Transport for London (TfL) are consulting on proposals for a new, direct and quicker transport link between Sutton and Merton. It has been called the Sutton Link. This would create a high-capacity route for people travelling between Sutton town centre and Merton using zero-emission vehicles. Connections would be made with other major transport services into central London and across south London, including National Rail, London Underground, existing tram and bus services. It would make journeys by public transport quicker and more attractive, and reduce the need for trips by private car.
Many of the neighbourhoods along the proposed routes have limited public transport options. The Sutton Link would support new homes being built and would improve access to jobs, services, major transport hubs and leisure opportunities across both boroughs and beyond. The work is at a stage in order to guage views about three potential routes and whether to consider a tram or ‘bus rapid transit’ (BRT).
There are three potential routes
These have been narrowed down to three routes for the purposes of consultation. Two of the potential routes would run on-street, with the third mainly replacing an existing rail line.
Based on the work carried out so far, it is considered that either Option 1 or Option 2 best achieves the aims of the project. Option 3 is least effective at achieving the aims of the project by improving public transport in Merton and Sutton. It would also need to be closely coordinated with the proposed Crossrail 2 station in Wimbledon to minimise disruption to Wimbledon town centre. This may result in delaying the delivery of the Sutton Link project by several years to coincide with the Crossrail 2 construction programme.
Trams and bus rapid transit
Tram – suitable for all route options
The existing London Trams network is a quick, frequent, fully accessible and reliable tram service through central Croydon to Wimbledon in the west and Beckenham Junction, Elmers End and New Addington in the east. An extension of the network to Sutton would be operated to the same standards as the existing network, including passenger facilities and high quality, spacious vehicles. Trams are electric so passengers switching from cars to use trams could help address poor air quality along the route. New trams would be purchased to operate a Sutton extension, that would be compatible with the existing network. Additional depot facilities would also be needed to keep and maintain these new vehicles. Potential locations for providing additional depot facilities across the tram network are being assessed.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – suitable for route options 1 and 2 only
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) can take many different forms, with a range of potential vehicles, passenger facilities and guidance systems. The possible BRT for the Sutton Link would be a ‘tram on rubber tyres’, with vehicles very different from the types currently used on the local bus network. It would be a modern, high quality system with the same level of separation from other traffic as a tram. Specially engineered BRT running lanes would be constructed so that BRT vehicles provide a smooth, comfortable ride. This would enable similarly fast journey times and overall capacity of service as a tram extension. Like trams, the BRT proposed for the Sutton Link would have platforms at stops to provide step-free access and stops would be further apart than standard bus stops. The vehicles would be zero emission so passengers switching from cars to use BRT services could help address poor air quality along the route. A new depot facility would be needed to keep and maintain the new BRT vehicles. Potential locations along the route of the Sutton Link for a new depot facility are again being assessed.
Tram and BRT comparison
Some elements of a tram and BRT service would be similar, but there are some key differences. The study is looking to provide the same level of service, in terms of the number of passengers per hour each option could carry.
- Stop infrastructure, facilities and information for passengers
- Level of separation from general traffic and priority at junctions with general traffic
- Interchange provided with existing tram line
- Quality of vehicles and smoothness of ride
- Fully accessible to all users
- Overall number of people carried each hour
- Zero emission vehicles (electric or equivalent)
- Each tram would be longer and would carry around 220 people, compared to around 120 on a BRT vehicle
- Trams would come around every eight minutes in peak service, whereas the BRT would need to run more frequently at potentially every five minutes, because each vehicle can carry fewer passengers
- BRT is expected to have a greater negative impact on traffic congestion because of the more frequent services
- Trams would run on rails with overhead electric lines. BRT would run on a road surface, needing less fixed infrastructure
- BRT may have less impact on utilities buried underground, reducing costs and disruption during construction
- A BRT scheme could open sooner and may be easier to extend in the future
- Constructing a tram route is more expensive initially, but the operating cost over the long term could be lower as fewer vehicles and drivers would be needed.
Both route options 1 and 2 are expected to have similar costs. If delivered as a tram the cost of these options is currently estimated to cost in the region of £425m, whereas BRT options for these routes are currently estimated to cost in the region of £275m.
Route option 3 could be delivered for a lower cost than other tram options and is currently estimated to cost in the region of £300m, but could only be delivered at a later date, potentially at the same time as Crossrail 2.
These estimated costs are in today’s prices and do not account for future inflation which would be incurred prior to completion. The estimates are based on initial feasibility work and for one potential alignment currently assumed for each option, which is likely to change as we investigate any chosen option in more detail. We will therefore have a much firmer idea on a cost estimate once this more detailed development has been undertaken.
The cost of operating and maintaining a BRT service is expected to be higher than for a tram service, particularly because more vehicles and drivers are required to provide the more frequent service required.
The earliest date that construction could start is in 2022 with services commencing not sooner than 2025.