Friday, 3 October 2008

TRANSPORT SOLUTIONS FOR CAMDEN TOWN - The good, the bad and the costly

Camden's market area in north London is immensely popular. At weekends upwards of 100,000 shoppers and tourists congregate on its 3 major market sites to search for clothes, jewellery and brik-a-brak. The majority of them arrive at Camden Town station.

The station is important also as a major interchange between the two branches of the Northern Line (Edgware-Kennington and High Barnet-Morden). Despite mixed train routing on the two branches passengers frequently have to change at Camden to reach their destination. This leads to significantly more congestion across its four platforms than would otherwise be the case. Added to this, Camden Town itself is a well-populated area close to central London.

These three factors make it one of the busiest stations on the network and mean that at some periods on weekends access to the 101 year-old station is limited to set-down only, so as to avoid dangerously congesting the platforms. i.e. during these periods no-one may enter the station. This is obviously inconvenient for shoppers wishing to return home as well as locals wishing to make regular journeys. Through passengers, transfer passengers and those arriving are not disrupted.

Camden's agglomeration of street and alternative markets attract enormous crowds, especially at weekends.

London Underground project a 20% increase over the next 20 years. Furthermore, in the near future the line will be defnitively split into two routes, further increasing the demand for interchange at the station. London Underground quite rightly wishes to remedy the situation so that Camden Town can meet the demands placed on it. They hired Ove Arup to design an entirely new Camden Town station, from the bottom up.

At an estimated cost of £135m (these things always overrun), the design requires the demolition of a whole city block, including certain local landmarks of sentimental significance. Among them, the listed Electric Ballroom, one of London's oldest nightclubs; Buck Street market, one of the smaller markets in Camden; and a church. The resulting plan would incorporate new accommodations for the Electric Ballroom and the church as well as commercial office space and would take seven years to construct but significant opposition from residents and Camden Borough Council has led to over 16 versions of these plans being rejected over the last few years. Currently plans are at an impasse, with no adequate solution to satisfy both London Underground's needs below ground and local interests above ground. Allegedly, however, in 2007 the government declared that the Electric Ballroom is a dilapidated building, which could swing the tide in the favour of LU's ambitions.

The proposed £135m overhaul of Camden Town would look like this. Demolition of a whole city block has led to enormous local opposition.

A cursory glance at the plans reveals many of the hallmarks of modern LU station planning.  I hesitate to mention words like waste and vanity, in what is merely a rebuild. Including commercial development is undoubtedly part of the business model and it is not clear what long-term income TfL might extract from its tenants. Whilst Ove Arup are an extremely well thought of company, their inclusion may be what the bosses of Madrid Metro warn precisely against in metro construction. Prestige architecture is a luxury that the taxpayer cannot afford and requires cost-cutting in other more essential areas, such as reaching neighbourhoods where there is no service at all. Lottie gets new ballet shoes while Tom and Charlie go barefoot. At £135m it's an expensive enlargement.

There are currently three other stations in the vicinity of Camden's markets other than Camden Town: Chalk Farm, on the Northern Line Edgware branch, Kentish Town West (KTW) and Camden Road, both on the Overground North London Line. (see map)

For the sake of simplified analysis let us take the junction of Camden High Street and Castlehaven Road as the nodal centre of the principal market area of Camden Town. The station resources relative to this point are as follows:
  1. Camden Town 350m (all destinations on Northern Line, central and south London)
  2. Chalk Farm 600m (Edgware branch destinations only)
  3. Camden Road 600m (East London destinations only)
  4. KTW 715m. (West London destinations only)
Factoring in the route connections of each station tilts the bias towards Camden Town for passenger uptake. Furthermore, train frequencies on 3. and 4. are typically only 4tph, as opposed to Northern Line frequencies around 20tph/branch. N.b. Northern Line frequencies are projected to increase to over 30tph once the line is split in two.). Chalk Farm can serve central and south London but requires counter-intuitive strategy on the part of the passenger as it is:

a) almost twice as far to walk as Camden Town
b) in the opposite direction to central/south London
c) has half as many train services as Camden Town
d) may require a change at Camden Town anyway

Even without detailed statistical data it can be seen that stations 2, 3 and 4 cannot significantly reduce passenger demand for Camden Town station. The same conclusion has been reached by London Underground and Camden Borough Council. Doing nothing is not an option. But with the redevelopment plans on the buffers, are there any other alternatives? Here I shall briefly put forward some new scenarios.

Option 1 - Rebuild Camden Town station in a different place.

  • The existing station could operate mostly unimpeded whilst works progress.
  • Sensitive conservation sites and landmarks need not be disturbed as in the current plans, or at worse, less sensitive ones demolished.
  • New ticket halls and escalators can be excavated directly under the street.
  • Would be cheaper than the current scheme
  • All the capacity and facility improvements of the Ove Arup scheme would be achieved, albeit in a slightly different place
  • Some more serious excavation would be required to bore the four tunnels to platform gauge on the existing route
  • Tube traffic disruption during tunnel boring
  • Serious traffic disruption on Camden High Street
  • The new station would necessarily be marginally further away from Camden markets
  • Would probably still take 3-4 years
Guesstimated congestion relief at Camden Town - 0% (but all the capacity to contain it)

Option 2 - Build a new Overground station next to Camden Market

Two railway lines pass very close to Camden Market. One is the North London Line, with stations already at Camden Road and Kentish Town West. The other is a link between the NLL and the Watford-Euston Line. This line is not currently an Overground route though maps of the network's future do display it offering through services between the two lines. Station construction on this stretch would be relatively straightforward and inexpensive as there is plenty of elbow room around the site. The main problem with this idea would be the need to rethink Overground routings and the issue of train frequency (which currently stands at 4tph on the NLL).

To be viable the station would have to offer through services between Willesden Green (or even Watford) and Stratford thus allowing useful interchange at Dalston (ELL), Highbury and Islington (Victoria) and Queen's Park (Bakerloo), as well as the termini; and increased train frequencies to say 8tph. It would replace the function of Camden Road and KTW relative to this site.

  • Relatively cheap, quick and easy construction (18 months?)
  • On the site of the markets themselves
  • No local heritage damaged
  • If option 3 were to be pursued in tandem this could become an important Underground/Overground interchange
  • Would require adaptation of LO's long-term strategy to be viable.
  • London Overground does not yet have the image of "convenience" that would attract passengers in the same way that an Underground station would. That may change.
  • Interchange on LO is limited and the east-west axis of the line would not necessarily be conducive for journeys to or through central London.
N.B. There is also space to locate a station directly on the NLL, thus not impacting Overground routings. Once again  train frequency would have to improve and the station itself would be marginally further from the markets. In effect, this would be a replacement for Camden Road station which would likely become unviable.

Guesstimated congestion relief at Camden Town - 0-15% (dependent on routings and frequencies)

Option 3 - Refit Camden Town to a basic level and provide extra capacity in a new station nearby.

A "Camden Market" underground station halfway up Chalk Farm Road (see map), close to the nodal centre of the markets would attract significant shopper traffic away from Camden Town (and also Chalk Farm). Being at only 150m from the nodal point, the station would undoubtedly attract the majority of passengers from south, central London and the Edgware branch wishing to visit the market. Camden Town would be left to cope with predominantly High Barnet traffic, regular local catchment and transfer passengers - well within its capacity.

How big would Camden Market station have to be? Well, on a rough assumption, around 50-75% of all market traffic would alight here. Once the Northern Line's running is definitively split passengers on the High Barnet-Morden branch would still use Camden Town as changing to the Edgware branch for one station would be inefficient. However since most journeys will not originate on the Northern Line, many passengers would be expected to reroute their journeys to interchange onto the Edgware-Kennington line at Euston, Tottenham Court Road and Embankment, etc. Add to this the residential catchment but remember it would not have the interchange problems that Camden Town does. It would likely have to be no significantly bigger than any of the other Edgware branch stations e.g. Chalk Farm, although weekend demand spikes would be very marked, so wider platforms would be an asset.

As to construction sites, this proposal is in the vicinity of Camden's stable market. This large site still contains semi-permanent structures and could feasibly be excavated for construction of an Underground station, without major planning issues. Some local protest would undoubtedly be stirred because of disruption during works, but upon completion the market could return to normality, barring one or two well-located station entrances.

Try to see this as an enlargement of Camden Town with an extra pair of platforms up the road.

  • Minimal disruption to Camden Town station during works and all buildings remain.
  • Could be done relatively quickly (2-3 years, as opposed to seven at Camden Town)
  • Free up capacity at Camden Town by removing a large proportion of market traffic
  • In effect, an enlargement of Camden Town with extra platforms
  • Improved general catchment on the line hence increased fare revenues
  • As a single line station it would be far cheaper than rebuilding Camden Town interchange
  • More convenient access for market shoppers
  • Easy planning due to semi-permanent structures in the vicinity
  • Slight increase in journey times on the Edgware branch
  • Extra operating costs of a new station
  • Some disruption to traffic on Chalk Farm Road and possibly demolitions during works.
  • Disruption to stable market could stir some protest
  • Not useful to High Barnet branch passengers
Guesstimated congestion relief at Camden Town - 20-50%

Option 4 - Reopen South Kentish Town Station

South Kentish Town station lies about 600m north of Camden Town up the Kentish Town road. It was one of the original stations on High Barnet branch of the Northern Line. It closed during a strike in 1924 but was never reopened as passenger demand was never very high. The station structures remain in place and the station building is now a commercial outlet. The walking distance from the nodal point is 570m. It would therefore be the second closest station to the market area, but still generally less convenient than Camden Town (depending on which side of the markets you are on).

It could be expected to divert a major chunk of northbound High Barnet branch passengers even if the doors are open at Camden Town. The natural incentive of escaping the crowded area around Camden Town might contribute to this organically. As the sole improvement in the area it would be a great convenience to many more passengers (south and northbound) whilst Camden Town remains set-down only, although obviously not ideal. As in the case of Chalk Farm, the use of the station for south and central London would mostly be counter-intuitive for reasons listed earlier. However, the pedestrian route from Camden Market doglegs and there may be ways to improve passenger access with a more direct right of way, possibly incorporating a subway, and any feasibility study should investigate this.

The great attraction of this scheme is that in Underground terms it would be extremely good value for money. No excavation is required, just a refurbishment. The short timescales involved would make it a "quick fix" solution, if not a comprehensive one.

Leslie Green's original South Kentish Town station. Being less than 600m walk from Camden's principal markets makes it a viable alternative to Camden Town, and extremely good value for money.

  • Could be done very quickly (18 months?)
  • Extra capacity and catchment on the line, hence more fare revenues
  • Likely to naturally divert most of High Barnet passenger traffic from Camden Town
  • Highly cost effective as the station structure is already in place. It would require minimal structural works and refitting - a small fraction of Camden Town redevelopment (£135m)
  • No demolition/controversy required and Camden Town's buildings undisturbed.
  • With adequate passenger encouragement could remove traffic for central/south London routes away from Camden Town also
  • Slight increase in journey times on the High Barnet branch
  • Extra operating costs of a new station
  • Some disruption to traffic on Kentish Town Road during works.
  • Not useful to Edgware branch passengers, nor central/south London passengers without adequate encouragement to walk slightly further
Guesstimated congestion relief at Camden Town - 2-10%

Option 5 - Option 3 + Option 4

Creating a new "Camden Market" station on Chalk Farm Road and reopening the disused South Kentish Town Station in combination would add significant station capacity to both the Edgware and High Barnet branches in the Camden market vicinity. This would negate the need for expansion works at Camden Town. A simple refit would suffice. Additionally passenger convenience is increased for the local catchment area by providing journeys closer to origin and destination.

Returning to our nodal point analysis, the station resource list for the Camden Market area in this scenario would then look like this:
  1. Camden Market 150m (Northern Line Edgware Branch, central and south London)
  2. Camden Town 350m (all destinations on Northern Line, central and south London)
  3. South Kentish Town 570m (improved access notwithstanding, Northern Line High Barnet branch)
  4. Camden Road 600m (East London destinations only)
  5. KTW 715m. (West London destinations only)
A reduction in pedestrian congestion is also likely in the crowded streets as pedestrian journeys would be cut. Most significantly of all, the two station projects in combination would likely cost far less than the £135m Camden Town projection, could be completed within three years and would not cause the upheaval amongst local residents that demolition of such local icons as the Electric Ballroom can cause.

Guesstimated congestion relief at Camden Town - 22-60%


Taking 30 random stations on the Underground or Overground and planning the most convenient route to visit Camden Markets shows the following changes in station usage. Preferred station currently is listed first, preferred station with the 3 notional stations (Camden Market Underground CMU, Camden Market Overground CMO, South Kentish Town SKT) available is listed second.

ORIGIN Actual Notional

Embankment Camden Town CMU
Roding Valley Camden Road CMO
Upminster Bridge Camden Town CMU
Tooting Bec Camden Town CMU
Ladbroke Grove Camden Town Camden Town
Highgate Camden Town SKT
Surrey Quays Camden Road CMO
Cal. Rd & Barnsbury Camden Road CMO
Arsenal Camden Town Camden Town
Baker St. Camden Town Camden Town
Acton Central Kentish Town West CMO
Hendon Central Chalk Farm CMU
Bank Camden Town Camden Town
Bond St. Camden Town CMU
South Harrow Camden Town Camden Town
Tottenham Hale Camden Road CMO
Fulham Broadway Camden Town CMU
London Bridge Camden Town Camden Town
Canary Wharf Camden Town CMU
Victoria Camden Town CMU
Brixton Camden Town CMU
Shadwell Camden Road CMO
K'ton (Olympia) Kentish Town West CMO
Osterley Camden Town CMU
Hillingdon Camden Town Camden Town
Holborn Camden Town CMU
West Ruisip Camden Town CMU
Clapham Junction Kentish Town West CMO
Lambeth North Camden Town CMU
South Kensington Camden Town CMU
Euston Camden Town CMU
Finsbury Park Camden Town CMO
Covent Garden Camden Town CMU
Southfields Camden Town CMU
Edgware Chalk Farm CMU

In this sample 21 of the journeys (70%) currently terminate at Camden Town. 7 of the Camden Town journeys are unaffected (33%), 12 change to CMU (57%), 1 changes to CMO (5%) and 1 changes to SKT (5%). i.e. the new stations divert 67% of journeys away from Camden Town.

5 journeys (17%) terminate at Camden Road. Of these, all 5 (100%) would prefer CMO.

2 journeys (7%) terminates at Kentish Town West and would also prefer CMO (100%).

2 journeys (7%) terminates at Chalk Farm and would prefer CMU (100%).


Camden Town receives the bulk of traffic for Camden Markets. Camden Market Underground station would have the potential to remove around 50% of Market passenger traffic from Camden Town. What proportion of Camden Town's total traffic that would be (including interchange passengers, and normal catchment) is not clear but it is undoubtedly very significant. It would also take traffic away from Chalk Farm, although the volume is less significant there.

South Kentish Town would displace far fewer passengers, but, again a 5-10% reduction may be highly useful considering the modest cost of refurbishing that station.

The case for an Overground station at Camden Market looks weak as it does not displace many journeys from Camden Town in this sampling (just the one from Finsbury Park). It is undoubtedly preferable to Camden Road, or Kentish Town West, however, for Overground journeys.


Barring laws, bills, acts of parliament, public enquiries, planning permission and of course, the money to do it this might be a good solution to remove 20,000+ passenger journeys to and from Camden Town per weekend, and much cheaper than the reconstruction of Camden Town (£135m):

1. Reopen South Kentish Town for some very cost effective immediate light relief. estimate 18 months, £12m
2. Construct Camden Market Underground Station for a very significant diversion in passengers from Camden Town. estimate 2 years, £30m
3. If necessary refurbish Camden Town with some platform widening works, estimate 2 years, £20m


RapidTransitMan said...

Good analysis & suggested alternatives. Any uptake or council study of these ideas?

Screwbiedooo said...

Thank you. Not as far as I know although there is some not insignificant local support in Kentish Town for reopening SKT station. I would like to think Camden would be interested in such ideas, but then remember Tottenham's scheme to take over the Olympic stadium, demolish it and rebuild it? There are strange, unknown forces afoot in boardrooms and council chambers which dare I say may include vested interests, career advancement, honeypots and backhanders...