diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Another month, another new London station. Don't get too used to this rapid infrastructure rollout, because the run of fresh stations won't last more than another year. But ooh, bright shiny DLR station alert. Have you been yet?

South Quay is a mid-Docklands station used mostly by office workers whose companies can't afford the bigger brasher skyscrapers further up the line. It boasts a turbulent but brief history. Originally constructed in 1987, South Quay was given a major revamp in 1994 when the DLR proved much more popular than expected. Then in 1996 the IRA exploded a ceasefire-breaking bomb close by and the station had to be re-rebuilt. And now it's been completely rebuilt yet again, this time 125 metres further east, as part of the DLR's Three Carriage Capacity Enhancement Project. The previous station was sandwiched inbetween two bends and couldn't be extended to take longer trains, hence the need to start again from scratch alongside a straighter stretch of track. We can only hope that this latest resurrection survives a bit longer.

Aside: TfL are very proud that they've managed to construct the new station immediately adjacent to the railway without disrupting services. Their latest press release boasts that "clever engineering techniques by contractors Taylor Woodrow meant the replacement station was constructed without the line, or the old station, once being closed." This may indeed be true, construction-wise. But the entire arm out to Lewisham was closed last weekend, essentially so that the new South Quay station could be properly 'tested'. And that's why it took me over an hour to get home from Lewisham to Bow by bus on Sunday afternoon, rather than half an hour on the DLR, so I spit in the face of this particular press release.

South Quay stationThe new South Quay station opened yesterday with minimal fanfare. Certain local residents managed to get there during daylight hours and take several decent photos. By the time I arrived, however, it was very dark. Very dark, that is, except in the space immediately underneath the station where it was very bright indeed. Somebody's installed lighthouse-strength illumination below the platforms, shining out into the surrounding area like a glaring beacon. Office workers streaming home weren't going to miss their new departure point.

The new station is built above water, spanning the canal between the West India and Millwall Docks. This means it has two entrances - one lesser pair of staircases to the east, and a much flashier main entrance to the west. An occasionally useful byproduct of this will be than when a passing boat causes the swingbridge to be raised, pedestrians will still be able to cross the canal via the platforms above. An annoying byproduct of this is that passengers arriving by train have been given no obvious clue as to which exit is which, nor that one involves a heck of a lot of stairs and the other a nice comfy escalator.

South Quay stationSouth Quay's main ground-level concourse feels rather unwelcoming, in that it's essentially a gaping chasm beneath a concrete railway track. Good luck working out where to go. I watched one lost commuter walking up to the far end only to discover a useless waterside terrace rather than any useful station access. And then I tried to find the up escalator for myself. I walked up to the obvious one, only to spot that it was barely moving, and downwards. They've installed intelligent energy-saving escalators here which only ramp up to normal speed when approached - and only when approached from the right end. It took me a while to spot the illuminated "no entry" sign on this particular escalator, so then had to wander off in search of the proper 'up' one. Minimal signage meant that it wasn't as obvious as it should have been.

South Quay stationThen a slow glide up to the platform to enjoy the elevated South Quay experience. I bet there's a fine watery view out across the dock during daylight hours, whereas yesterday's rush hour offered only overlookable twinkling lights. Instead I got to stare at the glassy metally walls, and the very bright lights, and the 'next train' indicator. I was pleased that it hadn't been installed by cretins and was therefore fully legible. I was less than impressed by the scrolling message along the bottom which read "Passengers are advised that the new South Quay station is now open". Well, yeah, duhhh, obviously.

These are proper three-carriage-length platforms, although DLR trains are currently still only two. This caused teething difficulties as commuters spread out to enjoy the full length of their new platform, then had to run to catch an arriving train when it arrived shorter than expected. They'll get the hang of it soon. The new South Quay certainly beats the old one, which is already dark and being dismantled a short distance away. Bad news - another line closure will be required to get rid of it.

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