diamond geezer

 Thursday, January 17, 2013

Last weekend I headed over to Custom House station because I'd heard it was about to be knocked down. Not the DLR station, but the old Silverlink station which closed at the end of 2006. Its canopied platforms have been standing empty for more than six years, boarded up and inaccessible from the street. But you can still walk up the steps to the concrete podium in front of the ticket hall where there's a disused Permit To Travel machine and a sign directing non-existent passengers to nearby bus stops. All going.

The old North London tracks have been redundant ever since the DLR opened alongside, and have recently been ripped up. And that's because another railway is coming through, this much more important, to take its place. That'll be Crossrail, which rises to the surface briefly around Custom House to serve the neighbouring ExCel exhibition centre. Engineers worked out they could save a lot of money by reusing the old track, and having non-underground platforms would save a pretty penny too.

So I thought, that'd be interesting to write about. And then yesterday Mwmbwls at London Reconnections published a report about Crossrail at Custom House. It's much more detailed than anything I could have written, full of appropriate construction-worthy detail. And I can't compete with that. He's even got many of the same photos that I took, but with the passing trains in different places. So you should go and read his account, obviously.

This is the scene a bit further down the line, viewed from the footbridge at Prince Regent station. That's the Connaught Tunnel sloping down to the left, built in 1878 to take the North Woolwich line beneath the Royal Docks. It's being repurposed too, which is useful because it saves Crossrail from building a bridge and blocking yachts sailing to Boat Shows, and that sort of thing. And London Reconnections have written all about that too, even taking a walk through the tunnel to see how archaically crumbly it is and how the restoration's going. So obviously you should read that too. The best I can do is a single photo they haven't got, which is looking down at the buttressed arches from the point where they dive into the ground.

This is a particularly uninspiring location, especially in January, surrounded on all sides by self-important hotels and semi-barriered car parks. If you ever come to an exhibition here, and the company's paying, you'll likely end up inside one of these matchbox rooms or somewhere similar nearby. Planes swoop down to land at City Airport immediately alongside, so good luck sleeping. Crossrail trains will emerge on the other side of the water, where Silvertown station used to be, but that's long gone and the adjacent tavern is now a thin sliver of dull beige flats.

The contrast between have and have not is particularly strong along Crossrail's burst to the surface. Step beyond the £80-a-night hotel to the north of Custom House station and you enter a world where £80-a-week is closer to the truth. Past the betting shop, fish bar and credit union, the local residents aren't the sort who'd cross the tracks to attend a trade show. Similarly in Silvertown, those living in the flats and terraces beside City Airport rarely avail themselves of the international travel opportunities on their doorstep.

One hopes that the arrival of Crossrail might bring greater prosperity to the people of South Newham. How wonderful to connect the area to Docklands and Central London, bringing employment opportunities within reach for tens of thousands. But I fear the effect will work in the opposite direction, as commuters rush to buy homes and newbuild flats four minutes from Canary Wharf and 15 from the West End, and the current population loses out.

I'll therefore leave writing about this brand new railway to London Reconnections, because they have it covered. But expect great changes around here, over the next five years and beyond, as Crossrail leaves its mark.

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