Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

On the branch line…from Woodford to Hainault

Posted in Commuter, London, Metro, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 13 October 2013

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.

Woodford station has a bay platform – except that it faces west. An eastward facing bay would allow the separation of trains bound for Hainault from main line services

On the branch line…from Richmond to Turnham Green

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, Metro, On the branch line, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 16 September 2013

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.

South West Trains, London Underground and London Overground trains in and around Richmond

On the branch line…from Greenford to West Ealing

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 3 August 2013

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.

The abandoned milk platform at West Ealing will become a new terminal platform for the Greenford branch

Make it Evergreen

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London by Chairman Pip on 30 July 2013

Following on from my recent trip out to Chesham I got to thinking. Earlier this month came confirmation from the Government that the Croxley Rail Link, intended to extend the Metropolitan Line to Watford Junction, is to go ahead. Not only does this extend the Watford branch of the route into the centre of the town itself, but it also allows the potential for direct Watford to Amersham services, utilising the at present rarely used chord that runs between Rickmansworth and the Watford branch. Take this one stage further and it would allow direct services between Watford and Aylesbury, which is on the same route past Amersham, giving Chiltern Railways a foothold in Watford. I mentioned that the Chiltern and Metropolitan services share the route between Amersham and Harrow-on-the-Hill, meaning that Chiltern’s diesel units are running along an electrified line, which in many circles is frowned upon (even more so now given the Government’s massive electrification programme).

Chiltern are currently 9 years from the end of their current franchise, which was awarded in 2002 for a total of twenty years. As part of that, they have instituted a rolling series of infrastructure works entitled “Project Evergreen”, which have seen speed improvements along a significant portion of the Chiltern Main Line, redoubling at various points, a brand new depot, expansion of several stations, including London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street, and the introduction of a new route to Oxford. All of this takes us to the end of Evergreen 3, which begs the question “what about Evergreen 4?”, given that there will be several years between the completition of the current programme of work and the end of the franchise. The thought that occured to me involved a measure of collaboration with London Underground. With the approval of the Croxley link potentially adding another route accessible to Chiltern, and not a huge distance between Amersham and Aylesbury, would there not be a benefit therefore of electrifying the route to Aylesbury using the LU system? There would then be the opportunity for Chiltern to purchase a fleet of new electric trains similar to the Metropolitan’s S8 Stock (more of which will be required for the new Watford Junction services anyway), while at the same time being able to cascade the units currently used on Aylesbury trains to their other services. Hell, why not go the whole hog and electrify all the way into Marylebone, which would then offer the potential of a nice Central London diversion for the Metropolitan Line in the event of what I experienced last weekend? While I know that new electrification not using OHLE is frowned upon, the fact is LU ain’t going to go over to overhead lines, and so it makes more sense to do this this way, if electrification is the way to go. Which it should be.

A Chiltern Class 165 runs alongside a Metropolitan S8 Stock at Northwood. Electrifying this route beyond Amersham would allow Chiltern to cascade its diesel trains to other services, and potentially integrate more fully with the upcoming Croxley Rail Link

On the branch line…from Chalfont & Latimer to Chesham

Posted in Commuter, London, Metro, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 20 July 2013

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.

Rolling fields on a tube train

Rolling fields on a tube train

Geoff Marshall – helping Britain’s economy

Posted in Business, Canada, Commuter, London by Chairman Pip on 2 July 2013

This week, Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, started work as the new Governor of the Bank of England. Unlike his predecessor, Sir Mervyn King, Mr Carney has eschewed the use of a car and driver in favour of using the Tube, and so, on Monday morning, ran the gauntlet of Bank station, arriving as he did at 7.00am. Unfortunately, it seems that, while he has responsibility for overseeing one of the world’s major industrial economies, mastering the layout of Bank station may take a little longer. So, he may want to invest in Geoff Marshall’s new phone app, Station Master, which has detailed station layouts, locations of stairs in relation to car doors, and the best and fastest  routes from the train to the barriers. If Mr Carney can get to Threadneedle Street in as calm a mood as possible, having run the gauntlet of the exodus into The City, then so much the better, and if Geoff Marshall’s app can help do this, then get it on his phone!

“Tube-travelling BoE Governor Mark Carney to spend £250,000 housing allowance in West Hampstead”

The FA does down the rail passenger

Posted in Customer service, Great Britain, London by Chairman Pip on 19 April 2013

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.

“Appeal to Sir Richard Branson over FA Cup train times”

Understandable, but still a shame

Posted in High Speed, Infrastructure, London by Chairman Pip on 19 April 2013

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.

“Euston Station rebuild plan scrapped”

You pay for time

Posted in Business, Customer service, London, Politics by Chairman Pip on 6 April 2013

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?

“Boris Johnson asked to help cut Heathrow Express fare”

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.6

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, London, Media, Metro, Podcast by Chairman Pip on 27 March 2013

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.6

The obvious answer to the question “should I give up my seat?”, at least if your commute is not from one end of the District Line to the other, is “I won’t sit down at all

“I’d never give up my seat for a pregnant woman”

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