The Anonymous Widower

Are We Seeing A New Approach To Electrification On The Gospel Oak To Barking Line?

Over the years, I’ve followed several electrification schemes starting with the Lea Valley Lines through Southbury in the 1960s.

The electrification of the Gospel Oak To Barking Line (GOBlin), is not a particularly large or important one, in the overall scheme of things, but after the well-publicised problems of the electrification of the Great Western Main Line and the Trans-Pennine routes, Network Rail don’t want another train-load of bad publicity.

Take a ride down the line and you see the following.

  • A collection of quite run-down stations, only a few of which are step-free. And some of those have extensive and somewhat tortuous ramps.
  • The western end of the line from South Tottenham station sits in the middle of a wide track bed, with a few convenient metres of grass and scrub on each side of the line.
  • The eastern end of the line from Leyton Midland Road station is on a viaduct, with the platforms either side of the track.
  • Several of the station p[platforms are not long enough, but there are often disused sections that can be brought back into use.
  • I don’t think there is any points or crossings between West of Blackhorse Road and East of Wanstead Park stations, which is all the viaduct section of the line.
  • The line terminates in two bay platforms at Gospel Oak and Barking stations.

I suspect a few objectives have been laid down for the design and installation of the electrification and updating of the stations.

  • Simple and affordable.
  • Well-proven techniques.
  • Installation in a minimum time,  with as little disruption as possible.
  • Ability to handle six-car trains after simple upgrades. This was not built-in to the North London and East London Lines
  • As step-free as possible.

The following sections show what has been achieved so far and some of the problems and helpful factors of the electrification.


I like the IPEMU or Independently Powered Electric Multiple Unit and feel that it has a place in many electrification schemes.

We have to remember that the Class 710 trains destined for the GOBlin can be fitted with an IPEMU-capability.

So how could an IPEMU help in making the GOBlin an electric railway?

  • The extension to Barking Riverside is only a few kilometres and could be run totally by IPEMUs charging on the rest of the line. Imagine the kudos, that would give the development at Riverside and the electrification costs it will save.
  • During the construction phase, IPEMUs could provide a service from an electrified line over a section, where the wires were still being erected.

Whether we believe it or not, the IPEMU is coming and it’s just whether it will make its debut on the GOBlin.

Where Are The Trains?

One rumour from a reputable source (NC!), says that the line will be closed from June or July 2016 for eight months, whilst electrification is completed on the line and testing takes place. It will then open (Feb/Mar 2017?) with a full electric service.

If you look at Bombardier’s production schedule, the Class 710 trains destined for the GOBlin will not enter service until 2018.

So bang goes the reason for the eight-month suspension of service, as passengers won’t accept all that pain for no gain.

Perhaps, there could be some Class 315, Class 317Class 321 or even some of the very ugly Class 319 trains available. After all only eight four-car units are required!

But I don’t think anybody would be pleased if a new flagship service was to be started after an eight-month closure, with the contents of British Rail’s dustbin.

It is often said, that someone else’s troubles is somebody else’s gain and the problems on the Great Western electrification, means that there could be some almost-new Class 387 trains available.

It should not be forgotten, that a Class 379 train, was used as the demonstrator in the IPEMU trial in Essex, and 379s are very much cousins of 387s.

I believe that the Class 387 trains, are the only acceptable and available trains, that will be available to open the service after an eight-month blockade.

Power Supplies

Often supplying power to the overhead wires is an expensive business, with the need for massive transformers and connection to the electricity supply.

The GOBlin has good connections to electrified lines and short sections that are already electrified.

  • A connection to the North London Line at Gospel Oak
  • A short electrified section at South Tottenham.
  • A connection to the Great Eastern Main Line at Woodgrange Park.
  • A short electrified section between Woodgrage Park and Barking.

So getting the power is one problem, that won’t challenge the engineers.

The Pattern Of The Piles

Look at any overhead electrified line in the UK and every fifty metres or generally less, you’ll see a masts and/or a portal frame to support the overhead wires, which is supported from both sides of the track. This Google Map shows Woodgrange Park station on the GOBlin.

Electrification At Woodgrange Park Station

Electrification At Woodgrange Park Station

Note the frames supporting the wires everywhere, in the station, on the disused sections of the platforms and on the way to Barking,which is to the East (right).

If you look at the piles that have been put in to support the masts for the overhead wires on the western end of the GOBlin, they show a totally different pattern to that which I would expect. Here’s a few pictures.

My observations lead me to define the pattern of piles as follows.

  • Piles are paired, with one on each side, as expected.
  • There are none in stations.
  • There isn’t even any tell-tale paint, to indicate where the masts will go in the stations.
  • Piles seem to stop thirty metres or so before stations and overbridges.

Murphys were so keen to get the piling started, they were thumping away on Christmas night, so given the days and nights available since them, there doesn’t seem to be too many piles in the ground.

So short of using skyhooks or drones, or perhaps calling on the services of someone like Jasper Maskelyne, what is going to happen?

In my view, there is only one possible solution and that is to put central masts between the two tracks.

I also suspect that some of the substantial road bridges over the GOBlin, will be used to support the overhead wires, as I’m sure that the engineers have a solution for that method of fixing. This picture shows an ancient fixing, under the arch at  Stoke Newington station.

Overhead Wires At Stole Newington Station

Overhead Wires At Stole Newington Station

I’m sure the modern product, is more elegant! And less corroded.

Central Masts

Normally in the UK, the overhead wires are supported from the sides of the track. But look at this picture from the Sheffield Supertram.

The Meadowhall South/Tinsley Tram Stop

The Meadowhall South/Tinsley Tram Stop

Note how the overhead wires  are supported from a central mast between the tracks.

Furrer + Frey, who are a well-respected Swiss manufacturer of equipment for railway electrification and a big supplier to Network Rail, have a wide range of methods shown in this page. One method is to use a central mast to support wires on both sides over the two tracks.

Furrer And Frey Central Mast

Furrer + Frey Central Mast

I feel that given the challenging constraints and demanding time-scale of electrifying the GOBlin, that central masts could help considerably.

They would need to be sturdy, but if you analyse the stresses in a typical central mast, the wires on both sides balance each other. It’s like a milkmaid carrying two buckets.

There may be other advantages in the installation of central masts, as the work will probably be done on a flat surface, using a rail mounted crane, whereas installing a portal frame over the railway may need scaffolding to be erected.

The latter method might also mean closing the businesses in the many arches under the line for the duration of the work.

The Upper Holloway Bridge

One of the problems of the work, is that in the middle of all this electrification, the bridge at Upper Holloway station is being replaced with the electrification work going on at the same time.

According to this document from TfL, the bridge deck is due to be replaced over Christmas 2016 and the project will be completed by the end of 2017.

Surely, this blows the time-scale of the whole project, as until the bridge is finished, surely electrification can’t proceed!

Or does it?

If the overhead wires through the station are supported centrally between the tracks, with the assistance of two strong portal frames outside the station/bridge area, it might be possible to change the bridge deck, using some of innovative techniques that were used at York, which I wrote about in Dancing With Cranes And A Bridge With Help From Lego.

This Google Map shows the station/bridge area.

Upper Holloway Station, Bridge And The A1

Upper Holloway Station, Bridge And The A1

Note that there is more space along the railway, than on the main road.

I think we need a new word to describe the nature of replacing this bridge, in just a few days over Christmas.

I suspect the bridge deck has been designed as a series of components, that are small enough to transport into the area, either by road or train, and then bolt them together like Meccano. It could be the most exciting live television of Christmas 2016.

To sum up, I believe that engineers have found a solution to electrify the line before the bridge deck is replaced.

I went to the station today and had a chat with an engineer.

He told me, that the bridge will be replaced bit-by-bit and indicated that there will be no big closure.

So could Transport for London have had a change of heart and decided to fit a new bridge over the gap, that will allow the wires to be put up at the same time, with the bridge assembled from a kit of smaller more manageable pieces?

The next few months will give an answer.

Whilst I was at Upper Holloway station, I took this picture, which shows the layout of lines to the West of the station.


  • There is only one pile in the picture and it is between the stacked-Portakabin signal box and the grey cabinet about ten metres further on, on the left.
  • There are no piles or paint markings in the station area.
  • There is plenty of space to extend the platforms, if that should be required.
  • The crossing, which will need to be fully electrified, allows freight trains to access the Midland Main Line.

This all leads me to believe, that if overhead wires are going through this station, then they might well be supported on central masts.

Obviously, portal frames could still be attached to the platforms, but there is a lot of work going on to add two nice waiting rooms to the station. Surely, good project management would put up the masts and frames first!

Obviously, the wires can also be supported on the bridge, which was about thirty metres behind me, when I took the picture.

So you would have a solid road bridge at one end of the station and a very sturdy portal frame over the crossing by the signal box at the other to support the catenary, with some help from a couple of central masts in the station area.

Harringay Green Lanes Station

Harringay Green Lanes station is the nearest station on the line to my house, and to get there I just get a 141 bus direct too the station.

These pictures show the station.

It should be said, that the station sits in the middle of an area, that Harringey Council want to redevelop and that this will involve a new station. I wrote about stations in the area in The Piccadilly And Victoria Lines, Manor House Station And Harringay Green Lanes Station.

You can understand why it needs a rebuild.

Typical portal frames to support the overhead wires would either have to reach from outside the platforms or be mounted on the platforms themselves. In the case of the former, there are extensive ramps and staircases in the way and in the case of the second, the platforms may be able to support a lot of passengers, but would they need substantial rebuilding to bear the weight of the portal frames?

Incidentally, there has been some piling to both the east and west of the station, so perhaps they’ll be two strong frames about twenty to thirty metres from the platforms? Obviously, to future-proof the station, they would be far-enough away to allow any possible platform extensions.

Between the platforms the wires could be supported on central masts. The pictures show, that the space between the tracks is probably wide enough for the installation of central masts.

Traditional electrification might be difficult or even impossible, but I’m sure there are clever engineers, who can get round the problems of stations like Harringay Green Lanes.


Leytonstone High Road Station

Leytonstone High Road station is typical of the viaduct-mounted stations towards the eastern end of the line. Leyton High Road and Wanstead Park are similar.

These pictures show the station, the viaduct to the east of the station and a nearby bridge.

Note the following.

  • The unrestored platforms, that could be brought back into use for longer trains.
  • The industrial units under the station.
  • The generous width between the platforms.
  • No sign of any electrification works or even markings on the platforms.

I believe that these stations and the viaduct between them, could be electrified using central masts to support the overhead wires.

Arches, such as used to hold up the viaduct and house the industrial units are some of the strongest forms around. Look at any medieval cathedral or castle!

These arches may have been built by the Victorians, but you don’t hear many stories of sixty-eight tonne Class 66 locomotives and dozens of freight wagons and containers falling through.

Obviously, the masts would be properly anchored into the arches.

Could the viaduct section of the line be electrified using central masts from a company like Furrer + Frey?


Someone has got a very firm grip on this project and the finish date is very much up for grabs.

But it does seem, that they could be using the space between the tracks to support the overhead wires.

I also think that there could be a well-respected Swiss company somewhere in there rolling around.

Have they looked at Network Rail’s problems and applied their expertise of running electric trains in some of the most difficult terrain in Europe?




January 26, 2016 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] I feel that Murphys are electrifying the line in a novel way and I wrote about it in Are We Seeing A New Approach To Electrification On The Gospel Oak To Barking Line? […]

    Pingback by Will There Be An Eight-Month Closure On The Gospel Oak To Barking Line? « The Anonymous Widower | January 28, 2016 | Reply

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