North Kent Line and New Cross Gate Visits, 9 January 2015

Notes by Alan de Burton, January 2015


In order to update a text on the North Kent Line that is appearing in installments in the Southern Electric Group’s journal ‘Live Rail,’ I rode from London Bridge to Chatham and back on Friday 9 January when I was in London for other purposes. While this date was fortuitous, it represented the last day of Southeastern train operations through London Bridge before a new timetable which permits the first major stage of engineering works on the Thameslink project having an impact on Southeastern services. Conversely, the new timetable for Thameslink and Southern trains had already begun with new platforms opening at London Bridge with new train services. Readers may find useful the track diagrams in Branch Line News # 1218 of 4 October 2014, item # 1455.

London Bridge to Chatham via Blackheath and Woolwich

I rode in both directions on Charing Cross to Gillingham (Kent) trains formed by class 465 Networkers. I should have recorded the fleet numbers; I believe they were built by BREL (ventilation nozzles in the luggage racks) and didn’t have the distinctive ‘audible effects’ Networkers had when new. I have written these notes consolidated as a single eastbound journey. London Bridge station was very much in an intermediate stage of rebuilding. The ‘Brighton’ side described later had become an operationally self contained 6 platform terminus. The through platforms on the Southeastern side were intact although island platform 5 and 6 was in its last day of operation. In between where the low level terminal platforms had been was mainly a building site where construction works are linking the pre-existing unused viaduct over Borough Market to the future site of new through platforms 7 – 9. Because the terminal platforms were at a lower level, a retaining wall is under construction which will separate the track of new through platform 9 from that of terminal platform 10.

At North Kent West Junction where tracks from Bricklayers Arms used to join the tracks from London Bridge between 4 x 19th century original tracks and the 2 tracks of the separate 1903 New Cross spur, rebuilding work was evident on the ramp of the Bricklayers Arms tracks derelict since about 1981. Heading towards London, this track will dive under the future Bermondsey Box flyover for Thameslink trains and link in with the Up track used by Thameslink trains from New Cross Gate and beyond. At Lewisham I observed the major building site in the V between the up North Kent line and the DLR terminus building. After Plumstead (which is to gain a new footbridge / lifts), the course of future Crossrail tracks emerges on the north side of the formation. For maybe a mile there are extensive linear engineering works on both sides of the formation to provide space for Crossrail tracks. At Abbey Wood a new temporary station building has replaced the previous modern building which was in the way of the new interchange station.

At Dartford I noted that the building of the power signal box operational from October 1970 till April 2001 survives on the down side at the east end of the station. The station building on the down side at Greenhithe built for the shuttle bus connection to the Bluewater shopping centre looked smart. At Northfleet the tracks leading down to the Northfleet Cement Works operational from 1970 till 1993 and in revised form as the Crossrail Logistics Centre from 2012 till 2014 are once again disused. Leaving Gravesend, a prominent new mosque is visible on the up side somewhat east of the station. Approaching Hoo Junction the cranes of the new London Gateway port are now visible across the Thames. Some old catenary masts survive at Hoo Junction Up Sidings as well as the short but now derelict platforms of Hoo Junction Staff Halt whose closure date isn’t known to me.

The railway scene at Strood is rapidly changing. Almost as soon as the train left Strood Tunnel, track and platform works were visible on the up side. The up island platform is being extended to 12 car lengths, and consequently the London end curls appreciably round the curve towards the tunnel mouth. The platforms are now connected by a new mega-footbridge with lifts, leaving the CLASP station buildings on the down side looking outdated and inadequate.

Over the river in Rochester, the embankment is being widened on the up side for the new station closer to the River Medway bridge.  On the down side, the new island platform is visibly under construction. I finished my down journey at Chatham. What a disappointment! As far as I can tell, the station is of pre 1899 London, Chatham and Dover origin and quite inadequate for modern needs. The staircases accessing the platforms are narrow and have major turns in them. There are no lifts, and people who are unable to use the stairs have to press a buzzer to summon a member of platform staff to open gates to car park areas. It is no better in the street. While the pedestrianised Chatham High Street isn’t far away, the pedestrian approach is unpleasant involving a series of road crossings.

London Bridge to New Cross Gate

Since Southern were already operating their new train service after major engineering works over Christmas 2014 / New Year 2015, I wanted to see the new infrastructure out to New Cross Gate they were now using. I caught the 14 52 from London Bridge to Victoria via Crystal Palace, which to my surprise was operated by a 10-car formation of 2 x 5-car class 377/6. I noted that they have sliding doors like Southeastern’s 376s, but do have toilets, ‘normal’ rather than wide gangways and First Class if rather nominally. All the seating appears to be 2+2, and the only difference for First Class are stickers on the windows.

There were posters  at London Bridge to say that the first days of the new timetable had gone rather badly and Southern were consequently cancelling some peak suburban trains. Some of the problems seem to have been ‘people handling’ at London Bridge. Southern now use an operationally separate terminus of 6 platforms numbered 10 – 15. However, the only entrance is from the barrier line from the concourse. In the eventual station, the main entrance to these platforms will be from steps and possibly escalators about 3 or 4 car lengths down, which should spread the load. Moreover, these future entrances at present impose an extra constraint with the temporary hoardings around them as work sites.

The ‘Brighton’ side track layout is also constrained. All trains towards both New Cross Gate and beyond and those towards Peckham Rye have to use what is now mainly a 3 track alignment which by origin were the 3 tracks on the viaduct that belonged to the Brighton company rather than the South Eastern. All ‘Brighton’ trains must now head to South Bermondsey Junction where the South London tracks to Peckham Rye diverge right; trains to New Cross Gate and beyond must now use the South Bermondsey Spur. One consequence is that the viaduct from the ‘Brighton’ divergence from the South Eastern at Blue Anchor to Bricklayers Arms Junction is now closed for rebuilding. There MAY be a short 2 track bottleneck at Bricklayers Arms Junction. I left the train at New Cross Gate. The station has greatly changed with overhead walkways from the rear of the ticket office / automatic barrier building to lifts and steps to the platforms. I returned to London Bridge on a train from Horsham formed by earlier class 377s.

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