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Railfanning London‘s Railways

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Visitors to London who are also transport enthusiasts (‘railfans’) sometimes ask for advice as to the ‘best’ things to see on London’s railway network. This page is part of a guide which aims to answer that question.

If this is the first time you have reached these pages then it is best to go to the Opening Page which sets the scene, explains the difference between the small and the large profile trains, offers advice on the best type of ticket to buy and photography tips.

Alternatively, it is possible to view everything on one page

Local Light Railways

London also has two rail networks which provide local transport within relatively small parts of the greater London area. In virtually any other British town these networks would be large enough to form excellent cores serving large parts of the entire conurbation; its only because London is so big that they seem so 'small'.

Many people who live in regional towns outside of London look upon London's transports with envy, wishing that similar investments could be made in their home areas as well. For lower capacity routes trolleybuses (which share the same clean air attributes) would also provide a discernable 'step change' improvement on diesel buses. The core issue here is that the Treasury wants people driving cars so that it can receive high levels of income from the taxes imposed on motoring fuels.

Croydon / London Tramlink
Tramlink Bombardier Flexity Swift CR4000 tramcar. . Tramlink Bombardier Flexity Swift CR4000 tramcar.
The Tramlink system uses two types of rolling stock:
Bombardier Flexity Swift CR4000 two-section articulated low floor trams (above left, seen leaving Church Street tram stop)
Stadler Rail Variobahn five-section multi-articulated trams (below left seen at Reeves Corner tram stop).
Tramlink Stadler Rail Variobahn tramcar. . Tramlink Stadler Rail Variobahn tramcar.

Centred on the large suburban town of Croydon, London's first Tramlink system travels through the streets in the town centre and then splits into several branches - all of which are 'off street' / on private rights of way and include sections of new-build tramway and former railway line. In Croydon town centre much of the track is in the form of a uni-directional loop which trams follow in a clockwise direction.

The fastest trains from Central London to Croydon travel to East Croydon station from (depending on route) London Victoria station (via Clapham Junction) or Farringdon station (via London Bridge / Blackfriars stations). Typically southbound trains will be heading for the south coast (Brighton, Eastbourne, Southampton, etc) or Horsham and also calling at Gatwick Airport. Slower ('all stations') trains also exist, although some of these go to West Croydon station - this category includes the East London Line Overground trains.

Other routes to Croydon are via the tram / train interchange stations in south London. Mitcham Junction can be reached on (some) Thameslink trains from Farringdon; Beckenham Junction can be reached by (some) trains from London Victoria station, Elmers End can be reached by (some) trains from Charing Cross and Cannon Street stations, or by travelling on the Docklands Light Railway to Lewisham station and catching a train going to Hayes. Wimbledon can be reached by trains from London Waterloo and Clapham Junction stations plus the London Underground the District line.

Tramlink map.
Tramlink route map showing the basic Monday - Saturday service.
On early mornings, late evenings, Sundays and Bank Holidays the service pattern might be different.

Map modified by me, original source & license: Metrophil44 / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 4.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tramlink_map_2016.png

Click map to see larger version in a new window! .

tram on sleeper tracks . tram on tarmac highway.
train and tram tracks . tram tracks embedded in paved road
Most of the Tramlink system operates on a private right of way separate from road traffic.
This Bombardier tram is approaching Arena tram stop.
. However there are locations where trams share road space with other traffic. This Stadler tram and diesel bus are on Addiscombe Road.
Clearly visible Tramlink destinations without route numbers. . Tramlink station real-time information display.
The Tramlink system no longer uses route numbers,
this view dates from March 2018.
. The 'next tram' real-time passenger display
at Wellesley Road tram stop.

For tourists a route which allows combining many different types of train in one day would be to take the DLR to Lewisham, a SouthEastern train (destination: Hayes) as far as Elmers End and then the tram. (If you are paying fares using in 'PAYG' mode remember to 'touch-in' at the tram card reader on the tram platform; this will automatically end your railway journey and charge you a tram fare. It is important that you use the correct Oyster card reader - as otherwise you will be travelling on the tram without having paid a fare).

To return to Central London travel on the tram to Wimbledon, where there is a wide choice of frequent trains back to Central London. (When changing from tram to train remember to 'touch-in' on a train Oyster card reader on platforms 1 - 4 or 9 before boarding the train; this applies to all trains from all railway operators).

Despite what the transport officials may say, life really is simpler with a paper 'One Day' Travelcard, as then you do not need to worry about touching in / out, failed card reads and the risk of being overcharged.

Tramlink tram and delivery driver in central Croydon. . Croydon Tramlink.
With good planning even street trams and delivery drivers can
coexist peaceably - see text below for more information.
. A Bombardier tram passes historic Surrey Street market.

(Additional text for the above image) In a world of busy streets and shops which do not have rear accesses delivery drivers need to be able to park close to their destinations. The row of yellow dots painted on the road surface which delineate the tram's swept path give 'white van' delivery drivers confidence that even when the kerbside loading bays are full and they have to park on double yellow line they are still not blocking the tramline.

The 'street tramway' part of the system starts on the Croydon side of Sandilands tram stop and extends over the full town centre loop plus a small distance on the Wimbledon route as far as the bridge over the railway. Lebanon Road tram stop is on a local transport only corridor used by trams, buses and other local traffic. The town centre loop is single track and mostly restricted to either to 'trams only' or trams and vehicles which need to deliver goods to local shops. Some of the loop is also pedestrianised. At some tram stops (eg: Wellesley Road) the passenger waiting area is also the footpath.

Tramlink tram and pedestrians in central Croydon. . Wellesley Road tram stop.
Where trams cross the pedestrian zone the pedestrians waste no time in crossing the tracks the very instant the tram has passed. . Wellesley Road tram stop is one of the tram stops located
along the town centre loop.
It is also one of the kerbside tram stops where the
'platform' is also the footpath.

The Wimbledon route includes single and double track sections, plus (just west of Merton Park tram stop) some interlaced / gauntlet track. On this route the best places to watch / photograph trams are between Ampere Way and Wandle Park. Being a former railway many sections of the route are not accessible, and its also worth remembering that with trams travelling at speeds of up to 50mph (80km/h) it is often not safe for people to be too near the tracks.

Apart from the tunnels midway between Sandilands and Lloyd Park tram stops, the New Addington route is entirely brand new and includes some pleasant rides through woodland. It is often possible to observe / photograph passing trams from a parallel road and from the many road and foot crossings across the track. One of several good places to watch passing trams from the trackside is the area around Coombe Lane tram stop. I've done this several times, and also walked deep into the woodland areas and enjoyed what is more akin to a remote countryside walk than being in a big city. Beyond Addington Village tram stop & bus interchange the trams run alongside Lodge Lane, but because the trams are to the west of the road so in the afternoon the sun's position may inhibit photography. Near King Henry's Walk the tramway passes through the middle of a roundabout and there is also a small single track section where the trams pass around a building which was there before the tramway was built. In France the New Addington route (especially) would have featured 'lawn' track which blends in harmoniously with the local area; as I understand it this was not done on Tramlink because the people who built the tramline had no previous experience of building tramlines which included lawn track. However what this also means is that it is relatively easy to follow the tram route if using online satellite imagery services - such as Google or Bing maps.

Most of the route from Sandilands to Elmers End is a former railway, although it has been heavily rebuilt with a former one-stop branch line (to Addiscombe) being closed and the former railway stations now being barely recognisable as such. Apart from road crossings the best place for lineside views are in the area around Arena tram stop, which includes the South Norwood Country Park. Although the route is operated on the normal road traffic 'line of sight' principle, restricted sightlines mean that the junction where the Elmers End and Beckenham Junction routes diverge is fully signalled.

British light rail / tramway / streetcar signalling. Signals controlling trams leaving Arena tram stop and travelling towards either the Elmers End or Beckenham Junction routes.

The upper signal advises tram drivers whether to 'stop' or 'go' whilst the lower signal tells them which route has been set, ie: left towards Beckenham Junction or continue ahead towards Elmers End.

The animation is of course 'speeded-up' - what are seen here as 10 second periods of apparent inactivity represents 5 - 10 minutes.

This image (along with another Tramlink signal animation) can be found on the citytransport.info website at this link:
Road Junctions, Level Crossings And Traffic Signal Priority ..

On the Beckenham Junction route much of the section beyond Birkbeck is alongside a little used 3rd rail electric railway branch, both railway and tramway are single track and the trams have some passing loops as well. Avenue Road tram stop is next to a bridge over the tracks where if you are fortunate you will be able to film a tram and a train in the same view (alas, my attempt was not successful, hence the composite photographic view). Note that because of mainline trains and their third rail electric power supply system there is a very strict prohibition against walking anywhere near the track; this is for safety reasons. Anyone who is foolish enough to contravene this regulation and manages to avoid being killed by electrocution / hit by a passing train and is caught by the police is likely to be prosecuted for trespassing on the railway.

tram and train route sharing. . Beckenham Lane tram stop.
The Beckenham Junction route includes a route-shared section alongside a little used 3rd rail electric railway. Both tramway and railway have their own bi-directional single tracks. This composite view was taken from the footbridge next to Avenue Road tram stop. . Bombardier and Stadler trams at Beckenham Junction,
this tram stop is near to the railway station.

Tram Fares

Although the two main railway stations in Croydon are in zone 5 the entire tramway system is a special fares zone and any prepaid Travelcard season ticket which is valid in zones 3, 4, 5 or 6 can be used on the trams. Travelcards for just zones 1 and 2 are NOT accepted on trams.

If you only wish to travel on the trams (and perhaps buses as well - but NOT trains) then using Oyster / Contactless bank cards / other compatible electronic payment devices in 'pay as you go' (PAYG) mode represents the cheapest way to pay fares.

Tram passengers who do not have Oyster cards and do not want to use other types of Contactless ticketing can also buy one-day Bus & Tram passes which cost £5.00. Although slightly more expensive than the daily fares cap (which is £4.50) these are ideal for passengers who are only in London for a day or two, who do not wish to use the railways and who want a physical souvenir of their visit. One Day Bus & Tram Passes can only be bought on the day of travel and are valid from 00:01 am and for any journey that starts before 04:30 am the next day.

There are two versions of the One Day Bus & Tram pass:

  1. Printed paper versions are sold by ticket machines at Underground and DLR stations. London Overground and most other National railway stations also sell the paper version although sometimes they have to be bought from staffed ticket offices and not ticket machines.
  2. Oyster smart card One Day Bus & Tram passes are sold at local retail shops (newsagents, etc.,) which are Oyster Ticket Stops and at Visitor Centres. These are special single use smart cards which cannot be used for anything else.

Tram passengers generally pay the same £1.50 flat fare as bus passengers, and passengers with smartphone apps, Contactless and Oyster cards should use the card readers on the tram stop platforms before boarding the tram. However, you must NOT use a card reader to 'touch-out' at the end of the journey.

Special rules apply at Elmers End and Wimbledon stations where the trams stop inside the railway stations' fares paid areas. See below.

To ensure that the correct fares are charged by the ticketing system ALL Passengers travelling TO Wimbledon station who are using smart card / Contactless device ticketing, no matter what type - ie: even if it is a Travelcard season ticket on an Oyster card or an Oyster card version of the Bus And Tram Pass - are supposed to 'touch-in' before boarding the tram.

Hopper Fares

Passengers interchanging between two trams (or a tram and a bus) benefit from the 70 minute Hopper system which allows additional tram (or bus) journeys to be started within 70 minutes of touching-in for the first journey. You must still 'touch-in' at the start of the free journey(s), but you will not be charged anything!

Important: The official Hopper fares promotional information quotes a time period of 60 minutes but to allow for clocks to be a few minutes inaccurate the system is set for 70 minutes.

Hopper Fares do not apply to the railways but the 70 minute rule still applies - even if you travel by train between your tram (or tram and bus) journeys.

Fares Capping

In addition to Hopper Fares tram passengers benefit from 'fares capping', which means that you will only be charged for any combination of tram and bus travel a maximum of three (3) times per day. In London daily fares capping is based upon a 'touch-in' to start a journey after 04:30 am and a 'touch-in' to start a journey before 04:29 am the next day.

Note 1: Because an Oyster card which has a negative PAYG balance is then blocked it must be topped-up and the negative balance cleared before it will allow any free Hopper journeys.

Note 2: Free travel and fares capping only work when you use the same Oyster or other Contactless payment card (or device) at all times.

If you are staying for five days (or more) then a weekly / longer season ticket might be worthwhile - note however that these can only be used with ordinary Oyster cards - not Visitor Oystercards or any type of Contactless device. Paper versions of weekly season tickets are available at Tramlink ticket machines.

Tramlink stops used to have ticket machines where passengers could buy tickets using cash. However these were withdrawn in July 2018.

There is a Tramlink information shop in George Street (near East Croydon railway station / on the other side of the road) which sells tickets and offers travel advice.

East Croydon Railway Tramlink station. . Croydon Tramlink Shop.
The largest stop on the Tramlink system is at East Croydon,
which has three platforms and is right outside East Croydon
mainline railway station. This was filmed at about 4:30pm / 16:30.
. A short walk from East Croydon station towards Croydon Town centre is the Tramlink information shop which offers travel advice and sells tickets.

Cheapest Fares From Central London Zone 1

The cheapest way to travel to Croydon from London Zone 1 is to travel via Wimbledon. This is because Wimbledon station is in Zone 3 and the maximum daily fare using pay-as-you-go (PAYG) ticketing on Oyster cards and Contactless cards and devices (in 2020) is £8.50. The cheapest single fares are on the District Line, but if you are going to reach the daily fares cap it does not matter which railway service you use! It is also possible to pay Zone 3 fares by travelling to Wimbledon by South Western Railway from London Waterloo station (and Southern from Victoria - but you must change to a South Western train at Clapham Junction). Be careful with the Thameslink trains that serve Wimbledon station as some of them travel via zones 4 and 5.

If you travel to Croydon via the train / tram interchanges at Mitcham Junction, Birkbeck, Beckenham Junction or Elmers End which are in Zone 4 then the maximum daily fare using PAYG ticketing (in 2020) is £10.40.

If you travel to either East Croydon or West Croydon stations then because these are in Zone 5 the maximum daily fare using PAYG ticketing (in 2020) is £12.30.

These fares apply all day - with daily price capping there is no extra charge if you travel in the rush hours.

If you buy one-day ride-at-will Zones 1-6 paper Travelcard tickets then you can travel via any route. Whilst these are the simplest tickets to use and afterwards make for nice souvenirs they are also the most expensive. Where available, Monday - Friday off-peak one-day Travelcards can be used after 9.30. For some zone combinations only the more expensive Daily Anytime one-day Travelcards are available (not off-peak). At weekends and bank / public holidays off-peak one-day Travelcards can be used all day.

BritRail / Eurail Passes

Visitors who have BritRail / Eurail Passes can also use these - they are valid on all National Rail routes in London (but NOT to Wimbledon via the District Line). For travelling on Tramlink either use PAYG or buy a Bus And Tram Pass.

Elmers End station tram and train . Tramlink trams in new and old livery
Elmers End is one of several stations where the trams stop within the railway fares paid area. This view shows a Bombardier tram in the single terminus platform and a northbound SouthEastern Class 465 train. . When Tramlink first opened its trams were painted in a red and white livery similar to that used by the first generation tram system which closed in 1952.
This location is close to Reeves Corner tram stop. The tram in the new livery had stopped to wait for the other tram to cross the single track Wandle flyover.
Mitcham Junction station tram and train . Wimbledon station tram and trains.
Bombardier tram and Thameslink Class 700 train at Mitcham Junction.
This station is also served by other types of train which are operated by Southern.
. Different card readers 'back to back' on platforms 9 / 10 at Wimbledon station. Also seen are a Bombardier tram at platform 10a and one of the Class 455 trains (in SWR livery) which includes a Class 508 carriage that was retained in London when the Class 508 trains were sent to Merseyrail (Liverpool area).

Special Information For Using Smart Card Ticketing (Oyster / Contactless / Other Device) In PAYG Mode At Wimbledon Station
* To reduce the risk of complications these rules should also be followed if you have an Oystercard with a Day Anytime, Day Off-peak or 7 Day Anytime Travelcard
* If you arrive here by any of the train services and are planning to depart on the tram you must 'touch-in' using a TRAM card reader on tram platform No.10, as otherwise you will end up being financially penalised for not 'touching-out' at the end of your train journey AND be travelling on the tram without having paid your fare.
* If you arrive here by tram and are continuing your journey by either the Underground or any National Rail (mainline) service then you must 'touch-in' on one of the railway card readers - ideally on Thameslink platform 9 which is next to the trams but you can also use a yellow card reader on District Line platforms 1 - 4. Important: Only yellow card readers should be used at platforms 1-4, NOT pink card readers. Otherwise you will be travelling on the train without a valid ticket and when you 'touch-out' at your ultimate destination station you will be financially penalised.
* Passengers who enter Wimbledon station from the street and are intending to travel on the tram must also 'touch-in' again on one of the tram card readers located on tram platform No.10. Otherwise the system will treat you as if you are travelling by one of the other railways and you will be financially penalised.
* Whilst it is usually possible to reclaim the excess charges from the Oyster helpline the process is a hassle.
* If you are using paper One Day Travelcards then you can ignore all these ticketing complications and just travel in the normal way!
* If you are using a One Day Bus and Tram pass then you must not travel on the trains.

Special Information For Using Smart Card Ticketing (Oyster / Contactless / Other Device) In PAYG Mode At Elmers End Station
* To reduce the risk of complications these rules should also be followed if you have an Oystercard with a Day Anytime, Day Off-peak or 7 Day Anytime Travelcard
* Elmers End does not have electronic gates so life is a little easier.
* If you arrive here by tram and are leaving the station then do not use any card readers, do NOT 'touch-out'.
* If you arrive here by tram and are continuing your journey by train then you must 'touch-in' on one of the train card readers. Otherwise you will be travelling on the train without a valid ticket and when you 'touch-out' at your ultimate destination station you will be financially penalised.
* Passengers who enter Elmers End station from the street and are intending to travel on the tram must 'touch-in' on a TRAM card reader located on the tram platform
* Passengers who enter Elmers End station from the street and are intending to travel on a train must 'touch-in' on a train card reader. as otherwise when you 'touch-out' at your destination station you will also be financially penalised
* If you use the wrong card readers you will be travelling without a valid ticket and will end up being financially penalised / charged a railway maximum fare. This will be expensive!
* If you are using paper One Day Travelcards then you can ignore all these ticketing complications and just travel in the normal way!
* If you are using a One Day Bus and Tram pass you must not travel on the trains.

Additional reading: .

West Croydon Railway Tramlink station side entrance. . Croydon Tramlink.
The town centre loop passes by West Croydon railway station
- this image shows the station's side entrance.
. Being electrically powered means that trams are good for
the urban environment.
A Bombardier tram passes an air pollution monitoring facility.
Interlaced track. . Sandilands Croydon Tramlink.
Interlaced tracks under a narrow road bridge.
This is near Merton Park tram stop.
This Bombardier tram is travelling from Wimbledon
to New Addington via Croydon town centre.
. This section of tramway alongside Addiscombe Road was originally supposed to use lawn tracks, but the people who built the tramway wanted the tracks to be paved. In the distance is Sandilands tram and bus stop with a Bombardier tram travelling towards Elmers End.
Two examples from overseas showing something that Tramlink lacks.

Lawn / grassed trackage is a visually attractive feature which helps the tramway visually blend into the landscape - especially when the tracks are alongside existing parkland. Where required privet hedges act as a safety barrier discouraging people from walking over the tracks. In Europe many tramways include lawn trackage - especially on new-build tramways.

Lawn trackage was included in Tramlink's design brief, but because the British Government's regulations give the company which builds tramways much control over how the construction project is achieved so it was possible for this to be omitted from the final design.

More images showing lawn track and other similar ideas for overhead wire support poles can be found on this page at the citytransport.info website:
Lawn Track - Creating Green Corridors. .

Lawn tram track flanked by privet hedges. A lawn with the swept path of light rail / tram / streetcar track delineated by flowering plants.
Lawn trackage flanked by privet hedges
on route 8 in Basle, Switzerland.
A variant of lawn trackage which comprises low-level flowering
plants around the tracks, designed to help delineate the swept
path of the tramway in Zwickau, (south eastern) Germany.

Tramlink is also looked at in the Wimbledon station section of the page about busier stations in zones 1-4.

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This page last updated 8th March 2020
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