At the end of service tomorrow, Pudding Mill Lane DLR station will cease to be. This poor stunted halt has suffered more spectacular ups and downs in its short life than any station has reason to expect, due to being in precisely the right place for Olympics but also precisely the wrong place for longevity. In this case the cause for closure is Crossrail, whose tracks will be emerging from the ground close by before climbing through the spot where the platforms now stand. A replacement station is almost complete, a few metres to the south, and is scheduled to open on Monday week. But tomorrow's your last chance to visit the original station, and to stand in the middle of nowhere looking out over everything.
The location's unusual in that, until very recently, the surrounding area has never been even vaguely residential. The River Lea runs through on either side, along a series of braided channels tamed from the extensive Stratford Marshes, through a landscape once used only for grazing and industry. During the 18th century the famous Bow Porcelain Works were sited a little to the south, while in the 19th century the site where the station now stands was occupied by a Lampblack Manufactory. A cluster of windmills existed close by from medieval times until 1934, the most prominent of which was called St Thomas's Mill. Its shape apparently apparently resembled an upturned pudding, hence it earned the nickname Pudding Mill, and the tiny stream alongside was known as the PuddingMillRiver. If you want a fuller history, head back to this post from 2010, or just rest assured that the name Pudding Mill Lane is soundly grounded in fact.
When the DLR was first built, its budget was pared to a shoestring by the government of the day. This meant costs were cut beyond what might have been wise, and one of the casualties was the stretch between Bow Church and Stratford. For starters this was single-tracked, creating a bottleneck that still stunts the service over 25 years later. And secondly the planned station at Pudding Mill Lane, then codenamed Stratford South, was never built. The site was safeguarded in readiness for future development, and cash was finally stumped up in the mid 1990s for the creation of a bare bones halt. This finally opened on 15th January 1996, serving little more than an industrial estate and a few businesses along the quieter end of Stratford High Street. Nobody could have foreseen at the time that the station was utterly perfectly located for two fortnights in2012, and that it was utterly incapable of coping.
It is a runty little station, Pudding Mill Lane, and always has been. The platforms are narrow, and asymmetrical, and too short for the three-carriage trains that now stop there. Management decided there was little point in extending them while the station was doomed, so passengers still need to "move towards the centre of the train" to disembark. The timetable's organised so that trains pull into both platforms simultaneously, the station acting as a passing place, bringing brief regular moments of activity. To the north, across the Greater Anglia mainline, the view through the wires and gantries is of the View Tube, Greenway and Olympic Stadium. That's probably what I'll miss most, because the replacement station has glass walls - ideal for shelter but much less a part of its surroundings.
Exit from the station is via a steep single staircase, pretty much wide enough for two abreast, or via the lift. I realised this week I'd never taken the lift before so I gave it a try, and it reeked of cigarette smoke, so perhaps I'm glad I'll never do that again. Stairs and lift both disgorge into a tickethall, if that isn't too grand a name for a tiled concrete corner under strip lights. Along one gloomy wall are the doors to a switchroom and a cleaner's cupboard, and opposite is the one place you can guarantee to find a copy of Friday morning's Metro on a Sunday afternoon. Although, sorry, that's suddenly an obsolete piece of advice, because this particular station has no more Fridays or Sundays left.
What used to be outside was a triangular piazza and one really (really) tall lamppost, but Crossrail's encroachment put paid to those. Instead there's one of the most unlikely coffee shops in town, the London Diner, which opened up when someone realised a regular clientèle of Olympic site workers needed refreshment. But no longer... the shutters have been down for a couple of years, and the View Tube has sole trading rights on caffeinated beverages hereabouts. Escaping from the station is a bit of a switchback, first a narrowpath down the edge of the viaduct and then following whatever route Crossrail's contractors have laid on through their building site. It's very much a zigzag at the moment, occasionally closing temporarily to allow a digger or truck to rumble from one half of the site to the other.
Thenewstation's nearly finished, or at least there's nothing ten days of intensive work can't fix. It utterly dwarfs its predecessor, and will indeed be the largest station on the entire DLR network once it opens. That capacity looks fairly pointless at present, at a location surrounded by nobody and nothing much. But once Crossrail have departed the entire area's becoming flats, which'll boost passenger numbers no end. Plus the new station's been built to withstand the impact of crowds attending events in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and sporting events at the stadium, including a claret and blue army descending the broad staircases pre-kick-off. Just like the 1996 station, 2014's Pudding Mill Lane is being built too big for now but with the future in mind.
So if you want to ride the original tracks before they're bypassed by the new, you have less than 48 hours. If you want to be able to picture what all this used to look like when your Crossrail train comes speeding through in 2019, visit soon. There are no medals for leaving on the 0047 departure to Stratford on Friday morning, the very last scheduled service the old Pudding Mill Lane will see. But if you want to visit a disused station before that's what it becomes, you have today and tomorrow. PML, RIP.