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Tramlink line 3
22 April 2014

“Trams are just road vehicles which happen to run on rails,” which is why I have decided to include them in this site. Or so we’re told, but you wouldn’t have thought it from a ride on most parts of the Croydon Tramlink network, which actually run along former heavy rail alignments or on dedicated tracks alongside the main roads. Nevertheless London Buses does regard the Tramlink as an integral part of the local bus network, rather than the rail network, with several bus services cut or axed completely soon after Tramlink’s opening, giving people little choice.

The only real street running is around the town centre and the longest stretch is along the Addiscombe Road, although much of this is restricted to car traffic. 2533, viewed from the rear, is just about to come off the dedicated trackbed at Sandilands, with the Chepstow Road junction in the background. The photo was taken on 2 November 2008, soon after the introduction of a new green livery replacing the previous red and white – seemingly only to allow TfL to mark its stamp on the network after taking the franchise to run the network in-house. (Note that actual operation of the trams remains with First group; TfL took over the consortium which designed and built the infrastructure.)

Photo © James Fullick.

The most important aspect of Tramlink was to provide a better public transport service to New Addington. New Addington is a large overspill estate on the fringes of Greater London, and has always presented great difficulties in catering for the peak passenger flows. The area is several miles from the nearest station on the national rail network, so commuters had either to drive or to catch the bus into Croydon, and then perhaps on by train from East Croydon to the city.

The main bus service into Croydon had always been the 130, although it has had numerous variations over the years. Latterly the 130 ran every 7-8 minutes, but duplicated at peak hours by an express version, the X30, to provide 16 buses per hour – not many bus routes can beat that for frequency. However Tramlink now provides 9 trams per hour, and has significantly cut the journey time at peak hours. To achieve a cut in journey time it was important that trams should not get stuck in traffic jams. In the morning in particular there can be 15-20 minute tailbacks on all eastern approach roads into Croydon. Therefore much of the tram route to New Addington actually runs alongside roads rather than on them.

Several “feeder buses” were introduced around New Addington, and passengers interchange with trams at the large bus station at the Addington Village stop. However, when going into Croydon, route T32, as well as the 64 and 314, stop right beside the Fieldway stop, which is considerably more convenient than the purpose designed interchange, where passengers have to walk around 100 yards! However, it has been found that the majority of passengers walk to and from the tram stops; most parts of New Addington are within a 10 minute walk of one of the stops, and presumably only those living near the far edge trouble to catch the bus.

One other point worth mentioning about this route, and one which has caused great excitement to children, is the use of an old railway tunnel between Sandilands and Lloyd Park stops. Dubbed the “Sandilands Tunnel,” it is actually three tunnels, these being from north to south the Woodside Tunnel, Park Hill Tunnel and Coombe Road Tunnel. The middle tunnel was built later than the other two, and was formerly a cutting. The tunnels are not deep, and there are short gaps between them. During the storm at the end of October 2000 a tree managed to fall into the tunnel, through one of the gaps, and, by an extraordinary stroke of misfortune, at the very moment that a tram was passing underneath! Fortunately there were no injuries, although the tram was damaged.

A re-organisation of services took effect from 23 July 2006 in order to match capacity better to demand and provide a more robust timetable. An additional tram was introduced into service, reducing the maintenance allocation from 3 to 2, and combined with a slight reduction to 8 trams per hour on the New Addington branch allowed the Wimbledon branch to be increased from 6 to 8 tph. Because the frequencies were now mis-matched between the different sections, the Wimbledon branch was switched from Line 1 (Elmers End) to Line 3. The Line from Croydon to Wimbledon is the former Surrey Iron Railway heavy rail alignment, with trams terminating inside Wimbledon station, in part of platform 10.

The trams provide a dramatic improvement in service to the one-train shuttle, running approximately every 45 minutes, that was previously provided. The initial service was every 10, but demand quickly outstripped capacity so, as mentioned, this has now been increased to a tram every 7½ minutes – 6 times the heavy rail service. Wimbledon is an important destination in its own right, but there is much demand for interchange to the District Line, and also with trains to Kingston. The branch also serves the Purley Way retail area, most notably the Ikea store, from which passengers have been known to convey rather unsuitable items of luggage onto trams!

Seen on its way from Wimbledon to Croydon, 2553 stops at Morden Road stop, one of the original stops on the line. The Northern Line of the London Underground passes underneath close to here, but unfortunately there is no interchange. Indeed, the Northern Line fails to connect with both of the other railway lines that head eastwards from Wimbledon, but current plans for Crossrail 2 envisage a Wimbledon – Tooting Broadway link.

Photo © James Fullick.

NumericallyLine 2Line 3
See also routes T31, T32, T33, 130, 353, 64, 314, Line 1, Line 2

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