I’d imagine that it’s a truism accepted by all that the less notable a celebrity is, the more important they think they are. Thus we have the story of Sarah Harding and her speeding ban. Having engaged the services of the noted solicitor Nick Freeman (aka “Mr Loophole”) when she came up before a magistrate charged with using her mobile phone while driving, the argument put forward by her solicitor was that:
Becase she is high profile she would find it impossible to use public transport because of the attention she would attract
Fortunately, the judge recognised this for the total bollocks that it is, and gave her three points on her driving licence, which, given that she already had nine (as a result of various speeding convictions), means she is now banned from driving for six months:
Mr Freeman is asking the court to deal with you as opposed to a normal person. Well you are a normal person. I can see no reason why you shouldn’t be disqualified.
District Judge Nina Tempia
The judge went on to say that she was not suggesting that Harding use “public transport”, as she could quite easily engage a driver, as another part of the argument was the need of a car for her work, and the fact that her mother lives in Stockport. The fact that she doesn’t do an ordinary job that makes public transport convenient I can understand, and therefore engaging a driver is of use. I go back to the fact that Daryl Morgan stopped using the train to get to work because of the nature of her hours. However, there will be instances where using the train is perfectly acceptable, and the only reason that a person will not countenance that is because they are “too famous”. Of course, the vast majority of us that have to travel by train, tube or whatever recognise that sort of attitude for what it is, hence the ridicule Geri Halliwell opened herself to when, having made her first journey on the Tube in nearly two decades, she decided it was the dog’s bollocks and would share her newfound wisdom on commuting with the world. Intercity trains have first class carriages, which are rarely full, and allow the “celebrity” to be a little more anonymous. After all, if it’s good enough for the Queen, it’s good enough for someone who, frankly, isn’t even the most famous person in her (now defunct) band.
Not one, but two branch line journeys today then, as I took the opportunity (which I wouldn’t usually have the chance to do, somewhat surprisingly) to catch a train from Surrey Quays to New Cross. This is what I was talking about when I discussed my thoughts on the three types of branch line, because the New Cross branch is unquestionably part of London Overground’s main East London Line service, in spite of it being a stub off the main line that runs through New Cross Gate. The line itself was opened over a decade after the initial opening of the East London Railway as a means of connecting the South Eastern Railway to the burgeoning railway network that the East London provided. This was of course in the days when connections between the various railway companies were more in place, and the East London Line was a significant route through London both for passengers and freight. Indeed, a connection existed at New Cross between the East London Line and the South Eastern Main Line until 1968, having been taken out of service two years earlier. It was this that reduced the ELL to the stub that I knew well, until the advent of London Overground and the return of it to a main line railway. And it’s this that has often led me to question the point of the branch to New Cross. Trains on it run to Dalston Junction, rather than all the way to Highbury & Islington. However, on this brand new main line route, I’ve still not been able to fathom why the short stub to New Cross was retained, given that London Overground calls at New Cross Gate. I understand that restoring the connection to the SEML would be expensive and difficult, but I would have thought, given that Boris Johnson has publically declared his desire to bring more of London’s suburban rail services under TfL’s umbrella, some kind of plan would be drawn up to restore a connection that would allow trains to travel via the ELL to points south of New Cross into Kent. Oh well.
Yes, I know what you’re going to say. “How can you say this is a branch line?” I know, I know. However, it is a teeny tiny stub line that you need to change in order to reach. It is a freaky little route too, entirely a commuter route getting people travelling from the areas served by Waterloo into The City; a five minute shuttle backwards and forwards between Waterloo and Bank. I’ve had a mind to include the Waterloo & City on my little branch line list of travels for a while and so, what with it yet again being a Saturday free of football, combined with the presence of HMS Westminster in the Pool of London (I always head up to take photos when warships visit the capital) meant a chance to do a little journey on the Underground’s shortest line.
Normally at this point I might well go into some history, or some specifics about the route in question. However, I thought I’d leave that to a little piece I did in 2011…
There’s no doubt of the importance of the Waterloo & City as a direct route into the heart of the major financial area of London. On the flip side, there’s also no doubt that any improvement to it would be inordinately disruptive, given that it is completely isolated…and I do mean completely, as it has no connection to the railway network at all. With its on-site depot capable of undertaking most of the maintenance tasks, if there is any need for heavy work to be done on its little fleet of ten 2-car units, then they need to be lifted out by crane. Seriously. The best that could be done is to improve the signalling so that more trains are capable of running. Even then though, that would be difficult given the short run and quick turnaround time of the service.
I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of branch line.
- The genuine stub, with a shuttle service connecting to a transfer point to the main line.
- The peak time only service, where a branch nominally operates a shuttle, except at peak times when it runs to the main line
- A short branch off the main line operated as part of the main service
It so happens that I live on the latter, and I may well include that at a later date. However, my first look at one of these occurs not in the great metropolis that is our nation’s capital, but rather in that city that I’ve come to know quite well over the last few years, namely Nottingham. The NET network, for those of you that do not know, currently runs from Station Street, adjacent to Nottingham station, along a single route through the city, branching at Highbury Vale - the main line continues on to Hucknall, while there is a short, two stop branch that terminates at Phoenix Park. This serves two residential areas, namely Highbury Vale and Cinderhill, plus Phoenix Business Park, an industrial and employment area which also contains a park and ride, for which the tram is an integral part, lying as it does at junction 26 of the M1. As Highbury Vale is the branching point of the network, it is, as you might expect, fairly substantial, having four platforms serving the two routes. The Phoenix Park route though truncates down to single track as soon as it leaves Highbury Vale, with the next stop, Cinderhill, having a single, bi-directional platform. As it is in a cutting though, it does have the most marvellous disabled access ramp snaking its way from the entrance on the road bridge above, down through nicely manicured planters, to the platform itself – this gives it more of a railway station feel. Finally, having emerged from the cutting the route comes to Phoenix Park itself, set adjacent to Millenium Way and the car park with space for around 600 vehicles.
While I travel on the NET network on a regular basis, I rarely have need to go much further than the outskirts of the city centre. Indeed, this was my first trip to Phoenix Park, having wondered what it was like – names can be full of mysterious promise when you know nothing about what the places are like. Having now been to Phoenix Park, first of all it really ain’t all that, clearly, as it is an employment area. There are many office buildings, and many light industrial units all around, with little in the way of amenity, at least as far as I could see, what with it being next to a motorway. This led me to wonder whether it was necessary to run there directly all day. Trams run to and from Phoenix Park roughly every ten minutes for most of the day during the week, which seems somewhat excessive. I went there at lunchtime and there were very few people getting on and off at the terminus. Cinderhill is a little different as it serves a residential area which doesn’t seem to have a huge amount in the way of residential needs (i.e. retail, leisure), which would make connection to the tram important. But even then, running an all day service is, it seems to me, slightly excessive. Given that Highbury Vale has two platforms, I considered the idea of perhaps having an off-peak service of one through tram in each direction per hour, to ensure that the fleet gets a work out through the entire network, with the rest of the trams heading to Phoenix Park terminated at Highbury Vale, and a shuttle connecting with them from the terminus. This would maintain the service for people needing to get to Cinderhill and Phoenix Park, and could be increased to a through service in peak time. It would certainly be useful to see if data on passenger numbers could be gathered, which may be possible once NET introduces its new ticketing system as part of its Phase 2 project.
Another FA Cup weekend, another day of no football, another chance to take a trip on a branch line, and one that I’ve found (fortunately) that I can use my Oystercard on (hurrah). I said the last time I did a branch line journey that the Mill Hill East branch was the only remaining short shuttle service left on the Underground, which is both true and misleading. While the Mill Hill service is the only remaining every day shuttle service, on the District Line the service between Kensington Olympia and High Street Kensington was reduced to a primarily weekend service only in 2011. Again, unlike Mill Hill, the three trains per hour service is understandable given the route that the service takes. Although it is only three stops, the intermediate one is Earls Court, which just happens to be the crux of the entire District Line, with every single service passing through, meaning that, although it is a metro service, any more than the three would impact on services onto the core of the District.
The Olympia service utilises the District’s main rolling stock, the D78 Stock, which is one reason why the service is a shuttle running three stops, instead of carrying on past High Street Kensington, as somewhat famously the stations on the branch to Edgware Road have platforms that aren’t long enough for the D78, which is why Wimbledon-Edgware Road trains use the C69/77, and why there are two terminal platforms at High Street Kensington. This raises the question of what would happen once the S7 Stock fully enters service – the Olympia shuttle was reduced from all day to weekend only because it took up slots that London Underground felt could be better used on services to Wimbledon, which is the most used part of the District Line. The decision caused controversy, particularly from disabled groups in West London who regularly used the service (which is step free from the entrance at Olympia) to get onto the Underground network. Once the new trains, which will be standard on all the sub-surface lines, are introduced, is there anything to stop some of the Edgware Road-Wimbledon trains (currently 6tph) being transferred to Olympia to create a new Olympia-Edgware Road service? Which may well be more useful.
Supporting a Premier League team means that, if you get knocked out of the FA Cup, you have free weekends during the early rounds, of which today was an example. So once again I made a decision to head off on a journey along a branch line. However, unlike my two previous ones on the Romford to Upminster and Bromley North lines, this one was not a National Rail line but rather one on the London Underground, indeed, the only remaining short branch shuttle service left on the Underground network, running between Finchley Central and Mill Hill East. This is an interesting little stub that used to be part of the main service on the Northern Line until 2006, when the service outside of peak hours was altered to a shuttle service (during peak hours trains run through to Central London). Of course, it would have been an awful lot easier for me to actually get to Finchley Central had the Northern Line been running – the bane of weekend travellers’ lives in London is engineering work that closes large parts of the network, and in this case it was virtually the entire central sections of both branches of the Northern Line, leading to replacement buses. Even though I know the work needs doing, it doesn’t make it any less irksome. Oh well, I eventually managed to get to where I needed to be to get the train I wanted to get. However, I was surprised at the fact that it was twelve minutes until the next train to Mill Hill East when I arrived at Finchley Central, given that the line is short (end to end takes around three minutes) with no intermediate stations, and that it is on a metro route. What with it being a Saturday too, the number of people using the service meant that the 1995 Stock train was of course far too big. Unlike National Rail branch lines of course, the trains used aren’t small units that, when used on longer or more intensively used routes can be coupled together.
The Mill Hill service is the last short shuttle service on the Underground, now that the replacement of rolling stock on the Metropolitan Line has led to Chesham gaining a full service to London. Given the capacity issues on the Northern Line, it seems likely that there would not be a full time restoration of a service through the centre of London, which is fair enough, as Mill Hill East is the quietest station on the Northern Line. Of course, you could suggest replacing the trains used on this with something a little more appropriate for a short branch service. But, unlike the other branches I’ve travelled on, this branch not only has a direct, albeit peak time, service to Central London, but also there is very little space to stable and maintain separate trains – the junction is almost right on top of Finchley Central, while the platform used by Mill Hill trains is also used by trains that terminate at Finchley Central from the south.
I seem to have run out of branches that I can get to using my Oystercard, at least until the service on the Greenford Branch is altered with the opening of Crossrail. So, wherever I end up going next will mean a trip outside London.
The Evening Standard is well know for being a cheerleader for London, as you might expect, what with it being London’s major local newspaper. This week, the paper hosted a debate on how, following the city’s fantastic year in 2012, London could be made even better. This debate naturally had a number of “talking heads” (or what the paper described as “great and good Londoners”), whose opinion on most areas is pretty much worth precisely dick. However, the paper also asked its readers for their ideas about how to make the city better, a brief selection of which were published this past Wednesday. One of these in particular caught my eye:
West End Tram
To improve the environment and reduce air pollution, particularly in Central London, I would suggest a tram or trolleybus scheme in a circular route that encompasses Oxford Street, Regent Street, Piccadilly and Park Lane. No other motorised traffic would be allowed. This initial route could be extended to radiate out in all directions to serve the suburbs
One has to admire the idea certainly, and it would do much to improve the environment (and I’m not just talking in “green” terms) in that section of the West End. The problem comes from the fact that putting a tram route in would be fifty shades of disruption for a hell of a long time. In case you’ve not noticed, when it comes to major infrastructure work, if it can’t be completed in five minutes then people in London have a tendency to start moaning, likely because they don’t have the foresight to see how it will benefit them individually. For a good modern example of this, see how much everyone moans about the Crossrail work. And Crossrail is only in specific locations where big holes have to be dug, and thus routes can be relatively easily diverted. Installing a set of tramlines in a big loop that takes in two of the busiest retail streets in the country, not to mention two of the most salubrious addresses in London, would bring about a fuss of biblical proportions, for an example of which you can look at the Edinburgh fiasco. I’ve spoken before about Ken Livingstone’s proposal for an Oxford Street tram route, and all of the difficulties that would entail – extending it in this fashion would be several orders of magnitude more difficult. A trolleybus scheme would probably be less disruptive, as it would just be the wires that would go up, rather than wires and running lines. Leeds is planning a new trolleybus system in its city centre, so it will be interesting to see how disruptive that work is, especially compared with the tram work in the centre of Edinburgh. Of course, this is all moot, as it is unlikely any kind of self-contained West End tram would ever be sanctioned. More’s the pity.
The commissioning of the South London Line as the final part of London Overground’s ”Outer Circle” has been met with widespread rejoicing, completing as it does the original initial plan that Chairman Ken had when he first got hold of rail services in London. Boris Johnson has been hailing the new link and, unquestionably, it is a useful addition to the rail network, connecting as it does areas of the city that previously one would have had to go through the centre to reach, while also improving the service frequency in areas that have been underserved in the past. However, in the two weeks that the new link has been open, I have started to notice something. The new SLL service runs from Clapham Junction to Highbury & Islington; once it leaves Queen’s Road Peckham, it runs along a new link to the East London Line, where it joins the trains running from New Cross, Crystal Palace and West Croydon; this makes a total of 16 trains per hour running through the central section. However, the stations on the central section remain much the same as they were during the ELL’s former life as a stub tube line; for example, Canada Water, where the route interchanges with the Jubilee Line, retains just one escalator down on the northbound platform, a legacy of the days when its annual ridership was around 9m (the last year it was open as an Underground line was 2007). In its first year of operation after conversion (May 2010-May 2011), ridership was almost double that to around 16m, and the numbers are only going up. The addition of another four trains every hour from Clapham Junction will see to that. What we have been getting, at Canada Water certainly, is passengers from one train still trying to get down the single escalator to the Jubilee Line when the next train (also full) arrives. That has been bad enough, and is ten times worse if there are problems on the Jubilee Line. But now though we have had trains having to stop on the approach to Surrey Quays to allow trains in the platforms ahead to clear. This could suggest that 16 trains per hour through the Thames Tunnel may be overreaching the capacity of the infrastructure as it is at the moment, and that some stations, most notably those ones that interchange with the Underground, could well need some significant reconstruction to improve passenger flow if the best is to be obtained out of the route.
Once again a lack of Saturday football, combined with some things that needed doing, led to me heading off on a random rail journey or several. You may recall a few weeks ago I decided to take a trip on the Romford to Upminster line. Well today I thought that, as I needed to go to the bank, and Bromley is as good a place as any to find one, that I would combine this with a trip on the Bromley North line. As it happens, this is more convenient for me to use to get to Bromley, as trains from New Cross don’t go to the town’s main station, Bromley South. That being said though, I did take three trains to get the four stops from New Cross to the line’s northern terminus at Grove Park, though that was due more to my own impatience than anything else. Why wait 20 minutes for a train that will take you to your destination, when you can jump on the train already there that will take you one stop further on? Anyway – just like the Romford line, the Bromley North line is a short branch with just a single intermediate station. Unlike the Romford line, it doesn’t connect two major points. Grove Park is on the South Eastern Main Line, from where trains to London can be picked up – the dedicated platform for the Bromley North line though is physically separated from the remainder of the station (again, much like Romford), with access via a long footbridge from the station’s entrance. The service is a shuttle, trundling back and forth every twenty minutes, although this route is double track throughout. Three minutes after leaving Grove Park, the train arrives at the intermediate station, Sundridge Park. Getting out here shows that it serves a residential area with a high street running through the centre of many streets of houses. The station though is more than a mere halt, as it has its own ticket office, as well as a pair of long platforms. This is because the line has in the past had a direct service to London, and so is fitted to operate trains longer than the two car Class 466s that run the service. This can be seen even more so at Bromley North, another two minutes down the line and the southern terminus (making a five minute end to end running time), where the train is dwarfed by the length of the platforms. This was the first time I’ve been there (having been to Bromley South more times than I care to think about), and the spectacle of it surprised me – it is a marvellously neat little two platform terminus that looks like it should be far busier than it is with the shuttle service.
Unlike other lightly used lines, this line doesn’t seem to have been threatened by Beeching. The fact that it connects one of London’s major suburbs to the main line, which means that it will likely be well used during peak times, would insulate it against any potential threat based on usage. That being said, cost cutting measures have in the past been proposed – the fact that it is a shuttle meant that it was looked at being singled, not by lifting one of the running lines, but converting one to allow preserved London Underground rolling stock to operate on it, turning the line into a potential filming location (always a good source of extra revenue for the railways). Even so, the line was still quite busy, even on a Saturday when I used it; the two-car train was not full certainly, and for the shuttle service is more than adequate. Still, many seats were occupied, and a lot of people did get off at Sundridge Park. Of course, it still means that a Class 466 is still occupied in operating the service, which could be used elsewhere, and so is another one of those types of service where conversion to a PPM type light rail service.
Clearly my second branch line journey does make it a series. More to come.