What if Southampton had a metro network. I mean something better than the existing 1 train per hour at local stations. Unsurprisingly, this infrequent service means not many people use them.
Existing city transport
Southampton has average local connectivity provided by local bus services. However, it does not provide a good solution for anyone travelling in rush hour given the major traffic problems. Given the large bottlenecks of the bridges this is very hard to fix and bus lanes are also not able to help here. There are 3 main crossings across the Itchen within the city and one across the Test and at rush hour these cause backups into other city roads and bad gridlock.
The existing train network fails to deliver a good alternative with all "local" stations getting a 1 train per hour service.The only exceptions to this are St Denys (because it's at the junction of two such local lines) and Swanwick which sees a few long distance trains make an extra stop in peak times.
Based on my experience of Southampton, the surrounding area and my desire to see more people switch to environmentally friendly transport, I made a map of what a Southampton metro network could look like and how it might start to be implemented. I truly believe that if you want people to switch then stations central within housing areas and close to employment opportunities are the key, something not met by the Hedge End station for example.
Ok, I admit, maybe quite a lot of infrastructure would be needed but that doesn't stop me dreaming, this is at the end of the day a fantasy metro map. Existing infrastructure links is in full colour and new infrastructure required is faded.
The north London line is probably a good boilerplate for what is possible, given the situation in 2008, with 4 trains an hour, when this was upgraded to 8tph along with some station upgrades, passenger numbers jumped 268% in 7 years. A good argument for improving services and seeing an even larger increase in passengers.
Maybe at some point I'll get round to posting a map with the overlaid infrastructure. For now I'll just list it with it's benifits
- New bridge over the itchen - cuts jouney time to Portsmouth by 5 minutes and would allow extra stopping service via St Denys and the express goes on the effective "passing loop". Also allows for a station at St Mary's, solving one of Southampton's other major problems, match day traffic. The bridge could be up to 15m high and would need to skirt the upper edge of the CEMEX plant.
- New line joining Sholing to the Eastleigh to Fareham line. This would bring rail services to Thornhill and Hedge End, would be able to acheive higher line speeds than the existing line and would allow more stopping service to run to Fareham while express services can go via Hedge End. The capacity problems between St Denys and Fareham are largely since there is a long line with no passing loops causing the stopping service to limit capacity. This would probably require a tunnel between Thornhill and Hedge end though.
- Spur to connect the new Allington Village development, necessary to avoid more car traffic congesting Southampton and Eastleigh given the poor public transport links it would have.
- Platform upgrade at Southampton Central, and possible extra rail tunnel under the central parks. Since the land to the south of the station is currently occupied by an empty retail unit, and has been for 5 years, this would be a much better use of the area, with a long term view too.
- Reopening of the Waterside line and new line around the Oil Refinery perimeter to serve the towns along the edge. Given that the existing line is adequate to Hythe the significant work is that new cuttings would need to be built through existing housing to bring it to the other towns, but given the 8,000 additional people this would reach, worth considering.
I'd be interested in hearing if anyone has suggestions about how to improve this.
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Appendix of badly connected areas
Waterside - Marchwood, Hythe, Holbury, over 35,000 people with no railway station and a congested A road. Fortunately, this has a single track disused line that may be reopened. Although take that with a pinch of salt, it merely looks like another feasability study will be conducted which will probably say much the same as previous ones. That is that it should be reopened!
Hedge End - Has a railway station, however, with only 1 tph and not going direct to Southampton I would suggest this is the reason for extremally low passenger numbers. There is no quick service into central southampton nor beyond for any connections or somewhere like the hospital. The buses are just far too slow to be an option for frequent visitors to local centres
Thornhill - Whilst relatively close to both Hedge End and Southampton, it has good links to neither. Hedge end is separated by the motorway leaving cars as the only real option. Alternatively, towards Southampton, there are regular bus links but like in Hedge End they are slow and winding.
General Hospital and Lordshill - Major employment site and outer urban centre. Buses to here all go down Shirley High St and have to do a "dog leg" to get to the hospital site. Buses to Lordhill on the other hand are well connected but still end up being very slow through Shirley. The poor connectivity here is demonstrated by the need for huge car parks at the hospital.
Allington Village - A new development proposed by Eastleigh council, and now partially under development. In their proposition document, there is lots of hand wavy remarks about how it will be "connected", however, given that the proposed station is right on the outskirts and does not connect to Southampton, the reality is that it locks people into car usage. Just like Hedge End Retail Park. Since this is a new development, corridor for a rail link central to the town should have been earmarked, alas it is probably too late.