diamond geezer

 Monday, December 14, 2009

Stratford International

Stratford InternationalStratford used to have one station - the big glass megahub close to the town centre. And now it has two. A brand new station has opened to the north of the old, on the High Speed rail line between St Pancras and the continent. The station's called Stratford International and it opened for regular service yesterday, although it's been open for "preview" services for the last fortnight. It's cost millions to construct, requiring the removal of a vast trench of earth (the Stratford Box) and the erection of a state of the art passport-enabled terminal. It was completed more than three years ago, but has been mothballed ever since because of one slight drawback - it's located in the middle of an enormous building site. Planners did have the sense to build an access road on concrete stilts across the Lea Valley, but the sealing-off of the Olympic Park sealed that off too. Eurostar have since shown no interest in stopping here, but the dawn of Southeastern's new High Speed timetable has forced the station to open, sort-of, however inaccessibly.

Stratford International station is a genuine challenge to get to. But I like a challenge.

The sign beside the ticket window in front of Stratford Regional station said that I could buy all my train tickets here. So I tried. "I'd like to buy a return to Ebbsfleet, please." The poor bloke behind the counter struggled with his keyboard, tapping away for at least a minute before giving up. "I can't do that here," he said eventually. "But you can buy a ticket from the end of Platform 11". So off I trudged through the ticket barriers (lucky I had my Oyster travelcard on me, otherwise I'd have been stuck) and along to the end of the subway. Eleven's a long and lonely platform [photo], and I had to walk the entire length of it before reaching the plastic shelter where a uniformed contractor was waiting with a ticket machine slung round his neck.

Stratford International"I'd like to buy a return to Ebbsfleet, please. Oh, and I've got a Gold Card, does that help?" It turned out (after a bit of a search) that a Gold Card didn't help, so I wouldn't be getting my usual one-third off. No, it was full fare, £11.10. Except that I'd been sold a duffer. "Excuse me," I said, "this ticket says 'not valid on High Speed' services, but there's no way to get from Stratford to Ebbsfleet except on High Speed services." So he had another go, and admitted he'd been wrong, and sold me a proper ticket for £12.40. Ouch.
For comparison, a return from St Pancras to Ebbsfleet costs only 10p more, so Stratford passengers are being fleeced here. And if I'd taken the slow train from central London to Ebbsfleet's nearest non-Highspeed station, I could have bought a return for under a fiver. Velocity costs, big time.

And then the weak link in my futuristic journey. A single decker bus was waiting to whisk me from Stratford Regional to Stratford International (via a particularly tortuous detour through a building site) so that I could eventually be dropped off on the other side of the Eurostar chasm [map]. Along the way we passed the London 2012 Athletes Village where only a few blocks are so far semi-complete, but legacy apartments are already being created on a massive scale [photo]. From the opposite window there was also a fine view of the new Westfield Stratford City retail fortress, risen from the soil and now at the adding-cladding stage [photo]. Come 2011 you'll be able to mall-walk between the two stations past an M&S and John Lewis (in Stratford! how optimistically aspirational!). Before that, next summer, a lengthy sinuous DLR link will go live, ending at a terminus that currently looks more like an incomplete petrol station [photo]. The bus journey through the building site took three minutes, quicker than I expected, but I fear that the Regional and International stations are destined never to be particularly well connected.

Stratford InternationalStratford International had one customer when I arrived - me. The long hangar-like ticket hall hadn't changed much since I last visited two years since ago as part of London Open House. It was still a featureless echoing void, completely empty apart from a few (unstretched) staff and a big Christmas tree [photo]. I could tell that this isn't yet a proper profitable station because nobody's opened a coffee shop, or indeed a kiosk or outlet of any kind. The gates to the Eurostar departure zone remain firmly shut until there's a business case for stopping continental services mid-E15. Indeed the station's very badly named at the moment because the most 'International' place served by train services is Dover. Other destinations on the badly-sited departures board include Faversham and Margate, but not yet Paris or Brussels.

plaque at Lewisham stationI proceeded down the escalator [photo] to the domestic platforms, deep in Stratford Box, with dim distant tunnel portals visible at each end of the giant trench. Engineering-wise this might be a fascinating place, but architecturally it's bland and uninspiring [photo]. Concrete pillars, broad featureless platforms and occasional security announcements - best hope your train arrives soon [photo]. The occasional Eurostar service rushed by, its occupants no doubt delighted not to be wasting time by stopping [photo]. No such luck for the next Southeastern service to St Pancras Domestic, which braked and slowed and stopped and paused and waited, all so that a single passenger could disembark. There were plenty of souls on board, mostly families enjoying the fast route from far distant Kent to the heart of King's Cross. But it'll be a long time before Stratford International becomes a short haul commuter hub of choice. It may be only seven minutes from St Pancras to here, but it takes rather longer than seven minutes to escape (via hopper bus and long trek) to Stratford proper.

» Tomorrow I'll tell you about where I went, and whether things were any less bleak at the other end.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream