Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

On the branch line…from Romford to Upminster

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, On the branch line, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 13 November 2012

What with there being no football on Saturday, I found myself at a bit of a loose end, and so, in spite of the somewhat murky weather, decided to make use of my Oystercard and have a bit of a trip out. But, not the bright lights of Brighton for yours truly, oh no. Instead, I decided to head for a journey on one of London’s branch lines to take a journey that it’s quite likely I’d never have cause to take, possibly ever. I started out by making my way to Liverpool Street, from where there are many trains heading to my first stop, namely Romford. Those of you with knowledge of London’s railway network may know where this is leading. For those that don’t, I’ll tell you that Romford is the northern terminus of the Romford to Upminster line, a 3.5 mile route connecting two major rail hubs with a single intermediate station. And it was this that was my goal – a journey that is almost back in time. Because the Romford to Upminster is an unsignalled, single track route that has a single train shuttling backward and forward all day, twice in one direction and twice in the other every hour. The platform for this route at Romford is completely separate from the rest of the station – a footbridge connects this platform on the east side of South Street with the other five platforms located on the western side. And travelling along it is almost like travelling backwards into an age before Beeching where branch lines were commonplace. Trundling along this single track route you arrive after about four minutes (at the maximum speed of just 30mph) at Emerson Park, the only intermediate stop, and what I would (safely I think) assume is one of the very few single platform stations in London. Indeed, to call it a railway station is being generous – it is perhaps more accurate to call it simply a halt, as it has a platform with a shelter and a couple of benches, a pair of Oyster readers, and a ramp to the pavement overlooking the cutting. I did indeed get off at Emerson Park, and found myself in an almost purely residential area, as one might expect. But it was quite surreal to see the train I’d just gotten off trundle back in the opposite direction, and then come trundling back again, all on the same platform. It was even more surreal to hear an automatic platform announcement. It made me wonder if there is an announcement for a platform alteration. Or even if the lone platform is Platform 1 heading in the direction of Romford, and Platform 2 heading the other way. Still, I jumped back on the train and made my way for another five minutes to the end of the line at Upminster. I’ve only ever been there once, and that was to catch another train (I shan’t bore you with that). Something that did strike me about Upminster though was how contrasting it is at each end. For about half the total length of the platforms, it looks like what it is, a major rail interchange, where most of its seven platforms are accessible by footbridge. But the other half is taken up only by the two through platforms, making seem like every other suburban station. The other thing about Upmister is the presence of two entrances, with one on the main road at the front and one next to the staion car park at the side. Naturally, from here it was then just a hop onto a train heading into Fenchurch Street, which is always fun.

I’m sure that the Romford to Upminster was threatened with closure more than once, and one can understand why it might have been. Admittedly this was a Saturday, and so patronage might have been lower than if it had been a weekday. I can see that it may well be an important route for commuters either looking to catch a train into the City (which they can do from either end) or catching the District Line from Upminster. But the four car Class 317 trundling backwards and forwards had just a handful of people getting on and off. Is this the best use of a four car train? Might not treating this route like the Stourbridge Town line be more effective? Parry People Movers has said that one of the pre-qualified bidders in the recent round of franchise bids included a submission for PPM vehicles similar to the Class 139 in use at Stourbridge. While the Greater Anglia franchise is not one of those, perhaps the bidders for that one, whenever it does come around, might look at this idea for a short stub like the Romford to Upminster.

I’ve decided I like branch lines, and must travel on some more of them. So this could well be the start of an occasional series. Keep your eyes peeled.

Emerson Park – it’s being charitable to describe it as a “railway station”


3 Responses

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  1. Al Storer (@Al__S) said, on 13 November 2012 at 7:01 am

    Bromley North branch next? Or up the branches of the Great Eastern?

    • Chairman Pip said, on 13 November 2012 at 11:39 am

      I had Bromley North in mind. I’m less enamoured though of something like the Great Eastern, as when I think of branch lines I think of changing trains. Going up the GE just involves getting on a train from Liverpool St. We’ll see I guess.

  2. […] 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 […]

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