Homes suspended over railway lines could solve London’s housing crisis

A quarter of a million new homes could be built in London if provisions are made to allow developers to build on top of railway lines, according to a new report.

The report, Out of Thin Air, states that modern engineering techniques could be used to construct apartment blocks directly above rail, Overground and Underground lines.

Hectares upon hectares of land could be created in even some of the capital’s most densely populated areas the report states.

For example, it estimate that a minimum of 1,000 new homes could be provided at Victoria.

“The station, the airspace above its tracks and approaches and nearby sites have significant potential for mixed use intensification, capitalising on enhancement to the public transport interchange and improvements to accessibility and capacity,” said Bill Price, strategic growth director with report authors WSP.

Aerial shot of area around Victoria Station

Victoria Station following completion of above-track accomodation

Research from the report identified all rail tracks in Transport for London’s (TfL) fare zones 1-6 where there were no breaks in the track made by tunnels, roads or bridges and where there was ten metres of available land on both sides.

This would allow for the development of 100m² apartments in buildings rising to 12 storeys. If a conservative 10 per cent of this total was delivered it would provide 250,969 new homes.

The London boroughs of Brent, Ealing and Croydon and TfL Zones 2, 3 and 4 provided the most ‘overbuild’ development potential.

In addition the plan states that rail lines can form barriers to movement within sites, something that would be remedied by building over them. This would help to “knit the development into the surrounding area”. Building over railway tracks can provide opportunities to address existing constraints.

“We have to be more creative in using existing space in what remains a relatively low-rise city,” Price said.

“The air rights above rail tracks present an unrealised but significant opportunity to build more new homes on brownfield land.

“It’s important to emphasise the engineering is absolutely possible and not new. We have been working on projects of this nature in New York for decades. Right now in London we are working on a variety of projects that rise above rail lines including a 50-storey residential tower, homes above a new Crossrail station and even a Premier League stadium.”

“There is a wider point about how we can better connect communities and unlock new homes not just above rail lines but adjacent to them as well. In some parts of London rail lines act as accidental segregators.

“By ‘decking’ over these lines, such as the proposed regeneration west of Earls Court underground station, we can join together sites to unlock an even higher number of new homes and create new vibrant communities.”

The thinking behind the report emerged after Network Rail appointed WSP in 2012 to study the feasibility of building above rail lines.

The study’s conclusions, which focused on the type of decking and noise and vibration issues are detailed in the new report.

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