diamond geezer

 Saturday, March 16, 2013

CENTRAL: line up

There are a lot of escalators on the Central line. They weren't there when it opened, there were stairs and lifts. But now there are almost twenty stations with diagonal-shifting people-movers. And some of them are record-breaking.

Greenford is well known for having the only escalator on the Underground that you ride up from the ticket hall to reach the platforms. The Central line runs through on a viaduct, just high enough above street level that having to take the stairs would be a pain. The escalator is 30 foot high, that's 9.14m in metric. And there's only one. The down escalator was converted to a staircase a while back, making two hard ways down and only one easy way up. Greenford station was scheduled to be step-free by now, but funding issues caused TfL to pull the plug in 2009 when work on a lift was only part-completed. Preparatory cable and drainage work remains, but only after £2.9m had been spent preparing a lift shaft that'll never be used. It would have been the Central line's only step-free station west of Stratford, but there's Mayoral priorities for you. Instead there's just the one escalator, rolling ever upwards, to reach the platforms.

Even more special, it's a wooden escalator. You don't get these anywhere else on the tube, not any more. Escalators with timber surfaces were phased out after the King's Cross fire for being a combustible risk, but Greenford's has survived because it's not underground. It's quite evocative going for a ride, for those of us who remember these wooden workhorses all across the network. Chunky treads ascend, all threaded together, with convenient grooves into which to drop a scrunched up ticket or a cigarette paper. You suspect it wouldn't be quite so dangerous to catch a stray shoelace here as it would be on a modern metal chewer, but best not stop to find out. Once at the top it's almost tempting to walk back down the stairs, turn round and glide back up for another go. But best not. The platforms up here are fascinating too. Crammed between the two Central line platforms is a single-track FGW terminus, from which you can ride (occasionally) on one of the least used rail lines in London. I will do that one day and write about it, honest.

Chancery Lane
Chancery Lane is well known for having the shortest escalator on the Underground. There are some pretty short escalators elsewhere, like a 6.46m climber at Canning Town, and a 6.31m riser at Heathrow 123, and three 5.60m at West Ham. But Chancery Lane's escalator is piddly, a mere 4.57m, that's fifteen feet in old money. If you choose to take the stairs instead, and you can because a staircase runs up the middle between the pair of escalators, there are only 25 steps. Twenty-five steps is nothing, unless you're elderly, or have a pushchair or a suitcase, in which case whoever installed this mini people-mover is a god. However record-breakingly short it is.

If you're thinking hang on, aren't the escalators at Chancery Lane quite long, that's because there are two sets. One rolls down from the ticket hall, and that's 50 foot long, which is proper big. That takes you down as far as the landing alongside the eastbound platform, which is where half the station's passengers need to go. But a peculiarity of the Central line means the westbound platform is stacked underneath the eastbound, hence the need for the tiny escalator to take everyone else a little further down. Even more peculiarly, the situation one stop down the line at St Paul's is reversed. There the eastbound platform sits underneath the westbound, don't ask me how, but somehow the tunnels swap elevations somewhere under Holborn Viaduct. But the lower escalator at St Paul's is eighteen foot high, that's 92cm more than at Chancery Lane, so Chancery Lane takes the crown.

Except Chancery Lane doesn't have the shortest escalator on the Underground any more. That honour belongs to Stratford station, again on the Central line, as of September 2010. That's when platform 3a opened, to ease congestion before the Olympic by allowing doors to open on both sides on westbound trains. It also made it possible to access the central line direct from the main ticket hall, via an existing escalator. And that was a very short escalator, at only 4.1m, which is half a metre less than at Chancery Lane. You have to be fairly lazy to want to ride this one instead of walk up the staircase alongside, but people are lazy, and the escalator thrives.

And Greenford no longer has the only escalator on the Underground that you ride up to reach the platforms. Stratford has one too, the same escalator that trounced Chancery Lane in the shortness stakes. What a shame it's such a dullard. Stratford's record-breaker isn't even a proper Underground installation, more an incidental people-mover in the general vicinity of a shopping centre. But the Central Line still punches above its weight in the interesting escalator department. Why not ride one today?

Escalators shorter than 6m
4.1m Stratford: Ticket hall up to Central
4.57m Chancery Lane: Westbound up to eastbound
5.12m Notting Hill Gate: Eastbound up to westbound
5.15m Tottenham Court Road: Up from Northern
5.49m St Paul's: Eastbound up to westbound
5.60m West Ham: Up from Jubilee
5.64m King's Cross: Northern up to Piccadilly
5.76m West Ham: Up from ticket hall
5.88m Canning Town: Jubilee up to DLR
5.99m Westminster: Up from District

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