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

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

On the branch line…from Surrey Quays to New Cross

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 17 March 2013

Not one, but two branch line journeys today then, as I took the opportunity (which I wouldn’t usually have the chance to do, somewhat surprisingly) to catch a train from Surrey Quays to New Cross. This is what I was talking about when I discussed my thoughts on the three types of branch line, because the New Cross branch is unquestionably part of London Overground’s main East London Line service, in spite of it being a stub off the main line that runs through New Cross Gate. The line itself was opened over a decade after the initial opening of the East London Railway as a means of connecting the South Eastern Railway to the burgeoning railway network that the East London provided. This was of course in the days when connections between the various railway companies were more in place, and the East London Line was a significant route through London both for passengers and freight. Indeed, a connection existed at New Cross between the East London Line and the South Eastern Main Line until 1968, having been taken out of service two years earlier. It was this that reduced the ELL to the stub that I knew well, until the advent of London Overground and the return of it to a main line railway. And it’s this that has often led me to question the point of the branch to New Cross. Trains on it run to Dalston Junction, rather than all the way to Highbury & Islington. However, on this brand new main line route, I’ve still not been able to fathom why the short stub to New Cross was retained, given that London Overground calls at New Cross Gate. I understand that restoring the connection to the SEML would be expensive and difficult, but I would have thought, given that Boris Johnson has publically declared his desire to bring more of London’s suburban rail services under TfL’s umbrella, some kind of plan would be drawn up to restore a connection that would allow trains to travel via the ELL to points south of New Cross into Kent. Oh well.

History of New Cross

Class 378 and Class 376 at New Cross

New Cross used to have a connection to the main line, but now sits as the terminus of a short stub

On the branch line…from Bank to Waterloo

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, On the branch line by Chairman Pip on 17 March 2013

Yes, I know what you’re going to say. “How can you say this is a branch line?” I know, I know. However, it is a teeny tiny stub line that you need to change in order to reach. It is a freaky little route too, entirely a commuter route getting people travelling from the areas served by Waterloo into The City; a five minute shuttle backwards and forwards between Waterloo and Bank. I’ve had a mind to include the Waterloo & City on my little branch line list of travels for a while and so, what with it yet again being a Saturday free of football, combined with the presence of HMS Westminster in the Pool of London (I always head up to take photos when warships visit the capital) meant a chance to do a little journey on the Underground’s shortest line.

Normally at this point I might well go into some history, or some specifics about the route in question. However, I thought I’d leave that to a little piece I did in 2011…

There’s no doubt of the importance of the Waterloo & City as a direct route into the heart of the major financial area of London. On the flip side, there’s also no doubt that any improvement to it would be inordinately disruptive, given that it is completely isolated…and I do mean completely, as it has no connection to the railway network at all. With its on-site depot capable of undertaking most of the maintenance tasks, if there is any need for heavy work to be done on its little fleet of ten 2-car units, then they need to be lifted out by crane. Seriously. The best that could be done is to improve the signalling so that more trains are capable of running. Even then though, that would be difficult given the short run and quick turnaround time of the service.

The Waterloo & City is entirely in tunnel, and entirely isolated, making any plan to extend it difficult in the extreme

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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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

On the branch line…from Grove Park to Bromley North

Posted in Commuter, Infrastructure, London, On the branch line, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 15 December 2012

Once again a lack of Saturday football, combined with some things that needed doing, led 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 Bromley is as good a place as any to find one, that I would combine this with a trip on the Bromley North line. As it happens, this is more convenient for me to use to get to Bromley, as trains from New Cross don’t go to the town’s main station, Bromley South. That being said though, I did take three trains to get the four stops from New Cross to the line’s northern terminus at Grove Park, though that was due more to my own impatience than anything else. Why wait 20 minutes for a train that will take you to your destination, when you can jump on the train already there that will take you one stop further on? Anyway – just like the Romford line, the Bromley North line is a short branch with just a single intermediate station. Unlike the Romford line, it doesn’t connect two major points. Grove Park is on the South Eastern Main Line, from where trains to London can be picked up – the dedicated platform for the Bromley North line though is physically separated from the remainder of the station (again, much like Romford), with access via a long footbridge from the station’s entrance. The service is a shuttle, trundling back and forth every twenty minutes, although this route is double track throughout. Three minutes after leaving Grove Park, the train arrives at the intermediate station, Sundridge Park. Getting out here shows that it serves a residential area with a high street running through the centre of many streets of houses. The station though is more than a mere halt, as it has its own ticket office, as well as a pair of long platforms. This is because the line has in the past had a direct service to London, and so is fitted to operate trains longer than the two car Class 466s that run the service. This can be seen even more so at Bromley North, another two minutes down the line and the southern terminus (making a five minute end to end running time), where the train is dwarfed by the length of the platforms. This was the first time I’ve been there (having been to Bromley South more times than I care to think about), and the spectacle of it surprised me – it is a marvellously neat little two platform terminus that looks like it should be far busier than it is with the shuttle service.

Unlike other lightly used lines, this line doesn’t seem to have been threatened by Beeching. The fact that it connects one of London’s major suburbs to the main line, which means that it will likely be well used during peak times, would insulate it against any potential threat based on usage. That being said, cost cutting measures have in the past been proposed – the fact that it is a shuttle meant that it was looked at being singled, not by lifting one of the running lines, but converting one to allow preserved London Underground rolling stock to operate on it, turning the line into a potential filming location (always a good source of extra revenue for the railways). Even so, the line was still quite busy, even on a Saturday when I used it; the two-car train was not full certainly, and for the shuttle service is more than adequate. Still, many seats were occupied, and a lot of people did get off at Sundridge Park. Of course, it still means that a Class 466 is still occupied in operating the service, which could be used elsewhere, and so is another one of those types of service where conversion to a PPM type light rail service.

Clearly my second branch line journey does make it a series. More to come.

A Class 466 is dwarfed by the length of the platforms at Bromley North

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