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Despite living in Croydon, I rarely use the tram as it doesn't serve my area. Although occasionaly I do get the chance to travel via tram. On these journeys from Croydon to Wimbledon I am usually frustrated by the tram because of the confusing rules when using the Oyster card. Do you touch in on the platform at the destination aswell as at the gates or what?
Otherwise the tram is usually quite pleasant, clean and efficent it gets you where you want whenever you want with frequent services to Wimbledon, Elmers End, Beckenham and New Addington. The Croydon Loop often has a number of trams in a traffic jam because the sure volume of them.
Yet, the tram isn't all that great. Apart from in the central part (Croydon), most stations are situated in residental or industrial areas, meaning there quite far away from town centres or places people really want to go. Stops such as Harrington Road or Arena sum this up - little need and limited footfall appeal. Therefore the service isn't all that useful unless you live at the end destinations and are travelling into Croydon or Purley Way.
This subject is about the future but let's start this journey in the past.
In 1952 the last Tram was taken out of service from the London Transport network, this was a sad day for London as the car was now the king of the road. In recent years the Tram has made something of a comeback in terms of commuting as Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle are just a few cities that have adopted this sleek and efficient type of transport to there own requirements. The effects that Trams have had has been amazing to say the least, just take a look at how big the network is in Manchester now, with recent funding agreements the network will be increased to somewhere in the region of 100 stations!
So when the first Tram for over 50 years performed its first run, the Croydon Tramlink marked a milestone for London Transport, but has also assisted in kicking off Croydon's first major regeneration plan since the 1960's. You look at Croydon today and you see a number of new offices and homes being built to an extent that the Croydon skyline is starting to resemble one of a small city, yet still Croydon only has Town status.
Opened in 2000, the Tramlink runs from New Addington in the South East, Elmers End and Beckenham Junction in the East to Wimbledon in the West with Croydon being the place where all Trams pass through in the middle of the system. Preparation work began in 1996 and meant that for three years Croydon Town Centre was reminiscent of a building site as roads had to be surveyed, and dug up with utility pipes being either strengthened or re-laid to avoid any further problems that could stem from the weight of the Tram passing over them. So when the Tramlink Drivers began testing in mid 1999, it was a huge relief to local businesses in the area as a number of roads were again re-opened and the roadwork's had finally disappeared after three years of construction. A total of 28km of track was laid when the system was constructed.
Car and Lorry drivers had to acclimatise to the newer road layouts and systems that were put into place, as these gave the Tram priority over other road vehicles when one had to cross the others road space at junctions. Some drivers weren't aware of this even though the signs are obvious and in the first few weeks there were a few collisions taking place at more vulnerable areas such as level crossings as these were now under traffic light control without any barriers. Bus routes were reviewed as it was found that these could impact the Tram usage and stop passengers from using them, some routes were either re-routed or merged with other routes as necessary, either way this review was required.
The system as a whole has been cleverly designed as the Tram does go through the paved area at the southern end of Croydon High Street and down Crown Hill towards the flyover, the thing that impressed me was that instead of the Tram reaching a terminus in the middle of Croydon, the Tram does a loop around the edge of the Town Centre and heads back the way it came from with basically East Croydon being on the edge of the loop so that the trams go one way around eliminating the need for the driver to change ends until he has reached one of the four destinations such as Elmers End.
The Wimbledon Tram is the only time a Tram goes through the loop without fully utilising the entire length as it briefly uses only a quarter and then diverts out towards Waddon Marsh and onwards. The breakdown of where the Routes go is as follows:
Route 1 - Elmers End to West Croydon
Route 2 - Beckenham Junction to West Croydon
Route 3 - Wimbledon to New Addington
Thee is also a lot of history as well that is located on the system itself, for example Route 3 from Wimbledon follows the old route of the British Rail line from Wimbledon to West Croydon, originally it was the route of the Surrey Iron Works railway which was built in 1803 to transport goods from Wandsworth to Croydon and Purley. Nowadays on this line are the famous IKEA chimneys, a well known landmark that were once part of the Croydon B Power Station and are now probably the best advert that a Swedish furniture store can have as they can be seen from miles away.
The same can be said on the other side of Croydon after the Sandilands stop, the tracks go to Beckenham/ Elmers End to the left and New Addington to the right and in both directions join what used to be the Woodside and South Croydon Railway. Closed and abandoned in 1983 due to British Rail cutbacks, construction work started in 1996 involving the removing of a number of high level bridges and ground levelling at Addiscombe, further on the Trams pass through Norwood Country Park to get to Beckenham or Elmers End. In the other direction on the New Addington stretch Tramlink passes through the three main Sandilands tunnels to reach New Addington.
With the exception of New Addington, all termini all finish at Train Stations, so the opportunity to make the Trams integrated has been taken. Also the majority of stops all have a serving Bus route that can be used to continue the journey onwards, for example at Addington Village Tramstop on Route 3; a Bus Station has been built where the feeder buses that serves the local area start and finish, so an effective passenger interchange between Bus and Tram is possible.
Surprisingly the fleet only consists of 24 Trams, made by Austrian company Bombardier, the model used in Croydon is the Flexity Swift CR-4000, a Tram that allows for low floor wheelchair and pushchair access, with the floor height matching exactly the height of the platform at every stop with very little gap between the Tram and the platform edge. Each Tram is 30 meters long and can carry a maximum of 200 passengers including 70 seated as well as dedicated spaces for pram and pushchairs.
Just a thought, but imagine the cars that have been kept off road with 200 people inside a single Tram. As is traditional the power comes from overhead cables by means of a pantograph that runs under the wire. This eliminates any requirement for a third rail and allows the Tram to run on rails through areas such as Croydon Town Centre allowing the combination of off and on road running. In cases of on road the tracks are embedded in the road and flush with the surface so that only the metal wheels are using the rail without any damage to the road or paved areas. Having been on the Tram a vast number of times the ride is very smooth and does reach quite a speed in the more open areas, the top speed that a Tram is capable of is just over 50mph. which makes the journey time between Croydon and Wimbledon just 17 minutes. In a car this journey can take up to an hour at best in rush hour, so you can see the benefits straight away.
Naturally with any project of this size, there is going to be an impact. The biggest and most positive impact has been that the amount of traffic in the New Addington/ Croydon area has reduced by 14%, this is far more noticeable in rush hour and at weekends as the Trams are busy throughout these periods. At a weekend it is mainly shoppers in the day and pub goers in the evening. Since the system opened more than 24million passengers ride the system, to give some idea it was predicted on opening that 18million passengers per year would use the Tram, but even then that figure was exceeded to 21million passengers per year. Elsewhere the prices of houses increased at an amazing rate, for example the price of a two bedroom first floor flat in Sandilands, situated half a mile from East Croydon which was 200 yards from where the Tram stop was going to be built was £65,000 in 1996. In the month prior to the opening the same flat sold for a whopping £117,000. This story has been repeated almost across the board as the property values rose accordingly to what was happening and also how far the property was from the stop.
It's interesting to note even along the Wimbledon route in the morning the platforms are busy in both directions and is re-assuring to think of the number of cars being kept of the road. This Tram has also meant that the housing estate of New Addington now has a fast and reliable method to get into Croydon. Previously Croydon was only reachable by Car or Bus from here, in the morning rush hour it could take at least a good hour to get into Croydon as the Buses were packed and the roads were quite literally jammed. Today it is a different story as the Tram takes no more than 15 minutes from New Addington to reach East Croydon station with the Tram running a regular 7 - 8 minute service network wide.
As this was the first Tram system in London since 1952, a nod towards the predecessors has been made as the fleet numbers of the Trams didn't begin at 000001, but at 2530, as the last Tram that was taken off the streets in 1952 was numbered 2529. I thought that this was a nice touch and something that actually respects history without the need to overwrite it at all and start again.
I use the Tram to get to work everyday and see that change is still happening and hopefully this will just continue and continue. The next stage will be to build an extension from Beckenham to Crystal Palace or one to Sutton from Wimbledon, again this will help relieve congestion and give a direct link to Croydon and elsewhere. Elsewhere the Trams are now becoming the Transport of choice as the Cross River London Tram Project is going through early development.
So even though cartoons like The Jetson's predicted silver suits and jet packs to get to work with, I personally believe the future has already arrived and it's never looked greener!