diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 18, 2010

Ford DagenhamStrange place, Dagenham Dock. One of London's few genuine industrial wastelands, tucked away on the Thames marshes where it can offend the fewest possible number of people, and home to Ford's giant Dagenham works. Tens of thousands once worked here, churning Capris, Cortinas and Fiestas off the assembly line, until 2002 when car production was halted. Now there's a "stamping" plant, and a rump of workers making diesel engines, but the golden days are long gone.

I concentrated my attentions on the area around Dagenham Dock station (originally named after the dockyards a mile down towards the Thames). For years there was nothing here apart from Ford and an insignificant station, but things have changed dramatically over the past decade or so.

The first invasive structure here was the A13. Upgraded in the late 90s, Dagenham marks the point where this trunk road veers off from the old turnpike and glides across the Thames-side marshland on concrete stilts. The viaduct crosses the railway line immediately above Dagenham Dock station, affording the only decent view of the area to lorry drivers speeding on their way to Tilbury and beyond.

Next to arrive were the wind turbines. You've probably seen them in the distance while crossing East London, but here you're right up close to one, a full 120 metres from top to tail. A meteorologist would argue that the UK boasts few places less windy than Dagenham, but this site generates a significant proportion of the energy used by what's left of the Ford engine plant.

Then came High Speed One. Extra-fast tracks were constructed immediately alongside the local c2c railway, and a previous level crossing had to be replaced by a vehicle-proof footbridge. Services to Brussels and Paris now speed through this none-too-photogenic industrial corridor, twelve minutes out from St Pancras (probably best not to look out of the window). International travellers never stop at Dagenham Dock, of course, and locals have to make do with a miserable two trains an hour to Grays (and one an hour on Sundays). [photo]

Dagenham Dock bus stationThe latest addition to Dagenham Dock is the bus station. I say bus station, although that probably conjures up in your mind something far grander than actually exists. You're thinking interchange hub, and umpteen bus stops and maybe even a coffee bar for good measure. Not a chance. Only one bus serves this particular bus station, the EL2, and that departs no more than five times an hour [photo]. One bus route also means only one bus stop - a single lonely shelter at the far end of a specially-constructed busway - nothing more complicated is required [photo]. As for coffee, forget it. There is a special circular hideaway where drivers go to refresh and relieve themselves, but lesser mortals won't find refreshment anywhere near.

And that's it. A dead-end bus station beneath an inaccessible viaduct, allowing almost nobody to travel anywhere they'd really want to go. A four-lane transport hub lying dormant beside a poorly used station. A considerable amount of investment to construct far too much infrastructure for not enough demand. And why? Because of a project that Boris's 2008 TfL budget cull scuppered. A new spur of the Docklands Light Railway was due to be extended out this way, branching off from the Beckton line and reaching out into the Thames Gateway. Had it been built, this light rail link could have brought accessibility and potential prosperity to the Barking Riverside development. But no, those DLR plans are in deep freeze until the money can be found to fund them, which may be never.

For now, Dagenham Dock's new bus station lies almost empty, awaiting the traffic which might one day justify its existence. A few car workers - those who don't drive - will use it at the start and finish of their shifts. A few Goresbrook residents - those with friends on the Thames View Estate - will walk down from Dagenham proper over the footbridge for an EL2. But other users will surely be few and far between for several years yet. The East London Transit promised so much, but a pretty red bus can't build a community unaided.

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