diamond geezer

 Sunday, February 03, 2013

BAKERLOO: Down the line

Every month this year (with the exception of January), I'm planning to focus on one of London Underground's underground lines. Think of it as a 150th anniversary special, a Tube Year rather than my usual Tube Week. I've decided to kick off with the Bakerloo line, as you probably spotted yesterday, and then I'll do the rest in some random order that isn't alphabetical. There's no grand plan, just a February filled with various Bakerloo-related posts, here and there, every now and then, on diverse topics. I thought I'd introduce things with a ride all the way along the line, from E&C to H&W. Sorry, it's not going to be as interesting as it sounds.

Elephant & Castle's unusual, a terminating station in zone 1, a wasted opportunity. The line could head south but doesn't, and I'll come back later to investigate this more fully. In the meantime two subterranean platforms await at the foot of the liftshafts. Pick the right one and jump aboard. This is a Bakerloo line train to Harrow and Wealdstone. This train is ready to leave. Please mind the doors.

It's dead quiet at the start of the line on a Saturday, although this depends which end of the train you're sitting. My carriage stays empty-ish for a while, but others fill swiftly with all those who can't be bothered to walk more than a few steps down the platform. Lambeth North has lovely tiling, patterned in cream and brown, while Waterloo's decoration is much less inspiring. Somewhere between the two is the tunnel that leads off to the Bakerloo's London Road depot, but I'm not paying attention at the critical moment, whenever that is, and I miss it. Then we're off beneath the Thames, through massive floodgates, not that these are visible from the train. Indeed not much is, because we're underground, so there's little for me to report back on.

We ride from Embankment, formerly Charing Cross, to Charing Cross, formerly Trafalgar Square. A big cat stares back at me through the window from behind a sprig of copper leaves. This is Henri Rousseau's Tiger in a Tropical Storm Surprised, to be found at the nearby National Gallery and re-depicted here on the platform wall. At Piccadilly Circus there's a considerable exodus, then at Oxford Circus the opposite. On they pour with suitcases and bags of shopping, forcing our driver to press the "Please move right down inside the train" button as many as four times.

Our ride is proper curvy, following the line of Regent Street and Portland Place to the north. Again the tiling is the most interesting thing to look out for, restored to century-old perfection at Regent's Park, then the famous Sherlock Holmes motif at Baker Street. Marylebone looks a little gloomier, until my front carriage pulls in beside former station name GREAT CENTRAL spelt out in fine-glazed rectangles. More passengers are getting off than on now, as we pass one major rail terminus and then, after Edgware Road, another.

Beyond Paddington the Bakerloo changes from inner-city conduit to suburban conveyor. The next three stations are the last three underground, beginning with the one that always makes me hum Duffy. That's Warwick Avenue (for Little Venice), although the bracketed bit doesn't scan, and it's not on the tube map either. Maida Vale and Kilburn Park are both more interesting than can be seen from the train, with only some fairly clinical green and white tiles visible through the windows. And then we emerge from the tube and go Overground.

Most Bakerloo line trains terminate at Queens Park, but we're continuing to the end of the line. Our driver announces that an Overground train will be the next service north, although there's nothing on the adjacent platform so nobody believes him. When our train pulls off immediately we all congratulate ourselves on staying put... and then we sit in the train shed for four minutes while the aforementioned service passes. I don't mind, because sitting in a train shed isn't something you can do anywhere else on the network, but that's the way the Bakerloo track rolls.

It's a very different ride from here on, alongside the West Coast mainline, with the occasional Virgin swooshing by. Kensal Green is a dull old station, as would be Willesden Junction if there weren't connecting lines soaring overhead. We're catching up now with the Overground train in front, so spend rather longer at Harlesden than the timetable allows. The platforms here are really high, more step-up access than step-free, so are likely to remain wheelchair-unfriendly in perpetuity.

At Stonebridge Park, just beyond the North Circular, the plastic litter bags on the elevated platforms flap in the breeze. The Bakerloo's main depot is accessed here, part of a massive railway zone (including mainline sidings) which is at one point more than 50 tracks wide. From here north it's one tube train every ten minutes, crossing beneath all other lines in a sweeping tunnel. Wembley Central has a dreary ambience, artificially lit beneath an upper plaza, where nobody waiting appears to be smiling. And then, finally, the semis and terraces begin and we can peer down into people's gardens.

A few local residents are hanging around at North Wembley, a fairly standard canopied station. South Kenton is much quieter, indeed one of the least busy stations on the entire Underground, and nobody (seen from my viewpoint) alights or boards at the island platform. St Mary's church on Harrow Hill is visible as we pass Northwick Park, where acres of football and rugby pitches go unused except by seagulls. You could switch to the Metropolitan at Kenton, it's not far to walk, or you could simply go shopping at Sainsbury's nextdoor.

For those Bakerloo trains that make it this far, the last couple of minutes are no visual treat. A trading estate, a council tip and a drain repair warehouse... it's probably best not to look up from your smartphone as we approach our destination. After fifty minutes this is Harrow and Wealdstone, in deepest Zone 5, where this train terminates. It doesn't feel Undergroundy here at all, more a proper rail stopover with tube intruders. A million miles from Elephant and Castle in every way except distance.

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