North London Line

John Furnevel

Further changes are in the pipeline for the UK's most fascinating 22-mile stretch of railway!

Camden Road: A Trafford Park - Felixstowe container train arrives at Camden Road Junction on 21 July 2005 behind Freightliner 90016. The train is coming off the direct freight-only link from the WCML at Primrose Hill Tunnel see image [[53461]] as opposed to the 'branch' via Gospel Oak used by class 313 units operating the NLL passenger services at that time. John Furnevel 21/07/2005

The North London Line runs on a roughly semi-circular path through the suburbs of west, north and east London from Richmond in the southwest to North Woolwich in the southeast.

The line is double track with the exception of the eastern section which is singled beyond Custom House down to the North Woolwich terminus. In addition the line is either tripled or quadrupled along parts of the northern section between Camden and Western Junction to help accommodate the large number of inter-regional freights crossing this part of London en route to destinations throughout the UK and Europe.

There are 28 stations along the line's 22 mile route including links and interchange facilities with a myriad of other lines, both passenger and freight. So useful has the line become as a connecting service that it was added to the London Underground map in the 1990s.

Passenger services are provided by Silverlink trains (originally known as North London Railways following privatisation) using 3-car class 313 multiple units exclusively, due to the mix of overhead and third rail power supplies along the route.

Planned upgrading of the line will result in a doubling of the current maximum of 4 passenger trains per hour to 8 at peak as well as providing platform accommodation for 6-car units at all stations.

However, on this line, freight normally travels faster than passengers.

I came to know the line in the late 60s and early 70s when I used it frequently, although during that period its easterly terminus was Broad Street in the City. In those days, in addition to the NLL services to Richmond, peak-hour commuter trains to and from GN destinations such as Hertford and Potter's Bar also ran from Broad Street utilising both DMUs and loco-hauled non-corridor stock.

On weekday afternoons Finsbury Park shed would send down a train of three locomotives (usually 1 EE and 2 Brush type 2s) to Broad Street, via the now freight-only link at Canonbury West Junction, to help work these commuter services north during the evening rush hour.

Broad Street station dates back to 1865 and was once the third busiest in London, with a train a minute arriving or departing during the morning peak in the early part of the twentieth century. Broad Street's busiest year was 1902 when the station's nine platforms handled 27 million passengers (similar to current volumes at Euston).

As a result of the growth in alternative transport systems, coupled with the serious damage sustained by the terminus during World War II bombing raids, the main part of the station was closed in 1950. By the late 60s only two platforms remained in regular use handling the North London Line services to Richmond. Final demolition of Broad Street was completed in 1986.

Sadly, all traces of the old station have since been swept away and the site is now occupied by the massive Broadgate office and shopping complex.

Following the demise of the former terminus the line up to Western Junction, including the large (originally 6 platforms) Dalston Junction station, was closed. Today's NLL trains, instead of turning south at Western Junction for the run down to Broad Street, continue eastward through the junction towards the current terminus at North Woolwich.

The new route runs initially over the former NL connection to the docks, thence via GE tracks beyond Victoria Park and finally onto the former Eastern Counties branch to North Woolwich. Part of this route was in fact used during the earliest days of the line, which, prior to the opening of Broad Street in 1865, had its City terminus at Fenchurch Street (dating from 1854).

Plans are currently in hand to revive all but the southernmost section of the former Broad Street - Western Junction trackbed (virtually untouched due to being located primarily on urban viaduct along most of the route) as part of the proposed northern extension to the old Metropolitan East London Line.

The intention is to extend the ELL from its present northern terminus at Shoreditch north to Highbury & Islington, a station which has continued to grow in importance as an interchange hub over the years, particularly for commuters between the City and the Northern suburbs. Following the opening of the extension, the existing ELL station at Shoreditch will be replaced by a new station at Shoreditch High Street.

Map showing extension of the East London Line to Highbury & Islington

At the eastern end of the line many North London Line trains already terminate at Stratford rather than North Woolwich, due to much of the route between being duplicated by both the Jubilee Line extension (Stratford - Canning Town section) and the Docklands Light Railway (Beckton branch).

A further branch of the Docklands Light Railway from Canning Town to Stratford International (the planned Channel Tunnel Rail Link station) will eventually take over the NLL Canning Town - Stratford route totally (possibly in late 2006). At this stage Stratford will become the eastern terminus for all North London Line trains, which will then be switched to the Lea Valley platforms at the north end of the station. (Possible extension of NLL services beyond Stratford along the Lea Valley route is already being considered.)

A number of key infrastructure issues have still to be finalised in the light of the various plans and proposals which could have a future impact on the NLL. For example, on the Western Junction - Highbury & Islington section, following completion of the East London Line extension, there could be a requirement to handle 16 passenger trains per hour in each direction (that's one every 3mins. 45secs.) at peak, in addition to the numerous freight services which need to be accommodated!

Whatever happens - here's to a successful 2006 on the North London Line.

John Furnevel
February 2006

Interchanges / junctions table

Station or junction
South Acton Jct
Acton Wells Jct
Willesden Junction HL
Willesden Junction LL
Kensal Green Jct
West Hampstead
Finchley Road & Frognal
Gospel Oak Jct
Gospel Oak
Camden Road West Jct
Camden Road Int
Camden Road East Jct
Highbury & Islington
Canonbury West Jct
Western Junction
Carpenter's Road N. Jct
West Ham
Canning Town
Custom House

Interchange or link details
Int District Line, SW lines
Int District Line
Frt West & SW lines
Frt GW, LNW, GC & Midland lines
Int West London Line service to Clapham Jct
Int Bakerloo line, Euston - Watford line
Frt LNW line
Int Jubilee line, Thameslink (adjacent stations)
Int Jubilee line, Metropolitan line (Finchley Road)
Frt LNER, GE lines
Int Terminus of Gospel Oak - Barking line
Frt LNW direct line
Int Northern Line - Camden Town station (5 min walk)
FrtLNER line
Int Victoria Line, GN line to Moorgate, ELL (planned)
Frt LNER line
Int ELL (planned)
Frt South and SE lines (planned)
Frt GE lines
Int Central line, Jubilee line, Docklands, GE lines
Int District line (H&C), Jubilee line, LTS line
Int Jubilee line, Docklands
Int Docklands


Int Interchange station
Frt Freight link


Transport for London
Silverlink Trains (This company no longer exists. The lines are now operated by London Overground Rail Operations Limited. )
Network Rail
Docklands Light Railway
London Borough of Islington
Long memory

Related links

North London Railway