Location: London, United Kingdom
Coordinates: 53.250198, -1.742059
Climate: Temperate, Oceanic / maritime
Types: Airport, Terminal, Train station, Transport
Thames Hub is a bold new approach to future infrastructure development in Britain. It brings together rail, freight logistics, aviation, energy and its transmission, flood protection and regional development. It is unique for its scale and strategic cross-sector thinking. Recognising the synergies between these different strands, it reaps the benefits of their integration. It is an opportunity to reassert Britain’s role as an international gateway for people, freight and communications.
The Thames Hub incorporates a new Orbital Rail link around London, which would connect with a future high-speed rail line from London to the cities of the Midlands and the North – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool – and become part of an integrated network, linked directly to Continental Europe. Connecting the ports of Felixstowe, Tilbury, the new London Gateway and Southampton with the planned Atlantic Gateway development at Liverpool and Manchester will create an unrivalled freight distribution network and put Britain at the centre of manufacturing distribution in Europe. By moving freight by rail, pressure would be released from the roads and commuter networks – an important benefit. The Orbital Rail link will also help to create a more efficient and reliable passenger rail system.
– A new flood barrier in the Thames Estuary is a necessity, but has the potential to deliver other comprehensive improvements, while securing London’s future flood protection: it can alleviate housing shortages by creating new flood protected land for residential development; it can provide a platform for an integrated rail and road crossing to open up new trade routes between the UK and Europe; it can generate renewable
energy from tidal flows; and it can bridge the Estuary to create a vital new corridor for utilities, communications and data. Combining these elements into a single structure allows greater efficiencies of time and money in construction.
– A new international airport located in the Thames Estuary on the Isle of Grain would benefit from these new linkages. The new Estuary Airport would satisfy the capacity needed today and allow for future expansion, while reducing the environmental and security problems of aircraft over-flying London. Major new distribution networks for power, utilities and data are needed across the UK, without adding visual clutter to the rural landscape. This is where integration delivers environmental as well as economic benefits. The Spine offers a pioneering new solution.
– It will incorporate data cabling, water and energy distribution routes, integrated with the rail and road network in conduits in the ground, invisible in the landscape, simple to maintain and easy to secure. We face 21st century challenges that the short term patching up of our ageing infrastructure cannot overcome. This project has the potential to deliver lasting economic benefits and, whether privately financed or government funded, there will be a return in the form of the economic activity it will generate. We have the skills here in the UK to achieve it. Our architects and engineers have built the largest airports and most complex infrastructure projects in the world. We simply need the opportunity to focus this expertise closer to home.
The main components of the Thames Hub are as follows:
– A new barrier crossing that extends the flood protection to London and the Thames Gateway into the 22nd century. The barrier harnesses tidal power to generate carbon-free energy
– A four-track, high-speed passenger and freight Orbital Rail route around London, which links London’s radial lines, a future high-speed rail line to the Midlands and the North, the Thames Estuary ports, High Speed 1
(Channel Tunnel to London), and European networks
– An Estuary Airport, capable of handling 150 million passengers per annum, thus enabling the UK to retain its global aviation hub status. The airport is integrated within a logistics matrix that connects by rail the
Thames Estuary Ports and the ports of Liverpool, Southampton and Felixstowe. Associated with the Hub is a major renewable energy source in the Estuary
– A new utilities and data spine in the Thames Barrier, Orbital Rail line and high-speed networks, with applicability across the UK.
– A comprehensive environmental management strategy that minimises the impact of development and provides opportunities to create significant new wildlife habitats to more than offset losses elsewhere. The project can also be the catalyst to reduce pressure on foreshore habitats from rising sea levels and storm activity.
Improving Britain’s trade with the world
Over half of all UK container port activity occurs within 50 kilometres of the Thames Estuary. This will increase to almost 70% when the London Gateway Port opens. Creating new connections to channel this freight effectively to the rest of the country will make Britain an attractive destination for manufacturing and logistics.
Most freight arriving in the UK currently feeds directly into the national road network, as capacity on the South East’s rail routes is limited because of their convergence on London. An Orbital Rail route, bypassing London’s congestion, would enable containers to be transported directly from the Estuary to the Midlands and the North.
If all the UK’s main container ports, including Felixstowe, Southampton, Liverpool and new London Gateway, were connected to each other and to the Hub, they would be effectively linked to Europe.
This would give the UK a strong competitive advantage and enable our sea ports to compete with Antwerp and Rotterdam to serve locations in northern Europe. The Atlantic port of Liverpool, for example, will benefit from direct rail freight connectivity to both the South East and onwards to the continent. Such a move would support rising volumes of exports and an increased emphasis on rapidity to market, while setting in place the physical infrastructure to trade with the rapidly expanding BRIC nations and other emerging economies.
Cross-country freight rail links to connect our industrial areas and ports can take advantage of both new and existing routes. The new Orbital Rail route can connect to the existing mainline rail services radiating from central London. At the same time, it is possible to exploit the capacity for freight transport along the West Coast Main Line, which will be liberated by the implementation of a future high-speed rail line. To allow for
interoperability, the new Orbital Rail route will be built to accommodate continental European-gauge freight trains. Passenger trains will have operating speeds of up to 350 kilometres per hour.
Avoiding London’s congestion
A new high-speed Orbital Rail route around the north, east and west of London will open up fast rail connections – passenger and freight – from the North of the UK to Europe, bypassing London’s congestion. Incorporating two high-speed lines and two conventional lines, it will improve transport connections dramatically for industry and greatly reduce travel times for passengers.
As much as it is an engine for growth, London is also a physical barrier to trade. Its rail network is operating at almost full capacity and does not have the space to allow a significant increase in either freight or passengers through the city. A new Orbital Rail route can cut congestion and promote a sustainable shift from road to rail. To reduce the environmental impact of the Orbital Rail line, its route approximately traces the existing line of the M25. For around a third of its length, the network can pass through tunnels, particularly in sensitive areas such as Epping Forest. There are economic as well as social benefits in taking lorry traffic off the road, including reducing the costs of continual motorway expansion and the maintenance demands caused by prolonged heavy use.
With these measures, the modal share of containers transported by road could reduce from 80% to 50%. This would take lorry traffic off the motorways, as well as allow current freight capacity to be used to increase passenger services across London’s overground network.
The Orbital Rail route completes a missing link between the existing HS1 high-speed rail line and the proposed high-speed line to the Midlands and the North. In doing so, it maximises the impact of both. It also integrates with the new Hub Airport in the Estuary, allowing it effectively to serve the whole of the UK. Up to 60% of airport passengers will arrive using fast, frequent services from across the country.
New stations along the Orbital Rail route will be placed close to existing junctions on the M25, making them accessible by two million people within a 10 kilometre radius. Using the Orbital Rail line to reach their final destinations and thus avoiding central London will allow passenger rail journey times across the capital to be reduced by up to an hour.