."
"With the creation of Transport for London as a single body with overall responsibility for transport in London, TfL exploited the potential in the neglected peripheral rail routes and started to plan a complete orbital rail system by joining these routes together. The new system was eventually launched as the London Overground, and work continues to complete the orbital route as more lines are added to the system. The eventual London Overground network will cover a route which bears a striking resemblance to the Outer Circle line with the East London line extension and Inner South London Line being used to complete the loop."
On the slow train - The "M25 of rail" already joined up
Political support for the principle of Orbirail continued with the change of leadership following the London mayoral election, 2008. During his election campaign, Boris Johnson published a transport manifesto which highlighted the problems associated with orbital journeys around London:
“TfL estimate that just under half of all Londoners’ journeys start and finish in outer London. Only around a quarter of these are made by public transport. This is because public transport options for orbital journeys are poor by comparison to the car.
One of the limitations of the public transport network in outer London is the lack of direct and convenient orbital routes. (...) In fact, many orbital routes are only made accessible by making a radial journey into central London."
In December 2012, BBC News reported that passengers were able to travel in an orbital route on London Overground with the opening of a new 6.76-mile long £75m rail link joining Surrey Quays in the south-east with Clapham Junction in south London.
The orbital, which London Mayor Boris Johnson dubbed the "M25 of rail", was stated as meaning cheaper fares and would cut congestion by avoiding central London, according to Transport for London (TfL).