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London orbital rail 

  Image created by Olivier Demangel

Video with image of proposed guideway constructed along the margin of the M25 showing two three-carriage trains about to pass. The railway will reduce substantially the number of vehicles and pollution on the western sector of the M25. 

Video made by Paul Maynard.

The video is 4 mins. Press play to start -(it takes 4 seconds to start playing)

This project was conceived in the 1990's at the time the route for HS1 was being debated. At first it was seen just as means of linking together all the railway lines coming into, and out of, London in order to avoid coming into central London to change between one line and another. This would be not only convenient, but would reduce congestion on existing trains and on the London underground. 

Airports linked to railways

Given the poor connectivity of airports airline pilot Peter Buckley proposed the project should also link, not just Heathrow, already on the M25, but also London's other airports, to the railways and to each other using the M23, M1, and M11 as well as the M25 corridors and using an elevated light rail similar to Skytrain in Vancouver or the DLR in London.  ITSL Consultancy Ltd was formed to forward the project which was at first known as LARTS (London Air Rail Transit System).

Elevated light rail system

The elevated nature of the system allows it to negotiate obstacles, and in particular to cross a motorway like the M25 where it has been widened and remove the 10m margin that was either side. And it allows the light rail to connect with existing stations by sitting above them as well as alongside them if space exists. A benefit of this is that the system can be totally separate from, and not interfere with, the existing railway lines.  

SLR - Phase One

Phase One of the project is known as SLR (Southern Light Rail) and has been supported by Spelthorne Borough Council as a means of helping regenerate Staines. SLR links Waterloo to Heathrow with a spur line off the main M25 route to Staines-upon-Thames. The journey time is 7 minutes on a train departing every 6 minutes during the day but less frequently during the night after 11pm.  

Automated 24 hr system and air freight

The elevated light rail will be fully automated and would run 24hrs a day. Airport staff and airport passengers need to travel early and late. As well as passenger carriages, the system has freight wagons designed to take containers to go into cargo areas and hence into the holds of planes. The freight operation will be mainly during the night and other times when there are fewer passengers, 

London Orbital Light Rail Phase One.jpg

Proposed SLR route between Heathrow terminals and Staines-upon-Thames. Journey time 7 mins on a train every 6mins. Transfer at Staines for Waterloo.

London Orbital Light Rail Surrey sector.jpg

Proposed route between Heathrow and Gatwick with non-stop express service and a stopping service for stations in between. Express journey time is 31 mins.

LARTS Bus interchange & car park outside Heathrow.jpg

Image of the elevated light rail from Staines going into T5 (seen in right background).  Between the two is a Park and Ride for cars combined with a bus hub for coaches and buses.  Passengers will transfer from here into the light rail to travel to or from Heathrow..

Image by Paul Maynard .

London Orbital around M25.jpg

Proposed route and connections of London Orbital Rail which will connect London's railways, airports and major highways to each other. Park and ride with bus hubs will be at the points where the motorways and main A roads join the M25. 

The stations that can be connected and total journey time to them from Heathrow T5 would be:

Express non-stop services from T5 to -

Gatwick airport           31 mins

Luton Airport              32 mins

Stansted                      57 mins *

Southend Airport        59 mins

* Light rail from T5 to Waltham Cross then change onto Stansted Express

Stopping services from T5

Staines                                 7 mins

Byfleet & New Haw          11 mins

Leatherhead                     24 mins

Merstham                          31 mins

Oxted                                38 mins

Sevenoaks (Dunton Grn)  47 mins

Swanley                             60 mins

Dartford                             66 mins

Bluewater                          54 mins

Ebbsfleet                           57 mins

Iver                                  6 mins

Kings Langley               19 mins

Potters Bar                    32 mins

Waltham Cross              38 mins

Brentwood                     52 mins

Upminster                      56 mins

Lakeside                         62 mins

West Thurrock                64 mins

Grays                               67 mins

Tilbury                             69 mins

SLR station next to extg Staines station.jpeg

A proposed design for the SLR elevated light rail station at Staines-upon-Thames.  In this case the SLR station does not sit over the existing heavy rail station but at a higher level alongside it. The existing station is seen on the right. 

Image by Paul Maynard.

Alternative station location, development and finance 

The SLR  is Phase One of the whole orbital rail project and is estimated to cost about £400m. It is primarily designed to be financed by property development with some local government support.  An alternative location for the SLR Staines-upon-Thames station is nearer the town centre. A travelator would connect the new station to the existing heavy rail station. The sketch plans below show a new SLR station combined with a bus station with new development around it.

The local authority proposed a building of up to 15 storeys on the site. In terms of a master plan for the town centre it will be best to have such a high building close to the railway line with other new development stepping down towards the River Thames. The proposal is therefore to have the SLR elevated light rail having its station running through this tall building alongside the existing heavy rail line and above a relocated bus station.  In order to provide the density of development to both fund the SLR and provide a mixed development including housing. 

SLR Staines Typical upper floor level.jpeg

Typical floor plan for the other floors above mezzanine level. they can be subdivided for any purpose. The relatively narrow footprint allows daylight and natural ventilation. there is a balcony all round. 

SLR Staines Mezzanine level.jpeg

Mezzanine level . Allows podium to have double height storeys.

SLR Staines Podium level.jpeg

Podium level is SLR platform level and has a walkway across main road to connect with the existing shopping centre. There is plenty of terrace for sitting out if cafes are either side of the shopping mall into the station.

SLR Staines Ground level.jpeg

Ground level showing the bus station, taxi, car pickup and lorry delivery vehicles for the shops and office etc - all under the podium level. Gaps allow light and natural ventilation into these ground level areas. 

SLR Staines Section looking north.jpeg

The plan is for the tallest building to be at the rear on north sides that it does not overshadow the rest of the site. The SLR station is at podium level and from the station platforms there is a walkway connecting the station to the town centre. The development consists of the tall block on the north with three fingers projecting southwards towards the town centre and river Thames. These are for commercial and leisure use whilst the north building would have commercial use lower down, apartments in the middle and leisure facilities at the top. The roofs have glazed domes and terraces with restaurants and winter gardens which have fine views southwards across the Thames into the Surrey countryside.The buildings are connected by secure walkways. 

SLR Staines Section looking east.jpeg

The SLR trains can be seen in the new elevated station under the tallest building which is on the north side of the site. The existing bus station is moved from outside the shopping centre to be at ground level under the new development. Pedestrians coming from road level, the bus station, the taxi and car drop off can take an escalator up to podium level where the elevated station is.  he mezzanine level has a lesser footprint to allow the podium level to be double height.  There are substantial gaps around the fingers to allow daylight and natural ventilation. 

Passengers numbers and train frequency 

The passenger numbers and timetabling required a considerable amount of work on distances and time travelled including waiting time and boarding time at platforms. The modelling showed that the automatic system was theoretically capable of one train every minute in each direction on the guideway for 24 hrs/day 7 days/week.  Phase One, SLR between Heathrow and Staines-upon-Thames would have 10  trains an hour in each direction at peak times in order to provide a seamless wait free transfer between every train passing through Staines and an SLR train. 

Passengers from Surrey per year y.jpg

The calculation above shows the predicted passenger demand travelling just between Surrey and Heathrow each hour. The max number of passengers per day from Surrey in 2016  was estimated as 6,651 and the max number at peak hour as 600 passengers. With 10 trains per hour, each train would have to average about 60 passengers. This requires trains with one carriage only. The system can have trains with six carriages which means it has six time the capacity at park hours to cope passengers from other areas.

Passenger capacity on trains.jpg

This calculation above shows the capacity of the SLR per day depending on the number of carriages per train and the number standing. In one direction, with a four carriage train, the the comfortable capacity would be 52,800 passengers per day. Wth three times the number standing, the capacity would be 88,000 per day - a capacity that far exceeds local Surrey demand of about 6,000 a day, but might be needed for passengers from other counties. 

SLR -  Business destinations added for five airports copy.jpg

The chart above shows the number of increased  number of destinations each airport would in effect have if linked together. for example Gatwick's 123 existing destinations (number at time of chart compilation) increases by 118% with 143 extra destinations added by access to four other airports.

Heathrow had 168 and Gatwick 123 business destinations in 2016 when the calculations were done. The chart here shows that, by linking the airports together in a time of 31 minutes between T5 and LGW south terminal (which compares not unfavourably with times between Heathrow's terminals), the airports can be considered to have access to additional destinations.  Heathrow's business destination increase by 39%, Gatwick's by 118%.  Luton's increase by 365% and Stansted's by 203% because these last two don't have many business destinations.  

London Orbital  under bridge.jpg

The image above shows the light rail train passing under a motorway bridge. This is possible in many cases and where it is not, the elevated light rail will pass over the bridge. 

The SLR project has been developed primarily by Peter, Michael and Tony Buckley of ITSL Consultancy Ltd,  with the support of Spelthorne Borough Council. It has been submitted to DfT for review as part of its request for new ideas and private investment in the railways, especially with regard to southern rail access to Heathrow. 

Central section of the footbridge showing section that moves up and down 

Temporary footbridge at Hammersmith

The complete closure of Hammersmith Bridge made life almost impossible for those using it. With no date known for re-opening even for pedestrians, this low cost prefabricated footbridge was proposed to as a temporary solution to allow pedestrians and bicycles. It would also be able take ambulances going to Charing Cross hospital if that would be allowed by the authorities.

The river had to be  open for the occasional working boat so the central section of the bridge submerges around high tide to allow passage. When the boat has passed, compressed air is used to raise the central section and allow pedestrians and bicycles to cross again. This method avoids mechanical methods and use compressed air in the same way a submarine works.  

Temporary footbridge, Hammersmith

This drawing shows the existing Hammersmith Bridge in the background and the proposed temporary bridge at low water resting on the river bed and floating at high water. The tide is very strong so the pontoons have to be anchored. But because the footbrige is designed to be temporary, low cost, quickly put in place and avoid any expensive piling - which would probably not have been permitted anyway - precast concrete blocks sit on the river bed and the pontoons are anchored to them.

The pontoons and bridge sections would be be prefabricated, brought to site and launched from an existing ramp at the end of Queen Caroline St. Once floated, each would be joined to the next until reaching across the river. 

How a submarine works - it has open holes in the hull

Submarine explanation.jpg
Submarine flooding.jpg

Diagram shows submerging. Water is allowed to flood in through the holes at the bottom while air is forced out of vales at the top.

Submarine blowing.jpg

Diagram shows surfacing. Water is forced out of holes in the hull by compressed air to provide the buoyancy to allow the submarine to rise.

The drawing shows the central section of the footbridge in its normal position for pedestrians and bikes to cross. There is always enough height between the water and the bridge for rowing boats to pass under all the sections. 

When a river workboat needs to pass the central section is closed and the two central pontoons are filled with water like a submarine and submerge to the river bed so providing a gap for the workboat to pass through. 

Sketch of middle section 2021.jpeg

The draught of larger vessel means that this can only occur an hour either side of high tide due to the depth of the river at Hammersmith. 

Enlargement of central section which submerges and surfaces like a submarine to let larger river boats through. The design is not just to provide strength, but also echo the design of the Victorian Hammersmith Bridge. The central deck and two pontoons slide up and down the four guide posts. 

There are many examples of bridges that allow boats to pass by swinging or rising in various ways using mechanical power. But it is believed there is no example of a submerging bridge. There may be a reason for this of course but an experts has said such a design is theoretically possible and would cost less for using only compressed air . 

Pedal carriage

This pedal car design project dates from 30 years ago in 1990. It was drawn as a young architects concept for an ecological exhibition with the purpose of discouraging car use. There was little interest then but with the popularity of cycling and 'cargo bikes' today.  

 The design is undergoing re-engineering review to improve the novice design and provide for a battery powered option. 

The original idea was to help with the school run and shopping,  but it could be used for commuting and for a mobility scooter with a battery.

Learning from the Sinclair C5 which was scaringly below HGV wheel height, the intention was have a higher normal bike position using available conventional cycle parts and have one wheel at the front but for the market it was conceived for, it was changed to four wheels to add perceived stability.

Pedal car design

Fashion is the enemy of sustainability. 

Contact:   Michael Buckley      tel:  +44 (0)7838 155739       eml: