The London Overground lines TfL planned 20 years ago that never …

Just over 15 years into London Overground, City Hall and TfL is now examining which names it should give to each of the six lines which make up the suburban network. However, there could have been two more if original plans went through unopposed. London Overground[1] was an ambition for London’s local government for decades, with formal proposals set out in the first Mayor’s Transport Strategy under Ken Livingstone in 2001.

In a draft copy obtained by MyLondon, initial proposals show that as part of plans to convert the then London Underground East London line[2] to London Overground, there would have been three additional routes as well as the Highbury & Islington/Dalston Junction-New Cross/West Croydon/Crystal Palace/Clapham Junction[3] which exist today.

The first extra route would have reinstated direct services between Willesden Junction, Queen’s Park, South Hampstead and Camden[4] Road, which were removed from timetables in 1992. The second would have seen Overground services use a single-track line linking Finsbury Park to Canonbury, where passenger services ended in 1976. The third was aimed at taking over the Thameslink[5] branch to Wimbledon, running from Surrey Quays via Peckham Rye, East Dulwich and Streatham. The three services failed to make it through to the final service plans as they incurred more infrastructure-related challenges than the others.

Draft 2001 MTS
The proposals are shown in Ken Livingstone’s draft transport strategy in 2001, a year after TfL came into existence.

Willesden Junction-Camden Road via Queen’s Park

This plan would have seen trains regularly use ‘spare’ platform 2 at Willesden Junction, and run along the current Watford Junction-Euston route as far as South Hampstead. Then, they would use a currently freight-only line through the closed Primrose Hill station[7] to Camden Road, joining the Richmond/Clapham Junction-Stratford route. Trains would then join the East London line route from Highbury & Islington.

This route would have seen services double at Kilburn High Road and South Hampstead stations, and may have supported the case for re-opening Primrose Hill station[8], but would have reduced the amount of space available to run freight trains. The connection through Primrose Hill is a key strategic route which allows slower freight trains to be held out of the way of faster passenger trains without there being an impact on journey times.

Although the route didn’t make it into final plans, it is used by Overground trains during engineering works which block the alternative route between Willesden Junction and Camden Road (via Gospel Oak), or Euston. It is also occasionally used by the London-Scotland sleeper trains.

OrbiRail proposal map
The three proposed routes which never happened were shown in this map of the first draft hard copy of the Mayor’s transport strategy in 2001.

Finsbury Park-Highbury & Islington

Of the three proposed routes “left out” from London Overground, this one was the least likely to ever happen. It would have seen some East London line route services extended from Highbury & Islington to Finsbury Park, stopping only at Canonbury. Regular passengers in the area will know that Finsbury Park and Highbury & Islington are already linked both by London Underground[9] Victoria line and Great Northern (then “wagn”) services.

The route would have taken a section of single-track known as the ‘Canonbury Curve’ which links Finsbury Park and Canonbury. It would have been difficult operationally, as trains would have to cross in front of each other near Canonbury, and as two trains cannot be on the single-track at the same time, they would have to be held at Canonbury or Finsbury Park in the event of delays, risking a snowball effect.

Since the Overground was introduced in 2007, locals in North London have lobbied for London Overground to take over[10] Great Northern’s stopping services through Finsbury Park. This has never materialised as it would need the transport secretary’s permission, which each one has been reluctant to give.

Overground train in WIJ platform 2
A rare Overground departure from Willesden Junction platform 2 – under these plans this would have become a regular occurance

Surrey Quays-Wimbledon via Streatham

One of the biggest pieces of civil engineering as part of the East London line’s conversion to London Overground was its extension south-west from Surrey Quays. In these initial plans, this provided trains on branches to Clapham Junction[11] and Wimbledon, although only the former came to life. It would have seen trains come from the East London line, branching off at Surrey Quays and stopping at Queen’s Road Peckham, Peckham Rye, East Dulwich, North Dulwich, Tulse Hill, Streatham, Tooting, Haydons Road and Wimbledon.

This was working under the assumption that as part of Thameslink upgrades[12], services between St Albans City and Sutton[13] would be changed. It also was at the time when Wimbledon station had a different layout for fewer trams. Now in 2023, the Thameslink Programme is complete, with no major changes to the St Albans City-Sutton services (due to much local opposition) and an additional tram platform at Wimbledon meaning there isn’t space to terminate extra trains there.

This route was intended to open as soon as 2006 according to the draft strategy. The Overground name had not been finalised at that point and the document used a working name of ‘OrbiRail.’ In the strategy, this route is shown as ‘proposed’ whereas the Clapham Junction route only as ‘possible’, but in the interests of completing a full ‘Outer Circle’ of Overground services, the Clapham Junction branch was eventually prioritised.

Do you think these services would have been a good idea? Where would you like to see London Overground trains go in the future? Tell us in the comments below.

Love the Tube or Overground with a passion? Sign up to MyLondon’s London Underground newsletter for all the latest news, analysis and trivia here[14].


  1. ^ London Overground (
  2. ^ London Underground East London line (
  3. ^ Highbury & Islington/Dalston Junction-New Cross/West Croydon/Crystal Palace/Clapham Junction (
  4. ^ Camden (
  5. ^ Thameslink (
  6. ^ London Overground line names: MyLondon readers have their say on what new lines should be called from the wise to the weird and wonderful (
  7. ^ a currently freight-only line through the closed Primrose Hill station (
  8. ^ re-opening Primrose Hill station (
  9. ^ London Underground (
  10. ^ lobbied for London Overground to take over (
  11. ^ Clapham Junction (
  12. ^ Thameslink upgrades (
  13. ^ Sutton (
  14. ^ here (

You may also like...