The great showpiece of English football, the FA Cup Final, will this year feature Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, two teams that are (in case you hadn’t noticed) from the north-west. Following on from last year, the game will kick-off at 5.15pm rather than the traditional 3.00pm. Last year, because the game was scheduled for a league weekend, this was to ensure that it was not “devalued” by having it played at the same time as all of the league fixtures (though having it on a league weekend devalues it anyway). This year, all of the Premier League fixtures have been moved to the following day (Sunday), which means that there is no reason for the game to be at 5.15pm, as there will be no other major fixtures. Yet the Football Association have done it. And what this means is that, because the last direct train from Euston to Wigan North Western leaves at 20.31, a lot of fans may well have to leave early to avoid getting stuck in London. Indeed, the last train to Manchester Piccadilly leaves at 21.00, which will probably make it quite tight for the City fans too. There was some significant outcry, especially from the Wigan fans – their semi-final (also played at Wembley) also kicked-off at 5.15pm. The FA’s rationale for scheduling the game at this time goes as follows:
…only a minimal amount of fans (used) trains and that the kick-off time gave more
people an opportunity to see the game and proved very popular last season…
For “giving more people an opportunity to watch the game” read “giving more people an opportunity to watch it on the telly”, and that means not people here, but overseas markets. Which is the FA prostrating itself in worship at the altar of the almighty television dollar and losing sight again and again of the most important person in football – the fan who chooses week in and week out to fork over his or her money and go to see the team. Not wanting to sound big headed, but I am the most important person in football, because that is what I do; me and everyone like me (and I know that Wolmar can be included in this, given he follows QPR around almost as much as I follow West Ham) that follows their team around; that goes to home games in all weathers; that schleps to far-flung outposts. As for the argument that “only a minimal amount of fans use the train”, what has that got to do with it? Why should people that choose the railway be penalised simply because it runs to a timetable? It’s a more civilised way of travelling than by road in any case. Wigan Council have waded into the argument by asking Virgin Trains if they can put extra services on later in the evening, which Virgin have said would be “operationally very difficult”, understandable given the timetable that already exists on the WCML. What I would say is that the clubs, plus Wigan Council should try Network Rail and see whether specials can be chartered that take advantage of other routes. And, for everyone to put pressure on the FA to ensure that the Cup Final is restored to its right and proper 3 o’clock time from now on.
I’ve made no secret of my dislike for Euston station; I believe it is the worst kind of 1960s eyesore, a bland box of concrete that bears no comparison to its Italianate and Gothic Revial neighbours, and can’t even at best be described as an example of Brutalism. As a gateway to London it does not serve up the necessary inspiration that St Pancras does, and I was therefore delighted when it became apparent that it would be replaced by something new, light and airy as part of the HS2 project. Imagine my disappointment then to learn today that the plans have been scaled back – there will now be no total rebuild of Euston, with instead what amounts to another station built for the platforms that will connect to the high speed line, which will then be connected to the existing station (much as was done with the building of Waterloo International). Of course, the complete rebuilding of the station from the ground up would have caused immense disruption for an awfully long time to what is, after all, one of the capital’s major transport hubs. Doing this will no doubt save money on the project, and it will still include a new ticket hall for the tube station, as well as a direct underground pedestrian link to Euston Square. But it still disappoints me that the full work won’t now go ahead, ditching the opportunity to create something nice in its place.
Once again, I paid note of an interesting story in the Evening Standard yesterday (all of the interesting stuff I have seen recently seems to come from there). Hounslow Council have written to Boris Johnson asking the Mayor to try and persuade Heathrow Express to integrate its fares into TfL’s fare structure, and to allow passengers to use Travelcards and Oyster on the service. The rationale for this is that it would improve traffic congestion and pollution by getting more people to travel to the airport by train. As it stands, the cheapest standard fare for the Heathrow Express is £20.00, while bringing it under TfL’s prices would reduce this to a mere £5.50. Heathrow Airport’s argument is that it is a non-stop, fast (15 minutes end to end), premium service intended primarily for air passengers, and that there are already two other rail services from London for local residents and people that work at the airport (Heathrow Connect and the Piccadilly Line), while the Mayor states that he has no control over Heathrow Express’s pricing as it falls outside his purview, being as it is an open access operator outside the framework of the National Rail network.
The argument put forward by Heathrow is entirely valid – the intention of Heathrow Express is to allow air passengers primarily to get to the airport with a minimum of fuss, as passengers can actually check-in at Paddington before they get on the train. While people that work at Heathrow can get a discount to use the service, Heathrow Connect was originally set up to offer workers and local residents a cheaper alternative to get to the airport, even if it is now being actively marketed as a cheaper alternative for passengers as well. However, Heathrow Connect is planned to be absorbed into Crossrail once it starts running its full service, which got me thinking along one thread. Although the full Crossrail through route is not due to start for another six years, the Crossrail operation will actually begin in 2015, when TfL takes over the operation of stopping services between Liverpool Street and Shenfield. In 2016, it is then planned to transfer services to Maidenhead and Heathrow from Paddington. However, given the “difficulties” with the establishment of new franchises, with the Greater Western one of those due for renewal, would not an idea be for TfL to step in now and take on Heathrow Connect directly. As it stands, there remain significantly more expensive fares on this service for the journey between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow Central than for the rest of the route. Allowing Oyster to be used, and pulling it into the TfL price banding by immediately making it part of the Crossrail concession (like the “Shenfield Metro”) would seem to me to be a logical way of improving the rail connection straight away. Then of course there is Wandsworth Council’s proposal to resurrect in part the aborted Heathrow Airtrack scheme, to provide a connection into the nascent but currently unused west facing platforms at Heathrow Terminal 5, intended to provide an alternative connection into the airport from the south, which would likely reduce numbers of passengers using the services out of Paddington, making it easier for the local residents Hounslow wants to put on the train to actually use the train.
My philosophy when it comes to rail travel is “you pay for time”. If I need to get to Birmingham in a hurry, then I’ll fork out the exhorbitant prices that Virgin Trains charge and go from Euston. If I can take my time, then I’ll get a much cheaper ticket from Chiltern Railways and get the train from Marylebone. Similarly, there will always be people who want to go fast, and who are happy to pay a premium price, and people who aren’t quite so fussed about getting there quickly. For me, I’ll happily take the tube if I need to get to Heathrow, but I’m not going to begrudge people that want both the speed and the level of service you get on the Heathrow Express. In any case, there is a difference between Heathrow Express and Gatwick Express, which does operate through trains for commuters now in addition to its fast, non-stop service between Gatwick Airport and Victoria - Gatwick is a major stop on the Brighton Main Line, while Heathrow is a stub branch to a terminus; the only commuters to and from Heathrow are the people that actually work there. In any case, are there many local people that will want to go non-stop between Heathrow and Paddington?
There was a story in yesterday’s Evening Standard that made me chuckle on the way home. The Primrose Hill Business Centre is a complex that offers accomodation and service provision for businesses, located in Camden. In fact, the two buildings that it occupies are located right next to Camden Carriage Sidings, off the West Coast Main Line, a location that is used by London Midland for stabling purposes during off-peak hours. Frank Carson, the owner of the centre (yes, seriously, Frank Carson, but not that one) has complained that the presence of trains so close to his building means his tenants are denied natural light, as some of the offices in the centre are a mere ten feet from the line side. The manager of one of the businesses that use the centre, Companions of London, also believes the presence of trains so close to his office affects the phones and internet connection. It seems that London Midland, while sympathetic, can’t do anything, given that the sidings, which were originally used for cleaning trains, received a major DfT funded upgrade in 2010 so that they could serve as a stabling point for peak time services. Now, I would have thought that, given that the upgrade would have involved some significant work, local stakeholders would have had a chance to make their objections clear at the time. And perhaps Mr Carson and his tenants did. The fact that the work went ahead perhaps shows the importance of the project in the wider scheme of things. Mr Carson is seemingly considering legal action against London Midland; why didn’t he take legal action in the first place to try and stop the work? I’d venture a supposition that he had no objection when the work was done, and is only raising a stink now because he’s had to lower the rent he can charge his tenants due to the natural light issue. As to affecting the phones and internet, rather than speculating as to that, would it not be better to actually investigate whether there is a problem with the connections due to the presence of so many Desiros parked outside? All in all, as the late Hugh Francis Carson might have said, “it’s a cracker”.
Ah, the derby. It is completely alien to me what it’s like supporting a team from a one club city, given that it’s a rarity that the Premier League has less than five clubs from London in it. As a consequence, when you support a London club it ends up as derby after derby, with the occasional visit from a team from the north-west. Well, this is the last of my away trips in the nation’s capital for this year, and the one that, were it a midweek game, would not even entail a rail journey to get to the ground, given that in my day job I work not ten minutes walk from Chelsea.
Date: 17th March 2013
Stadium: Stamford Bridge
Away Section: Shed End
Score: Chelsea 2-0 West Ham United
Nearest station: Fulham Broadway
Local rozzers: Metropolitan Police
Total Travel Cost: £4.80p (2 x Oystercard extension, 1 x Oyster Tram single)
13:39 – Lewisham to London Victoria (Southeastern Class 465 Networker)
14:36 – London Victoria to Clapham Junction (Southern Class 377 Electrostar)
14:46 – Clapham Junction to West Brompton (London Overground Class 378 Capitalstar)
District Line – West Brompton to Fulham Broadway (D78 Stock)
District Line – Fulham Broadway to Wimbledon (D78 Stock)
Route 3 – Wimbledon to East Croydon (CR4000 Flexity Swift)
18:47 – East Croydon to London Bridge (Southern Class 377 Electrostar)
19:27 – London Bridge to New Cross (Southeastern Class 465 Networker)
Station to Stadium: The area around Stamford Bridge could be described in part as one of the more affluent locations to host a football club, which is why Fulham Broadway station has an upmarket shopping centre with a cinema, several eateries and a gym/fitness centre over it. Of course, in order to avoid the centre being swamped with a load of plebby football fans on matchdays, there are now separate entrance/exit routes off the platforms, which bring you out behind the centre with a direct walk onto the Fulham Road. Then it’s simply a case of turning left and finding the right entrance, as, like other grounds I’ve been to, this one opens out in one direction. For the away fan, the entrance is the one on the east side of the ground, next to the two hotels that Chelsea decided were a better idea than a larger ground to build.
Anything else?: Heading south from West Brompton, the Wimbledon branch of the District Line runs along the north side of Stamford Bridge to call at Fulham Broadway, while the West London Line runs along the east side to Imperial Wharf, effectively hemming the stadium in and making any expansion difficult, hence the reason for Chelsea’s bid for Battersea Power Station.
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.
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.
Now never let it be said that I don’t love my Mum. In fact I love her more than I love chops and sauce. But there are times, usually involving a train journey, that tend to leave me rolling my eyes silently skyward. Today, West Ham were at home to Swansea City, and circumstances dictated the journey to Upton Park be taken by train. Unfortunately, the District Line and Hammersmith & City Line were both suspended through central London, with all trains terminating at Bromley-by-Bow. Of course this is irritating – even I feel annoyance, and I am aware of the need to continue the engineering work that is being done. But there is a limit to the level of…let’s not make too many bones about it…wingeing that I had to listen to. Admittedly the fact that half of the westbound District Line trains were being terminated at West Ham, but the staff on the platform there were singularly lacking in passing this information on, would cause anyone irritation. But standing in the cold (and believe me it was cold) waiting for the gates to be opened at the entrance to Upton Park ”on principle”, rather than walking to the end of the queue, and then complaining about the length of time taken to open the gates, is enough to try the patience of a saint. To explain, there is a road running along side the railway route, separated by a wall, which supporters queue along to enter the station. Periodically, the gates along the fence are closed, forcing people to go down to the next one. While I have thought for many years that it would be better to put an additional entrance along this route to ease the congestion, the fact is that ain’t happening now. But I’d rather have taken a walk down to the end than stand in the cold waiting for something that could take another hour to occur. Similarly, once getting on a train heading westbound that was then held at Plaistow, with the explanation being overcrowding at West Ham, again is cause to be irritated, but not go on and on about it. I do on occasion feel that my Mother sometimes forgets that I am not of the same generation as she is (so alike are we), which is why, on journeys such as these, often the best way for me to retain my own sanity is to start tuning it out and let her just go on without comment. Because any attempt on my part to offer explanation will invariably lead to her choosing to not listen to what I am saying, and thus cause argument and strife. Sigh.