diamond geezer

 Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Tales from pre-Crossrail

While the extended Overground gets all the attention, what long term will be a far more significant change is receiving far less publicity. The metro line from Liverpool Street to Shenfield also transferred to TfL on Sunday, but not under the Overground umbrella, it's been given an identity of its own. Services now appear separately on the tube map and have been assigned their own blue roundel, indeed precisely the same shade of blue as the Piccadilly line (which could cause confusion). In May 2019 this line is due to be connected to Crossrail, with flash new trains finally zipping into Central London from Stratford and beyond. But for now we have tired old rolling stock going nowhere fast every ten minutes on 'TfL Rail' - a bland brand name that's been specially designed to self-destruct in four years time.

Liverpool Street
While the New Overground departs from platforms 1-7, trains from TfL Rail depart up the opposite end from platforms 15-18. Neither grouping is exclusive, various other services are intermingled, making it impossible for TfL to brand either departure point in full. Neither do the trains have much to give their new owners away. The exterior has been rolled back to an empty white shell, admittedly with blue trim, but nobody's yet got round to adding appropriately hued roundels. Inside the carriages a few proper line maps have started to appear, plus a rash of "we've just taken you over" posters, while the shocking pink of a previous upgrade bleeds through. Listen carefully before the train departs and you'll hear somebody's got the nice lady to record some new words: "The next train to depart from platform 17 will be the TfL Rail service calling at all stations to Shenfield." She says TfL Rail with a singsong, slightly incredulous tone, descending on the TfL and peaking on the R.

For passengers on Day 1, two blue-uniformed staff stood by the gateline dishing out leaflets. These were printed in orange and blue, to be dually applicable to both services transferring on Sunday, with the headline "We're improving your service" on the front. The majority of each leaflet focused on the Overground extension, highlighting the many benefits that TfL ownership will bring, including staffed stations, greater accessibility and (eventually) new trains. Poor old TfL Rail merited a rather smaller portion, and more lacklustre language, focusing on easier journey planning and with mention of 'preparation for Crossrail'. I'd have screamed louder (Crossrail's Going To Be Amazing And You Lucky People Have Been Specially Selected to Get It), maybe even added a map, but the information dissemination process deemed not. It also failed to mention there's a @TfLRail Twitter feed, giving only @LDNOverground, so biased is the publicity process in favour of orange rather than blue. Never mind, the blue's only temporary anyway.

If Enfield Town is the benchmark station for the New Overground, then Stratford is the poster boy for TfL Rail. A crack team of signage experts have been round every corner of the station ensuring that every reference to platforms 5 or 8 is duly updated, not that the East End public yet understand what TfL Rail is, but they'll learn. All of the nameplates on the platforms have been replaced with swish enamelled signage, topped off by a stripe of the appropriate blue, and there are bold line diagrams like you might get on any other TfL line instead of Greater Anglia's more apologetic posters. The contractors have done an impressively consistent job, and have even spelt the station name correctly too. Meanwhile staff are resplendent in their new roundel-cuffed uniforms, in dark blue of course, and wearing badges which proclaim their elevation to the role of TfL Rail Customer Service Manager, or whatever. The trains still run as every-ten-minutely as ever, but now garnished with a hint of Crossrail.

But up the line, bugger all. Or at least there was bugger all on Sunday, but by Monday one further station had been given a mild blue makeover. The lucky location is Ilford, which now has unfamiliarly tinted signs (in both small and large sizes) along its platforms. I also spotted Greater Anglia's previous timetable boards uprooted and dumped unceremoniously beneath the stairs. But elsewhere not a single other station name had been tweaked, the fading signs still displaying decades of previous operators' colours on this most oft-overtaken of railway franchises. So, sorry, the eastern realm of Tfl Rail is not in any way exciting yet. But increasingly exciting soon, and with full-blooded transformational amazement pencilled in for later.

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