Notes compiled by Alan de Burton
Between 28 and 30 September I made a ‘family’ visit staying at a hotel in Slough. This provided me with ample opportunity to make plentiful observations on the early autumn 2015 transport scene. After BR’s and Railtrack’s cash starved years, there is a great deal to see. Beware: there is a lot of detail.
York via London to Slough and Furze Platt
This section is a ‘composite’ of several journeys, best described as if a single journey. It primarily illustrates the amount of investment being made in today’s railways. In these family visits I stay in a hotel in Slough, but I had to make a side trip to Furze Platt to make a hospital visit. On the way I noted the following building works:
New platform under construction for local trains adjacent to the bus interchange. However, access to the street will firstly be via a longitudinal footbridge to the Up island platform. Passengers will need to walk some way along this then use the subway to the main building to reach the street. It will be quite a long walk.
The IEP depot is under construction on the site of the former BR / EWS / DBS locomotive depot at the south end on the Up side. The site is now screened from the main line by trees that have grown up in recent years.
New berthing and servicing sidings have been built for Thameslink on the Up side north of the station on the site of previous sidings at New England.
The new depot for Thameslink has been built on the Up side on the site of the LNER’s former Coronation Sidings north of the present depot. Extensive alterations to the present depot site are in progress.
The commercial concourse area at The Lawn is being extended. Most of the works for the Crossrail station and its access are hidden behind hoardings.
Royal Oak / Westbourne Park
You can now readily see the access ramp to the Crossrail tunnel, at present trackless (but see later). There is a curious new structure on the Crossrail site leading to Westbourne Park station. I can only surmise it is for bus parking lost for the Crossrail construction works.
Ladbroke Grove / Kensal Green
On the Down side, access to the former North Pole International Depot now an IEP depot from Line 1 has been commissioned. There are extensive works on the Up side between Ladbroke Grove and Old Oak Common East. A new electricity substation has been built between the railway and the Grand Union Canal. An extra track is being built connecting the Carriage lines and Old Oak Common East on the north side of the Engine & Carriage Line Flyover.
Old Oak Common
On the Down side, the further part of the North Pole International Depot has also been converted for IEP. The most significant change taking the 2 depots together is the provision of diesel fuelling for IEP trains. On the Up side the former DBS depot at the rear (remains of the steam shed) has been removed and a depot for Crossrail trains is under construction.
Construction of the fly-under for the Up Relief track to dive under the access tracks to the freight yard on the Up side is approaching completion.
Work has started on the new bay platform on the Up side for the Greenford shuttle service and on a new station building. This is all on the site of the former milk depot.
Heathrow Airport Junction (west of Hayes & Harlington)
The spans of the bridge over the Relief Lines which will give Up Heathrow Express trains access to the Up Main line have been installed. In effect the Relief Lines now run through a short tunnel.
The formation has been widened by about half a mile on the Up side towards London. The Up & Down Goods Line behind the Up Relief platform is being realigned for passenger use and the island platform extended towards London. This track was previously Platform 5 and I recall it being used by Staines West and Uxbridge Vine Street branch trains. A new footbridge has been built but not yet in use. At the country end, the various tenants of the derelict coal concentration yard within the curve of the former Staines West branch have been cleared out. The yard was opened in 1959 but although it hasn’t been used as a coal yard for many years, some of the plant is still there. The recent Lafarge Aggregates sidings are now used for construction.
The sidings of the former Total Oil Depot on the Up side opened in 1969 are now being used for electrification construction. I was surprised to see Colas locos # 70 808 and 809 berthed.
A temporary footbridge has been built.
The canopies over both island platforms are being replaced. The previous canopy over platform 5 mainly used as a bay for the Bourne End and Marlow trains was an overall roof. The sidings adjacent to the Up Relief at the country end once used as a Ford Car Terminal and then let out to third parties are now used for construction.
Furze Platt (on the branch line to Bourne End)
I hadn’t previously used this station opened by the GWR in 1937 as a single platform basic halt. Although the materials have changed, this is how it remains. There is a hut which I assume is used to issue tickets in the morning peak although it isn’t signed as such. Conventional staffing seemingly ceased in 1942.
I used Furze Platt to walk about a mile to visit St. Mark’ Hospital where my mother was in ‘rehab’ after a fall. The entire walk was along streets of 1930s detached houses no doubt accounting for the authorisation by the GWR to build a halt on 18 March 1937. It opened on 5 July that year. By modern standards, dynamic!
Since my last visit First Beeline have closed their depot at Bracknell leaving their Slough operation far removed from the company’s legal HQ in Southampton. Both single and double deckers from the Bracknell fleet have moved in. The double-deckers are working the Green Line route. First Group are not abandoning their business in Slough. Route 75 between Slough and Heathrow Central Bus Station and route 78 between Slough and Heathrow Terminal 5 now operate hourly all night 7 nights a week.
I wonder where the ‘traditional’ population of the area has gone? One of my sister’s carers comes from Zagreb in Croatia. The two desk staff at the Holiday Inn Express in Slough who checked me out come from Poland and Portugal respectively. The GWR lady at Slough Station Up side who sold me a ticket comes from Lithuania. And I haven’t even yet mentioned the many South Asians. People may deride Slough which architecturally is as charming as the 1960s bits of central Birmingham, but it does offer jobs.
First Great Western isn’t so named any more. Its publicity even found on ‘car cards’ on the Bakerloo Line trains claims that this is a deliberate rebranding. I saw at least one Network Turbo in the new darkish green livery as well as Sleeping car train locos at Old Oak Common.
Riding in one of their Turbos, I noted a problem which must face many TOCs / ROSCOs in making their trains ‘disabled friendly.’ There are 3+2 seats between the doors and toilets which wheelchairs surely couldn’t pass.
I wondered if there was any planning in the erection of overhead line equipment from Hayes & Harlington outwards towards Reading. Each pile, mast, structure and arm seems to have reached an entirely random state of completion.
North Kent Line
About 3 years ago, I wrote a series of 4 articles on the North Kent Line. The first two have since been published in the Southern Electric Group’s journal ‘Live Rail.’ However, I am having to make regular trips along the North Kent Line to ensure that the text stays up to date during a period of rapid construction activity. Since my normal social rendezvous with former work colleagues had been cancelled at almost the last minute I had the chance to ride from Waterloo East to Chatham and back on Charing Cross to Gillingham trains via Lewisham and Woolwich Arsenal. I rode each way on BREL built class 465/0 Networkers which now sound different following replacement of their electric traction systems.
Borough Market area
In the area of Metropolitan Junction, I noted the installation at the August Bank Holiday of track work and signal gantries in preparation for a ‘big dig’ at Christmas / New Year. Routes from Charing Cross will be realigned on to the new viaduct into London Bridge station. At London Bridge, Cannon Street trains are stopping and using their post 1970s platforms 1 – 3 as before. Charing Cross trains are running through on the tracks formerly serving platforms 4 and 5. In the ‘big dig,’ this will change and Charing Cross trains will approach on the new viaduct and run through without stopping tracks which will in due course serve new island platforms 6 – 7 and 8 – 9 (I don’t know which in detail).
London Bridge to New Cross
Between London Bridge and New Cross Southeastern trains at present use 4 tracks at the northernmost side of the layout with a construction void between them and the 2 -3 tracks on the south side serving the 6 new ‘Brighton’ terminal platforms. There is now a long void in the brick viaduct of the New Cross Spur which used to carry trains from Charing Cross to the Fast Lines at New Cross. Here the new Bermondsey flyover is under construction. One Up track will use the alignment of the former line from North Kent West Junction to Bricklayers Arms; however, the old brick viaduct has been replaced by a new one in concrete. One major curiosity is that this line would have been used by peak hour Up trains from Southeastern lines on to Thameslink. It is now unlikely that such a service will be provided. In Branch Line Society terms: PSUL? Personal comment: from the point of view of service reliability, this is probably just as well. I believe that such a service was crowded out by the decision to continue to run the Wimbledon & Sutton trains through Thameslink rather than use the new terminal bays at Blackfriars.
Plumstead to Belvedere
On the Down side after Plumstead the Crossrail works appear. Firstly at an angle veering towards the Thames is the vast construction depot for the track laying. This is occupied by the colourful track laying train during the day when it is loaded with materials and maintained. It works track laying in the tunnels overnight. Crossrail tracks then emerge on the north side of the present tracks 3rd rail tracks and run parallel on the north side to the Abbey Wood station site. The 3rd rail tracks are having to be slewed over a considerable distance over a widened formation which continues to about half way between Abbey Wood and Belvedere. The modern Abbey Wood station has been demolished and replaced by temporary facilities.
Dartford and Gravesend area
The original Networker scheme assumed 12-car trains and a proportion of platforms were duly lengthened but the job was never finished. As far as I can tell it has been completed this year. However, I noted a train formed by 2 x 5-car 376 emus = 10 cars seemed to entirely fill up the spur between Slade Green and Perry Street Fork Junction leading to the Bexleyheath line. Does this mean that trains routed via this spur must not exceed 10 cars? The CLASP structure of the long decommissioned Dartford power signal box remains on the Down side at the country end of the station.
Tracks on the spur at Northfleet leading to the sidings used to dump Crossrail tunnelling spoil into barges on the Thames are once again disused and rusty. Gravesend station with its new single sided island platform and Up track at first sight looks a success in fitting new facilities between listed original station buildings. On the Up side at Hoo Junction a class 08 or 09 diesel shunter displayed a very large DB logo.
Strood station can only be described as at best ‘unfortunate.’ I don’t know what the regulars say. The station buildings on the Down platform are CLASP. There is a new footbridge with lifts at the ‘country’ end. The Up island platform is a user disaster. It has been lengthened at the London end for 12 cars and now curls towards the tunnel. However, trains 8 cars or longer now stop at the London end leaving a long walk from the footbridge / lift and are devoid of shelter. Maidstone West trains stop conveniently for the shelter and access.
Over the river, work is progressing well at the new Rochester station which is a significant distance closer to the Medway. The main building is on the Up side at right angles to the single sided Up platform. The Down platform which will be an island is necessarily incomplete since the present Rochester signal box is in the way. It can only be removed when the delayed resignalling scheme is implemented.
I lunched in Chatham. I find the station awkward and unsatisfactory, as is the walking route to the High Street. Road traffic ‘rules’ and pedestrians are relegated to a series of crossings.
Great Eastern Overground, etc
Enfield Town line
In the afternoon I decided to look at the London Overground lines newly acquired from 31 May this year. I rode in class 315 emus which seemed to have had a minor but acceptable refurbishment. My first trip was on the 15 30 from Liverpool Street to Enfield Town. I found it rather a dispiriting experience. I think that apart from installing electric lighting, Network Rail’s predecessors have been disinvesting at platform level for at least the last 100 years. The platforms have been resigned, but the Down side platforms at least now have quite minimal shelter. There are more buildings at Hackney Downs, Seven Sisters and Lower Edmonton. Sources suggest that much has been done sporadically to ticket offices, but this isn’t visible from the train. When BR electrified with electric trains starting in 1960, the new station at Enfield Town seems to have been their only major investment. My conclusion is that TfL have a major challenge in bringing the Enfield Town line stations up to the standard of their other lines.
After the fairly dismal performance I have become used to with 3-car class 507s and 508 emus on Merseyside, I was surprised to find that despite the lower power weight ratio on 4-car trains, the 315s seemed quite sprightly. I imagine there are a lot more amps in the 25kV wires. I returned to Hackney Downs.
Chingford line and Hackney interchange walkway
I then headed to Chingford. The stations served by the Chingford trains are in much better shape. The major disappointment is Walthamstow Central station which got a bodged adaptation when it became an interchange with the deep level Victoria Line in 1968. While more works have been carried our recently, it isn’t much better. Chingford has comparatively extensive train berthing but not to modern operational standards.
I returned as far as Hackney Downs to use the very new 200m long footway to Hackney Central on the Overground North London line. It connects the extreme London end of Platform 1 at Hackney Downs to the extreme west end of the eastbound platform at Hackney Central. This means that passengers from a westbound train at Hackney Central connecting to northbound trains at Hackney Downs have 4 more sets of stairs to climb up or down. However, the walkway is covered and is no doubt better than walking down the street. There was a similar previous facility but I am unsure if this survived WW1; after WW2 it would have been irrelevant anyway.
I caught a ‘wedged’ 5-car class 378 from Hackney Central to Stratford. How did everyone fit on a 2-car Cravens dmu? At Stratford I found that the station subways aren’t really adequate for present peak interchange flows which are no doubt different from Olympic flows. I made a short visit to the Westfield shopping centre for the toilets. The flows at 18 00 on a Wednesday evening in September almost suggested a Saturday before Christmas!
I returned to Liverpool Street on a TfL Rail class 315 emu. This was in similar condition to its Overground brethren. The hoardings around the entrance to the Crossrail tunnel prevent much of a view.