diamond geezer

 Thursday, March 07, 2013

CENTRAL: End of the line

Five tube stations have the word Ruislip in their name, but only one marks the end of a line. That's West Ruislip, way out in zone 6, where Central line trains from Epping terminate. In case you've never been, I have, and here's what I can tell you about the place.

1) The station
There are nicer stations than West Ruislip, but there are far worse. Central line trains run either side of an island platform with a central canopy, and departing passengers need to check the signs carefully before boarding. The peculiarity here, shared with South Ruislip down the line, is that Chiltern trains have separate platforms alongside. They don't stop that regularly, not outside peak times, but it's nice to have the opportunity to travel further. We'll come back to this. The front of the station has a broad façade with a gently bending porch beneath a lantern roof. It could easily be something TfL had designed, except this place was built by British Rail in the 1960s. Immediately to the right of the entrance are your usual food stores and takeaway, but to the left is a minor police station, which suggests this area is a hotbed of crime. It doesn't look it. Immediately opposite the station is a golf course, and a Harvester-style restaurant which runs comedy nights and slimming classes to pack 'em in. We're right on the border between Ruislip and Ickenham, which is why this station used to be called Ruislip & Ickenham, then West Ruislip (for Ickenham) before losing the Icky bit. A lot of fresh flats are being built just down the road at Ickenham Park, on the site of what until fairly recently was RAF West Ruislip. But mostly what's down the road is Metroland, and a very pleasant corner of Metroland too.

2) The extension
West Ruislip wasn't scheduled to be the end of the Central line. When the western extension was mapped out in the 1930s the line was due to go further, all the way to Denham in Buckinghamshire. But the war came along and interrupted things (which is one of the most overused phrases on this blog) and the original plans had to be curtailed. The problem was the golf course across the road from West Ruislip station, and all the undeveloped land beyond it. After World War 2 this became part of the Green Belt, which meant no houses could be built beyond, and without houses there was no point in continuing the railway. If you look over the side of the bridge opposite the station you can see where the dream ended. Two dead end sidings terminate at a pair of unconvincing looking buffers, while a single track links up to the Chiltern line beyond. The Central line could have been the only tube line to exit Greater London twice, but it wasn't to be.

3) The missing station
Denham station already existed when the Central line extension was killed off, but one intermediate station never materialised. That would have been Harefield Road, a halt approximately halfway along the unbuilt section, shortly before the Chiltern railway crosses the Colne Valley. What a fantastically remote and unlikely spot for a station this is. A lonely bend in a minor road, surrounded by fields and woodland, and not a house in sight. The only folk living within half a mile are farmers. There is one other business here, that's Uxbridge Skip Hire, who run their operations down a bleak track which goes by the name of Skip Lane. Public access is along a pavement from nowhere, or the U9 bus runs through - Hail and Ride only. As for the town of Harefield itself, that's two miles away, and an absolutely 'no' to walk to after dark. There is no conceivable economic justification for a station in this location, indeed there's an air of Blake Hall about the place, for those who remember the pointless platform at the Ongar end of the line. But that's the point. Harefield Road station was meant to generate development, not to serve it. Had the Central line extended, these fields off Harvil Road would have been swallowed up by acres of semis and bungalows, and a parade of shops, and a school, and who knows what else besides. Instead the Green Belt has done its job and this place remains mostly unspoilt, at least until HS2 appears and carves a whopping cutting out of the adjacent woodland.

4) The missing link
A few hundred yards south of West Ruislip station the Central line passes over the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines. It doesn't stop, indeed there's no convenient way to change from one to the other. When Tube Challengers come this way they have to run, unless the hourly U10 is passing by, that elusive bus of legend. It would be foolish to add a new interchange station here - West Ruislip is much too close - so the trek to Ickenham or Ruislip remains. But there have been mutterings, even semi-coherent plans, to link the lines together. Hillingdon council would love nothing better than to divert Central line trains away from West Ruislip and off towards Uxbridge. That would bring three different lines into the heart of the town, and offer commuters a greater choice of routes into the city. I'm not convinced that Uxbridge station could cope with the additional trains, and I don't think residents of West Ruislip would be very happy either. But a link wouldn't be as difficult to achieve as many other pie in the sky interchange schemes. The two lines are already joined via a track round the back of Ruislip depot, where large numbers of Central line trains are stabled overnight. It'd take some major reorganisation to create two-way passage, and the carriages full of ballast currently stored up the sidings would need to be shunted elsewhere. London Reconnections discuss the issues here, in some detail. This potential junction is quite hard to see, except from a train, although if you stand on the road bridge at Austin's Lane you can see the dead end buffer where the Central line might one day merge. I wouldn't hold my breath waiting, to be honest. Until which time West Ruislip station will continue to be the end of the line that shouldn't have been the end of the line, imperfect but immovable.

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