diamond geezer

 Sunday, October 16, 2005

Bow Road station modernisation - post-project appraisal

According to Metronet, who've been frittering away £3.3 million modernising my local tube station for the last 20 months, "the station was delivered into service on 05 October". Well thank goodness for that. There have been times over the last 86 weeks when I thought this incompetent infraco would never deliver. But now at last they've buggered off, leaving behind what may be a shiny new station with several updated features. But has all the effort and inconvenience been worthwhile? I thought I'd carry out an appraisal of Metronet's initial project objectives, because that's the modern way. Here's what they promised the public in a poster last summer. How have they performed?

1) "The modernisation will result in significantly improved facilities": I guess I have a different definition of the word 'facilities' to the top brass at Metronet. I'd been looking forward to at least one change during the Bow Road upgrade that would significantly improve my daily commute, but all I got was a new drinks machine and a louder public address system. The station staff, on the other hand, now have a lovely new control room full of computer screens (presumably for use when they're not busy reading a newspaper in the kiosk by the ticket gate). Lucky them. [Verdict: fail]

2) "A new ticket hall": When I saw this pledge last summer I wondered whether perhaps a brand new ticket hall might be opened up, possibly in the eastern half of the main building not previously open to the public. But no, the 'new ticket hall' is just the old ticket hall with new lighting, new signage and several layers of fresh paint. [Verdict: fail]

3) "New passageways": There are no new public passageways at Bow Road station, just the same old stairwells down from the ticket hall to the platforms. We did get lots of new flooring - a layer of something plastic across both the ticket hall and the stairwells - but station staff still have to scribble "Caution - floor may be slippery" on the station whiteboard whenever it rains. So much for modern engineering. [Verdict: fail]

4) "Improved station lighting": The western half of Bow Road station is officially 'underground', and the lighting down the far end of each platform always used to be dim, dark and uninviting. Things are much brighter now throughout the entire station, possibly too much so, but the whole place feels rather safer as a result. [Verdict: pass]

5) "New signage": a) At last, Bow Road is on the right lines. The big blue sign attached to the front of the station always used to read "DISTRICT AND METROPOLITAN LINES", even though services on the latter line were withdrawn from the station in 1990. No more. All the new signage throughout the station now correctly refers to the "District and Hammersmith and City lines", with matching green and pink trim as appropriate. There are also proper direction signs to Bow Church on the DLR (please turn right outside station), and it's all really rather tasteful. Big improvement. [Verdict: pass]

b) As for the new next train indicators, however, they're rubbish and a complete waste of money. They ought to be so much better than the ancient bulb-operated indicators we used to have (left) but no. The flashy new electronic displays (right) provide less than 45 seconds warning of the destination of the next westbound train, and no information at all about what may be following behind. If you're standing in the ticket hall and see that the next train is heading for Wimbledon, for example, you have a less than 50-50 chance of zipping down the stairs in time to catch it. If they can provide up to six minutes warning of the next three trains at Mile End, the next station down the line, then why can't we have a similar level of information at Bow Road? In my opinion this is the biggest missed opportunity of the entire upgrade. [Verdict: fail]

6) "New platform edge tactile strips": It's good to see facilities installed to assist visually impaired passengers, even if it took the contractors at least four or five attempts to successfully stick a few bits of yellow rubber to the platform surface. [Verdict: pass]

7) "New platform seating": There was seating on the platform before, but now there's more of it and in a modern more comfortable style. Unfortunately most of the new seating is down at the far end of each platform, and most station users can't be arsed to walk more than ten metres from the foot of each stairwell so it rarely gets used. [Verdict: pass]

8) "New CCTV": There was a complete CCTV system at Bow Road station before renovation began, presumably sufficient to prevent this quiet station from becoming a hotbed of violence and crime. Now we have more than 70 security cameras scanning the station, a gobsmackingly high number for a simple two-platform station serving 5000 passengers a day. Walk through the station entrance (click), across the ticket hall (click click click click), down the stairwell (click click) and along the platform (click x 24) and every last sigh, grimace and nosepick will have been recorded for posterity by the security staff in the new control room. Charles Clarke would be proud. I'm not sure whether I'm more disturbed by the implicit attack on my civil liberties or the undoubtedly exorbitant cost of this wholly unnecessary mega-surveillance system. [Verdict: pass, sadly]

9) "The unique architectural features of the station will be preserved throughout": Take a look at these before and after shots the wall at the western end of the westbound platform. The photo on the left shows a crumbling station with paint peeling from the walls, the end result of years of neglect and underfunding, and desperately in need of repair. And on the right is the same wall today, gleaming and shiny with modern easy-clean panelling. It's undoubtedly a great improvement, except that Bow Road station is supposed to be a Grade 2 listed building and somehow it now looks like a 1902 station with chunks of 2005 bolted on. That old wall will never be seen again, masked forever behind a heritage-free vinyl veneer, and the new spray-painted tube sign is no replacement for the historic Bow Road roundel.

The rest of the station reflects this curious mix of old and new. Take for example the 26 pillars that support the platform roof - probably the station's most prominent feature. These have been lovingly repainted in the original yellow and green, toppped off with bright red, and give the station real character. Unfortunately some twat has also repainted all the metalwork across the platform roof with bright blue paint, and the resulting colour clash looks amateur and uncoordinated. The station frontage has also been carefully repaired and restored, but is now scarred by an ugly electronic sign bolted beside the entrance. The stairwells have scrubbed up well, but they're now dominated by giant glass globe light fittings which look somehow more alien than Victorian. And let's not forget the ubiquitous plastic cable ducting, copious numbers of loudspeakers and all those bloody security cameras. Metronet may indeed have preserved the heritage features at Bow Road, but impact of the old has been considerably diminished by all the additional modern stuff they've installed everywhere else. The station has, alas, been refurbished rather than restored. [Verdict: fail]

10) "The work is due for completion in spring 2005": Leaves are now starting to fall from the horse chestnut tree outside Bow Road station, so it must be autumn, so work has been completed two seasons too late. When I started recording daily (in)activity at Bow Road in February last year, little did I expect to be still going 20 months later. It's taken Metronet more than 600 days to complete their first PPP-funded station upgrade, with Bow Road the guinea pig for their incompetent and wasteful bureaucratic procedures. The whole project has been beset by a succession of over-optimistic deadlines, and hindered by poor planning, excessive paperwork and limited communication. The travelling public have also been forced to endure a year of late evening station closures, the first six months of which were undoubtedly totally unnecessary. Ultimately the taxpayer has shelled out millions of pounds for a gravy train of fatcat contractors to drag their feet carrying out what is essentially a minor facelift. [Verdict: fail]

Conclusion: Whose bloody stupid idea was it to outsource the maintenance and modernisation of London's tube network to the private sector? Let my local station stand as an example of what happens when profit and paperwork become more important than planning and performance. I fear for the desecration these companies could cause at a station with real heritage features. I despair at the amount of money being siphoned from an urgent modernisation programme to line shareholders' pockets. And although I'm glad to see the back of the builders at Bow Road, I'm warned that they intend to return in 7 or 8 years time to start all over again. In the meantime maybe I should turn my attention to the mess these people are about to make of the Lea Valley Olympic site instead... [Verdict: fail]

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