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Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

But as catchy as that tune is, it’s probably not going to be appropriate in London anytime soon. First some context. You’re probably wondering why we’re harping on about monorails in the first place. A story started doing the rounds recently that Havering — yes, that far flung part of east London that most people think is Essex — might be getting a monorail.

Like most outer London boroughs, Havering suffers from a particular connectivity issue: inter-borough travel. Travelling between one part of the borough and another isn’t too difficult if they’re both on the same line — such as the District line or the c2c — heading into central London. But deviating from that line causes issues. This problem leads to Havering having London’s highest level of car ownership.

At the Thames Estuary Development Conference, the chief executive of Havering Council, Andrew Blake-Herbert, said that the borough is looking at ways to tackle this issue. One such way: monorail.

A possible route for the supposed monorail

Firstly, we need to say what’s on everyone’s mind. How awesome does this sound! Monorails are objectively the most glee-inducing form of mass transit. Sleek cars suspended on a single track through the sky — it’s what everyone thought the future would look like back in the 60s. Now it’s time to burst that bubble. This isn’t going to happen.

Some form of light rail might eventually come to Havering and link up different parts of the borough. It just won’t be a monorail. See, there’s a reason that monorails aren’t in vogue today. It’s the same rationale that led to Sydney demolish its monorail in 2013. Monorails don’t make much sense today.

Firstly they’re really expensive — you need to build a continuous elevated track for it to run on. Secondly, the mono part of monorail causes a lot of issues — if something goes wrong with that solo rail, the whole system fails. Most of what you want to achieve with a monorail can be done with either trams, light railways or buses at a far cheaper rate. In times when council budgets are repeatedly slashed, and proposed railway extensions are frequently cancelled due to costs, no one will be willing to stump up money for a monorail just because it looks cool.

A scheme from the 1960s wanted to bring a monorail to Regent Street.

We asked Havering Council about the scheme and the leader of the council, councillor Damian White, said:

Havering is currently undertaking high level feasibility work looking at the potential for a north-south public transport connection within the borough. The link would connect the two emerging Housing Zones in Rainham and Beam Park with Romford as well as provide connections further north to Collier Row and Harold Hill.

Part of the work to be commissioned this year will examine the financial viability of such a link, the potential for a new public transport connection to generate investment, and further growth and jobs in the borough.

That’s about as non-committal to the idea of a monorail as it can be. Whether a tram or different form of connection between the north and the south of the borough comes to fruition isn’t guaranteed. But if it does happen, it won’t be a monorail.

Oh and because it’s probably stuck in your head, here’s the monorail song from that Simpsons episode below.

If you have any monorail inflected thoughts, let us know in the comments below.

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