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

Undulating along

Posted in Commuter, Great Britain, Infrastructure, Metro by Chairman Pip on 27 August 2013

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.

Edinburgh City Centre trams

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

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”

Probably a stupid idea…

Posted in America, Great Britain, Infrastructure, Metro, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 12 March 2013

I saw something come up yesterday on the Railway Gazette which intrigued me. It seems that there is a proposed streetcar line that will run fron Union Station in Dallas to Oak Cliff that will require the rolling stock to be self powered for part of its route. This is due to it having to cross the Houston Street Viaduct, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and so would not be permitted to have the OHLE installed. So, DART have ordered a small fleet of vehicles from the Brookville Equipment Corporation that will be fitted with storage batteries that will power the vehicle when it comes off the wires, principally when it is on the viaduct. This got me to thinking. There has been a lot of discussion regarding the electrification of the Great Western Main Line, not least because of the large number of listed structures along the route. This has especially caused debate on the route through the centre of Bath, which is a World Heritage Site. There are concerns that stringing wires up on the viaducts that carry the line through the city centre would damage the appearance of the city, and has even led to the suggestion that the electrification could be achieved by laying third rail (which frankly isn’t an option). So, would it be possible therefore to fit some kind of energy storage, be it batteries, or flywheel, to allow the planned IEP units to make their way through Bath if it turns out there’s too many objections to the wires? Probably not, but hey, I’m just doing some blue sky thinking here.

“Dallas to get off-wire capable light rail vehicles”

On the branch line…from Highbury Vale to Phoenix Park

Posted in Commuter, Great Britain, Infrastructure, Metro, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 10 March 2013

I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that there are three types of branch line.

  1. The genuine stub, with a shuttle service connecting to a transfer point to the main line.
  2. The peak time only service, where a branch nominally operates a shuttle, except at peak times when it runs to the main line
  3. 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.

Phoenix Park serves an employment rather than a residential area, and seems underused outside of working times

On the branch line…from Kensington Olympia to High Street Kensington

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

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.

Kensington Olympia is an important station on the London Overground network, but as far as London Underground is concerned is somewhat less so

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Enough already!!!

Posted in Customer service, London, Metro, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 2 February 2013

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.

Oh good grief

Oh good grief

On the branch line…from Finchley Central to Mill Hill East

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, Metro, On the branch line, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 26 January 2013

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.

Mill Hill East is one of only three stations on the Underground to have a single platform

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