The Elizabeth line has barely been open for a year, but it’s already wildly popular, with commuters delighting in its fierce aircon and swish purple livery. So it’s no wonder that proposals are being drawn up for a Lizzy line takeover of the South East. Thurrock Council is dreaming big, with a bold scheme that would hook up Kent and Essex to that sweet, sweet commuter hub, as well as encouraging people to venture out of the Big Smoke on day trips.
Currently, the Elizabeth line terminates at two stops to the east of London: Abbey Wood and Shenfield. Thurrock Council wants to link things up with a giant loop between Abbey Wood and Romford, calling at stops including Dartford, Gravesend, Tilbury Town, West Thurrock and South Ockendon.
Exciting, right? But alas, there are a few potential problems with this plan. For starters, it requires a lot of very expensive engineering work. Getting between Tilbury and Gravesend would require tunnelling under the Thames (a pretty pricy undertaking on its own), and there would also be a need for a new flyover at Romford.
Still, a much bigger issue is that Conservative-controlled Thurrock Council is broke. It’s £1.5 billion in debt, to the point where it had to ask the Treasury for a massive £183 million loan to make it through the last financial year. That means that it’s unlikely to be able to afford to research these schemes further. Beyond that, there’s the wider question of funding the plans. The Elizabeth line was partly paid for by property developers keen for their buildings to be hooked up to good transport connections, but that’s less of an incentive with this extension, because most of the areas it would pass through is already covered in existing suburban housing or is green-belt land.
So hold off on your plans to snap up a picturesque Tudor mansion in South Ockendon, and then commute into town on the royal splendour of the Elizabeth line. We’re not quite there yet. But with overcrowding rife on the commuter routes of Essex and Kent, it feels inevitable that some kind of extension will come our way sooner or later.