Yet another vacant Saturday, yet another jaunt along a branch line. Well, I say “branch line”, but is it fair to call this particular one a “branch line”? After all, the Central Line is the major through route across Central London, and splits at both ends, with all of its destinations served fairly well. Of course, this particular part of it, as I have learned, is the quietest (seemingly having taken that title from the long abandoned Ongar branch) having what appears to be a genuinely branch line timetable of just three trains per hour. It is, as you probably know, part of the wider Hainault Loop that branches off the main line after Leytonstone; the majority of the services along this route terminate at Hainault, with three per hour extended to take in the fairly quiet trio of stations further along the branch, until the loop rejoins the main line after Roding Valley (which is, incidentally, the quietest on the entire network).
This particular part of the Underground started life as part of the Great Eastern Railway (the Fairlop Loop), and this shows in the architecture of both Chigwell and Grange Hill, which both look far more like suburban rail stations than tube stations. Integration into the Central Line came after the Second World War, but the section between Woodford and Hainault was for a long time operated separately from the rest of the route, perhaps a reason why it continues to have its fairly quiet service level.
Woodford is the significant interchange, owing to its location on the main line, with it only being five stops from Stratford, as opposed to Hainault, which has half of the loop to get round before reaching the main line. It’s interesting being there however as the branch service has no terminal platform of its own – trains terminating at Woodford use the westbound through platform before shunting out of the station and into a turnback siding, where they then come back into the eastbound through platform to form the subsequent service back to Hainault. I looked at this, and thought to myself how much better the service could run if these services were separated from the main line to and from Epping – what I found was that there would invariably be a through train little more than two minutes after the arrival of a terminating train, which would have to be held just outside the station while the terminating train was cleared and moved out. And when I say “just outside”, I mean just outside; no more than 100 metres from the platform. In the event of a failure, this would bring almost the whole of the eastern end of the Central Line to a halt. Although the architecture of Woodford station would make an eastward facing bay platform difficult to install, in this day and age, it surely couldn’t be impossible.
You’d think, in the week that saw the Daily Mail slated for the situation it finds itself in with Ed Miliband, that newspaper editors would want to be careful about what their journalists and commentators put in their publications. It seems though that some can write whatever the hell they like with no recourse. You’ll probably guess that I am yet again speaking about Frederick Forsyth. I am always now on the lookout on a Friday for anything he might have written in his column about High Speed 2, and today we had an absolute doozy:
The case against the ill-thought out HS2 high-speed rail link from London to the Midlands and the North continues to lose friends. The authorities have tried “environmental” justification, then “economic” and then “overcrowding” and each has been proved untrue.
Now even the cities of the Midlands and the North are losing enthusiasm. Why? People travelling to do business want to arrive in the city centre. if they want to change from inter-city to branch line they want to cross two platforms, not two miles. But the numpties behind HS2 are planning that these bullet trains stop well outside the cities they are supposed to serve….To make matters worse the local services will be cut back for economic reasons even though they will be as important as ever.
Come again? I’d love to know who has told him that the stations planned for HS2 will be miles from anywhere, unconnected to any other services, like some gare des betteraves. After all, last time I checked the plan was to build a new station on the old Curzon Street site in Birmingham (almost right next to the Bullring), a new station that will be directly connected to Leeds City, and brand new platforms as part of the refurbishments of Manchester Piccadilly and London Euston. Or perhaps he means the other stations:
- Old Oak Common (interchange with Crossrail for Heathrow and Central London and GWML for the West and Wales)
- Birmingham Interchange (interchange for Birmingham International Airport)
- East Midlands Hub (interchange for services to Leicester, Nottingham and Derby)
- Meadowhall Interchange (interchange for Supertram and South Yorkshire destinations)
Nope, it can’t be those he’s talking about, as they are all fairly well connected, even though they aren’t in city centres. So I’m not entirely sure what these unconnected stations that are two miles from the city centre actually are. Additionally, how does he know what the local services will actually be once HS2 opens, given that it’s a good decade and a bit in the future until even the first section opens? Presumably he has consulted his crystal ball to learn of this.
It’s true that both the government and HS2 Ltd have been on the back foot in the media battles against the anti HS2 mob. I’ve been saying for ages that the main focus of the media campaign should have been capacity rather than speed – we need new rail capacity in this country, and any piecemeal enhancements done to the existing network to try and “create” new capacity will be both expensive and cause huge disruption (as the WCML enhancement proved). Now, fortunately, the government has seen the light and has brought the capacity issue to the fore. A new north-south intercity route will free up capacity on both the WCML and ECML so that more local and interurban passenger services can be run (which is your overcrowding justification Mr Forsyth), not to mention allowing more freight to be carried by rail, removing huge numbers of lorry journeys from the roads, as well as decreasing further the need for domestic flying (which is your environmental justification); added to this is the employment that will be generated, both in construction of the thing, and in the investment that such a project will bring in (and there’s your economic one). The disturbing thing is that there will be people that read such nonsense spouted by Mr Forsyth (and others come to that) and will think that because it’s in the newspaper it must be true. In a recent editorial, Nigel Harris made this point succinctly, pointing to the coverage the BBC gave to the IEA report that stated the project could cost as much as £80bn, and which included a number of spurious claims and (I hasten to say) fabrications (such as the HS2 spur to Liverpool that has never been proposed). While Mr Forsyth is a commentator, paid to write his opinions for publication, even commentators (never mind actual journalists) have a duty of care to their readers to ensure that what they’re writing is at least factually accurate. But then again, I’vealways thought that the anti mob would allow facts to get in the way of a good story.
It’s a good thing when there is no football, as it means that I can take a nice jaunt to a branch line. Of course, when you choose a branch line to travel on, it is probably a good idea to pick one that you get on to that doesn’t involve a journey alongside thousands of rugby fans from four of London’s clubs as they make their way to Twickenham for the London double header that opens the new domestic season. Well, lesson learned now. Even so, it was quite fun getting down to Richmond and, once having gotten clear of the rugby people, it was quite nice taking a wander around and seeing the extent of this station that you hear all the time, but never get to. The first thing that did strike me was that, although it is a major stop on the suburban routes out of Waterloo, only two of its seven platforms are used by South West Trains; the majority of its platforms are in fact terminal platforms at the end of the North London Line and the District Line, with trains on both following the same route north as far as Gunnersbury, with Kew Gardens in between. After Gunnersbury, the two services split with the District Line running onto the main line to Turnham Green, which is where the main line divides towards Richmond and Ealing Broadway.
As I’ve stated previously, the Wimbledon branch is the most used part of the District Line, given that it has trains that run both along the main line and to Edgware Road. As a consequence, the off-peak service to Richmond runs every ten minutes. However, the presence of the London Overground service with its four trains an hour has significantly enhanced the number of trains that run to Kew Gardens and Gunnersbury. As it stands, given the amount of traffic that there is likely to be, the service level is exceptional. Admittedly I did my travelling on a Saturday, when the number of passengers would be relatively low. Even so, I would imagine that the vast majority of people going to London would not go via the District Line, but instead go to Richmond to get a train into Waterloo.
Having had a full season back in the top flight, and having done a significant number of our fellow Premier League teams, it is eventually going to get to the point that the ones that I’ve done, not to mention told you all about already, are going to come around again. I did wonder about just detailing my journeys to the ones that I’d not yet put on here. But then I decided “sod it”; so, my aim is to detail all of the journeys I take this season, whether I’ve told you about them or not. However, I will aim to make as different a journey as is possible, and to try and give you a little variation in what I actually say to you. Because I wouldn’t want to give you all a sense of deja vu. so, we start the merry-go-round on its second revolution with a return trip to Southampton.
Date: 15th September 2013
Stadium: St Mary’s Stadium
Away Section: Northam Stand
Score: Southampton 0-0 West Ham United
Nearest station: Southampton Central
Local rozzers: Hampshire Constabulary
Total Travel Cost: £37.50p (1 x Off-Peak Day Return)
11:25 – New Cross to Canada Water (London Overground Class 378 Capitalstar)
Jubilee Line – Canada Water to Waterloo (1996 Stock)
11:54 – London Waterloo to Southampton Central (South West Trains Class 444 Desiro)
18:15 – Southampton Central to Oxford (CrossCountry Class 221 Super Voyager)
19:50 – Oxford to London Paddington (First Great Western Class 165 Networker Turbo)
Bakerloo Line – Paddington to Baker Street (1972 Stock)
Jubilee Line – Baker Street to Southwark (1996 Stock)
21:49- London Waterloo East to New Cross (Southeastern Class 465 Networker)
Station to Stadium: St Mary’s is still a long walk from Southampton Central, but it remains worth leaving via the southern entrance onto the Western Esplanade, as it is a straight run up the hill and down the other side until you reach the subway complex, after which you turn right and just carry on walking. I have no doubt that this is a very pleasant jaunt when the weather’s nice. Having never been to Southampton in nice weather, I wouldn’t know. And I’ve still not found the shuttle bus.
Anything else?: Although the station is named Southampton Central, it is not especially close to the centre of the city. The city’s central station was Southampton Terminus, which closed in 1966.
HUZZAH!! The return of the football season!!! A return to trekking around the country on a Saturday afternoon (or a Sunday, if Sky have got their claws into the fixture). Ordinarily this, the first away fixture of the new season for us, would involve a four hour journey up from London to the Land of the Toon. But happily that won’t be the case for yours truly this time, as my annual trip to the Edinburgh Tattoo (combined with taking in a few shows at the Fringe) coincides with our trip to Newcastle United.
Date: 24th August 2013
Stadium: St James’ Park
Away Section: Sir John Hall Stand
Score: Newcastle United 0-0 West Ham United
Nearest station: St James
Local rozzers: Northumbria Police
Total Travel Cost: £30.85p (2 x Advance Singles)
Station to Stadium: St James’s Park is a familiar sight for people heading on the train north out of Newcastle, atop the hill. With it being so easy to see from the train, you’d expect it to be easy to reach from the station, and indeed it is, as there are several different routes towards the ground simply by crossing the road and heading upwards towards Chinatown. Because the stadium is so big it is difficult to miss. Even a slow jaunt will take you no more than 10 minutes. Of course, you then have to prepare yourself for the climb to Level 7 of the Sir John Hall Stand.
Anything else?: St James station has a unique colour scheme on the Tyne & Wear Metro, as it is decked out in the black and white colours of Newcastle United, rather than the corporate cream and yellow.
I have maintained a silence recently as I have had the feeling that people are getting a little irritated by my ramblings. However, I have felt moved to speak my mind over what has come out over the last few weeks from the anti HS2 brigade as they continue their campaign to have the project stopped by any means necessary, which often will mean publicising half-truths and occasional (almost) fabrication which is picked up and run with by the media. A few weeks ago, the Institute of Economic Affairs published a report entitled The High Speed Gravy Train: Special Interests, Transport Policy and Government Spending, which somehow came to the conclusion that the cost of constructing High Speed 2, far from being the £42bn that the government have budgeted, could end up costing as much as £80bn. This was immediately jumped upon by the media, with the story being top of many news sites and programmes (indeed, I do recall that it was the top story on BBC News’ early evening bulletin on the day it was published). Upon inspection of this so-called “report”, it becomes clear that the conclusions reached by the author, Dr Richard Wellings, are so much horse hockey (or “guff and hogwash” as Ben Ruse, the spokesman for HS2 Ltd, described it). And the reason for this is that Dr Wellings has reached the figure of £80bn by including a massive tranche of projects that, while no doubt important in High Speed 2’s connectivity, are nothing to do with HS2 itself. Amongst the projects that Dr Wellings has included under the HS2 budget are:
- Crossrail 2 station at London Euston
- London Overground station at Old Oak Common for HS2 interchange
- HS2 Heathrow spur
- People mover connection between Birmingham Interchange and Birmingham International
- Rapid transit connections to various parts of the West Midlands
- People mover connection between Birmingham Curzon Street and Birmingham New Street
- Cross-City Line platforms at Birmingham Curzon Street
- New connectivity to Midland Metro
- High Speed 2 spur to Liverpool
- Extension of Metrolink to Manchester Airport
- Improved Metrolink connectivity at Manchester Piccadilly
- Tram links to Nottingham and Derby
- Supertram extension to Meadowhall
- New pedestrian connection between Leeds and Leeds New Lane
- Various capacity improvement and electrification schemes in Yorkshire
These are included in spite of the fact that the People Mover connection at Birmingham Interchange is already included in the government’s published HS2 budget, the Manchester Airport Metrolink extension is already under construction, Meadowhall is already connected to the Supertram network, the capacity and electrification schemes in Yorkshire are under way and come under Network Rail, and a spur to Liverpool was never even considered as part of HS2. But, even more than the fact that a number of the rationales for his conclusion are bogus, is this:
It is also probable that some of the schemes will never be built for various reasons…
Which means that the banner conclusion is based on theories around things that may not actually come to pass. And yet still this was trumpeted by the media, while the rebuttal of it barely warranted a mention, being halfway down the English news section of the BBC News website.
Then of course you get such as happened yesterday when I opened the newspaper, and read the following headline in Frederick Forsyth‘s column:
Scrap the HS2 white elephant
I spoke about Mr Forsyth’s continuing opposition to HS2, and how he uses his column to push this, back in March. In that, I made it clear that in my opinion, because he lives in the Cotswolds (and the route will probably be fairly close to where he lives), he is somewhat biased in his view that the project should be abandoned. He goes further now in deciding that it will be a “white elephant”. I’ve found a good definition of white elephant:
…a valuable but burdensome possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.
How it’s possible to declare something that has not been built as a white elephant is beyond me, as I would have thought it would take a number of years of use to determine whether said thing is not worth its cost. Mr Forsyth must be a soothsayer. Or else, he is particularly vicious when it comes to opposing HS2, denouncing anything released by the Government or HS2 Ltd as being the work of “official propogandists”. Never mind the propaganda put out by those opposed to the project. He warms to his theme by restating yet again the view that all the line is for is to get a few “wealthy businessmen” to Birmingham a few minutes faster and raising the suggestion both of longer trains and double deck coaches. Well, first of all, while HS2 is certainly about improving timings, making it faster to get between various major destinations (which is what everyone fixates on), the fact is that the first and major issue has always been about capacity on the existing network, which is fast running out. No amount of piecemeal capacity enhancement on the West Coast Main Line, which would be enormously disruptive and likely to cost as much, pro-rata, as just building a brand new line, is going to create the new capacity that is needed. Having the vast majority of fast trains on a separate line means that more trains for commuters can be put on the existing network, not to mention making room for more freight. Thankfully, the DfT have finally picked up on this as a the thing to push first and foremost. As for the suggestion of just making longer trains or taller trains, it’s clear that Mr Forsyth knows even less about the railways than I do, given that longer trains means again expensive and disruptive work to make the capacity for them (perhaps he should look at the work done on the Thameslink route to extend platforms), while there has only been one experiment at running double decker trains in the UK. European countries can run such trains because the loading gauge is significantly more generous than it is here. While again it is possible to increase the loading gauge, it is phenomenally disruptive, as evidenced in the case of the gauge enhancement around Southampton that ended in 2011.
In the most recent issue of Rail, Nigel Harris’s editorial is scathing about the industry and its lack of vigour in promoting HS2, and how the project needs a vocal champion, suggesting that Sir David Higgins, who was the Chief Executive of the Olympic Delivery Authority, and delivered London 2012 on time and on budget, would be an idea choice. It is certainly the case that somebody needs to be out there, bigging up HS2 to the country (notwithstanding the excellent rebuttal of the IEA report Alison Munro gave on BBC Breakfast in the face of hostile questioning from the interviewer). I’ve said before that we need new capacity on the railway network, and that HS2 is the way to go about it. I’ve also said that it is wrong to simply look at the bottom line when it comes to infrastructure projects like this, because on their own, they won’t make money. You have to look at the bigger picture, of the benefits that the infrastructure will bring to all sorts of areas of the economy, in order to see why these things should be built. And they should be built.
As is usual this time of year, I have returned from Edinburgh, and I’m pleased to report that it is much less of a mess than it has been the last couple of years, thanks to work on the tram system working its way towards a finish. The wires are strung, and most of the tramway has been laid, with the only section left to do in the city centre being the section between Atholl Place and Shandwick Place. Virtually all of the tramstops have been completed, and I look forward to getting there next year and seeing the thing running…especially given how long it’s been since I’ve seen the city centre not having to suffer disruption of one kind or another.
That being said, I can’t help feel that they might have missed a trick. As you know, thanks to the ever escalating costs, the proposed network has been truncated to a single route between Edinburgh Airport and York Place. This route has direct interchanges with the National Rail network at Edinburgh Gateway (a planned new station on the Fife Circle Line), Edinburgh Park and Haymarket, but not at the city’s main station, Waverley, where the nearest stop will be St Andrew Square – in order to reach the tram stop, a passenger will have to leave the railway station, either via Waverley Steps or Waverley Bridge, across Princes Street and then up South St Andrew Street, which will no doubt be quite difficult if you’re struggling along laden down with luggage. Additionally, the route doesn’t serve the Old Town at all, meaning that tram users wanting to reach the Royal Mile will still need to either cross North Bridge or make their way up The Mound. The thought I had while I was there was whether it would be a good idea to connect these areas together by constructing a loop off the main line along Princes Street onto Waverley Bridge, stopping right outside the railway station (a direct connection you see), before continuing onwards up Market Street to a stop at the top of The Mound (giving [relatively] easy access to the Old Town), and then down The Mound to rejoin the main line at Princes Street and back to the Airport, at a stroke giving access to a significantly more extensive part of the city.
It’s nice when the Sun is shining and there’s no football to take a ride on a branch line. Hence why I do it quite a lot. Admittedly I also do it when the Sun isn’t shining, but never when there’s football to be watched. Hence why, two weeks before the season is due to start, my last journey along a branch line for a while. And the longest that I’ve done, with a grand total of three intermediate stations between end to end, the Greenford branch. An interesting little journey, with the terminal platform at Greenford (and thus the single track road off the main route) running between the two Central Line platforms, before curving off into the double track of the main branch. In fact, the line forms a bridge between the Great Western Main Line and the New North Main Line, making it possible to be used as a diversion in the event of engineering work (as has been the case with both Virgin Trains and Chiltern Railways have done in the past. The service run along the branch by First Great Western is much the same as that run on the Romford to Upminster and Bromley North lines, with two trains an hour in each direction, with the length of the platforms at the intermediate stations dictating that the service has to be run using 2-car Class 165s. Again, as with the others, the intermediate stations are exceptionally residential, in that they serve essentially residential areas – South Greenford is essentially a prefab next to the A40, Castle Bar Park is in the middle of a residential estate, while Drayton Green serves a number of residential streets. At present, the branch line runs services through to Paddington, with the first stop on the GWML being West Ealing, which is another interesting one, as it is a station with missing platforms (much like West Croydon). West Ealing is a two platform station, but these are platforms 3 and 4; the missing platforms 1 and 2 were serving the fast lines on the other side of the station, but these trains stopped using the station in the 1970s. However, the Greenford branch will see a major change with the advent of Crossrail; the increase in service level on the GWML will mean there will no longer be the capacity for the trains to Greenford to run from Paddington. As a consequence, the branch will become a genuine shuttle service running from Greenford to West Ealing, increased to four trains per hour. For this, the derelict milk depot platform at West Ealing will be restored to serve as the bay platform.
Having travelled on it, it seems to be a nice little route through West London – South Greenford is admittedly next to a major road, but Castle Bar Park is (or at least seems to be) right next to the eponymous park. Drayton Green though looks like it could do with a little TLC. I had the thought while I was sitting on the platform that the line would be a good candidate for a Community Rail Partnership (CRP), of which there are none (as far as I can tell) in London. If someone else were involved in the upkeep of the stations, rather than just leaving it to the TOC, then it’s entirely possible that they could look a lot better. To give two examples that I saw today, while the platforms at Drayton Green are in reasonable condition, there is significant weed growth up the road bridge across the line, which could be given a through make over and maintained better to give the station an overall improvement in terms of ambiance, while at Castle Bar Park the shelter on the up line platform was out of bounds, presumably because there is something wrong with it. On a wet day that would be inconvenient, but on a day like today, which was warm with fairly strong sunshine, the shelter would have been very welcome to keep out of the Sun. If the route was a CRP, would the shelter be out of bounds in that way? Of course, as I’ve suggested with this type of service, turning it over to some kind of light rail operation might be a good way to go, especially if (as it seems at the moment) the line isn’t electrified under the GWML electrification scheme (and I’ve found nothing to say it is yet, though I hope someone will tell me if I’m wrong about that), which would leave it a tiny diesel island in the midst of a major electrified network. If the route was removed altogether from the Greater Western franchise and turned over to someone else (TfL?), then that might provide the impetus to do something better with it.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of my little branch line trips, owing to this and that. As it was a quiet Saturday I thought, having got the old barnet trimmed, I’d take a mosey outward and find one to take a trip along. Not one of my greatest decisions, but more of that later. The Chesham branch of the Metropolitan Line is pretty much as far as you can go on the London Underground without having to get out and walk, and is something of a surreal experience. While I’ve been on plenty of Tube trains, and I’ve been on quite a few rail journeys through green fields, but I don’t believe I’ve ever combined the two. The branch, as most of you will probably know, used to operate as a shuttle service between Chalfont & Latimer and Chesham for most of the day (much like the Mill Hill East branch); this would run using a four-car A60/62 Stock train during off-peak hours, with a direct service to and from Central London in peak time. The introduction of the S8 Stock required a change to this operation, as the new trains were built as fixed eight-car formations (the A60/62 Stock ran on the main Metropolitan Line as pairs of four-car units), which are too long for the bay platform at Chalfont & Latimer, and so the service was amended to Chesham having two trains per hour all day through to Central London (to Aldgate in peak hours and Baker Street off-peak).
Today though was interesting, as (given that it’s the weekend) there was engineering work on the Metropolitan Line, with nothing running south of Northwood except occasional fast trains between Moor Park and Harrow-on-the-Hill. This wasn’t so much of a problem, as Chiltern Railways was still running its regular services to Aylesbury, which stop at Chalfont & Latimer. However, it seems that the Metropolitan have had one of their less stellar days when it comes to problems. A tree on the line at Northwood, and the whole thing seemingly goes to bollocks, as I stood on the platform at Chalfont for almost an hour having gotten off the train from Marylebone, watching train after train (both Metropolitan Line ones to Amersham and Chiltern ones to Aylesbury) waiting for a train to Chesham. By the time I reached the furthest station from Central London, on the incredibly scenic line through the Buckinghamshire countryside, it was after 5.00pm. But then there was getting back – I thought it might be a lark to go to Watford (as trains were running there en route to Northwood), except that now was the time of the tree on the line, which buggered everything up. Thus it ended up taking me two hours to get from Chesham back to Marylebone. Which didn’t impress me much.
Something that I noticed while on the platforms at both Chalfont and Rickmansworth, and as I watched out the windows, is that none of the stations along this route seems to have next train indicators. This would be particularly useful on the main line, as northbound trains from Chalfont & Latimer have four individual destinations (Chesham, Amersham, Aylesbury and Aylesbury Vale Parkway), while southbound they terminate at Marylebone, Baker Street and Aldgate. This would make things an awful lot simpler for passengers in the event of a situation like today than crowding around the entrance of the station bombarding questions at the poor harassed platform staff.
Something else that I thought of while working my way around the outer reaches of the Tube network was the idea that ending the Chesham shuttle was a bad one. Having to run some of their trains to Chesham off the main line meant that there was always the potential for disruption, which wouldn’t have been there had they shuttled trains backward and forward using the separate platform at Chalfont & Latimer, leaving the main line clear for both fast and slow services from Amersham. Of course, with the eight-car S8 Stock, this is now impossible. So, what of the potential, in situations like this, of hiring in some replacement that could be accommodated in the bay platform. Oh well.