diamond geezer

 Friday, September 02, 2011

DLR extension: Abbey Road
The Beatles never came to this Abbey Road. There isn't a big recording studio, there isn't even a zebra crossing. But there might soon be accidental tourists, lured to a quiet corner of the Lower Lea Valley by a temptingly named station on the London tube map. They'll be disappointed. When I first heard that the DLR was planning to open up a station at Abbey Road, I was mighty surprised. There's not much here, only the dead-end corner of a Newham housing estate and an ageing collection of light industrial units. West Ham station isn't far away, so what local population there is has hugely better connections just down the road. The site has easy access to the middle of the Greenway, and a train depot, not that this would sway anyone to open a station specially, surely? Baffled I was. But now here it is, a proper 21st century station accessed via the old brick bridge at the end of a single row of terraced houses. I guess it's here because this is one of the rare spots where a road crosses two miles of railway, and the planners had their eye on prospects for future development. Remember, Pudding Mill Lane must have looked like a bloody stupid location for a DLR station once, and now look at it.

Abbey Road station is yet to prove a big hit with the locals. Indeed on Wednesday morning there were five times more staff here than passengers. That's partly because there was only one passenger, me, but also because the station was being given a damned good collective scrubdown in celebration for its grand opening. Every glass surface cleaned, every seat rubbed over, every horizontal surface duly mopped. As job creation schemes go, I doubt there'll be sufficient vandals and litter louts at Abbey Road to keep this army of cleaners employed full time.

My solo wait at Abbey Road provided an opportunity to inspect the heritage plaque at the foot of the northbound platform. 'Erected on the site of the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary's AD 1135' The plaque was embedded in the bridge in 1892 (previously visible only to passing train drivers, now to all and sundry) and commemorates the once-very-important Abbey of Stratford Langthorne. Archaeologists preparing the way for the Jubilee line extension excavated 683 skeletons here, probably of former monks, as well as the eastern end of the former church. Almost nothing of the monastic estate remains above ground today, bar the foundations of the gatehouse in Abbey Gardens. You'd like Abbey Gardens, a community project based on shared cultivation (in-depth website here, Harvest Festival 17th September), now easily accessed from the station via Baker's Row. I'd not expect Beatles-searching tourists to be impressed, but there's rather more Abbey around here than you might think.

DLR extension: West Ham
Ooh, hang on, a real station. The DLR runs from the old North London line platforms, now slightly spruced up, and easily accessed from the Jubilee line overbridge. Passengers can catch a train to Abbey Road or Star Lane (although it might be quicker to walk than to wait). Passengers can catch a train to Stratford or Canning Town (although it's probably quicker to take the non-stop Jubilee instead). Or passengers, what passengers there are, can catch a through train to Beckton or Woolwich (depending). Keep an eye on the next train indicators on the Jubilee platforms opposite, they might well signal a faster way out.

DLR extension: Star Lane
Another "hmm, why?" station, this. Major industrial estate on one side of the tracks, a patch of grass and a few houses on the other. But there are plenty of answers to "hmm, why?" if you look. The station's halfway between West Ham and Canning Town, and the DLR has a habit of infilling to promote community connectivity. TfL's new eco-friendly West Ham Bus Garage is close by, so this gives drivers a fresh means of access. The neighbouring industrial estate is destined for greater things, so having a station primed and ready will aid future development. The station's footbridge provides a welcome (and rare) means of crossing two barrier-like railway lines. And if you happen to live round here (yes, I know you don't, but people do), a new station on your doorstep brings nothing but benefits.

It feels quite expansive, does Star Lane DLR, accessed from either side via a lofty staircase or lift. There are bike racks on both flanks, of a very appealing DLR-specific design, at least so long as nobody wrecks the symmetry by chaining a bicycle to them. Up on the footbridge, artist Toby Paterson has stencilled all the glass walls with a repeating geometric pattern. These are different at each of the new stations along the line - a simple idea and yet very effective. And finally, down the stairs from the ticket machine area, a big island platform for waiting on. You'll probably never hang around here, but don't begrudge this shiny new halt to those who will.

DLR extension: Canning Town
Out: It's not an ideal situation. Two sets of DLR platforms, separated both horizontally and vertically, with the same destinations served from both. Want to go to Woolwich? Ah, the first train could be upstairs, where it always used to be, or it could be downstairs and across a bit, on the newly opened platforms. There'll be some electronic display screens soon to alert passengers to which train's pulling in where, but alas they're not yet functional. Think of it as the DLR version of Camden Town. Stay awake and you should end up on the right platform to catch the next service out, or else just head to the usual place and there'll be a train to your destination eventually.

In: It's not an ideal situation. Two sets of DLR platforms, separated both horizontally and vertically, with services pulling into both. Just arrived from Woolwich? Ah, your train could be upstairs, where it always used to be, or it could be downstairs and across a bit, on the newly opened platforms. Those who arrive downstairs don't seem especially pleased. Most travellers from Beckton or Woolwich don't want to go to Stratford, they want Docklands or the Jubilee, so they're not happy to find themselves isolated on the line to nowhere. Canning Town's where most of these passengers get out... then traipse down, across and up to get to where they wished they'd arrived in the first place. I can do the full DLR-to-DLR trek in 80 seconds flat, but that's off-peak with no slowcoaches on the escalators. The elderly couple I saw on Wednesday took six minutes. They spent the first minute looking bemused, the second asking a member of staff where trains for London were, and the third shuffling down the platform to the lift. Then a fourth descending to subway level, a fifth to cross to lift number two, and finally a sixth to ascend to the top level platform. Next time, if there is a next time, they'll know to wait patiently at Custom House for the next through service rather than catch the first train through, it'll be quicker. Beware the weasel words "Change at Canning Town" - you may get more than you bargained for.

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