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

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