diamond geezer

 Monday, June 01, 2015

Tales from the New Overground

Enfield Town
As you'd expect when there's a shiny new train set to show off, the Mayor has arranged a photo opportunity this morning to officially open the new Overground. At ten o'clock he and the media will be descending on one particular station for a speech, some ribbon cutting and a splash of photo opportunities. And even if you didn't know which station that was, such is the embargoed secrecy behind press junkets of this kind, there is one simple way to work it out. Simply visit every station on the extended Overground network and see which one has had the biggest scrub and brush up. And in this case, by some considerable distance, that station is Enfield Town. [photos]

The platforms at Enfield Town have roundels, proper orange roundels in official TfL style, all the way down the platforms. No other station on the new Overground has any such roundels. On entering the platforms at Enfield Town you pass proper enamel line diagrams allowing passengers to trace the path of the new Overground along its various branches. No other station on the new Overground has any such line diagrams. The exterior to Enfield Town station has an orange nameplate above the entrance, and a whopping great big roundel nameplate on a pole by the roadside. No other station on the new Overground has any such exterior signage. Everything at Enfield Town that ought to be orange is orange, and all trace of the station's former operator has been wiped away. It looks great.

Having been round the entire network yesterday I can assure you that no other station has anything close. If there's any sign out front it's invariably the old British Rail logo. TfL timetables have been posted up within, but there are no proper maps, as yet. On the platforms the station names have only been updated with vinyl stickers, giving a rough and ready instant upgrade for minimal outlay. But Enfield Town gets the full works because it's the appointed benchmark station for the new Overground, an example of the branding that will one day be applied across the remainder of the extended network. TfL can't update everything over a single weekend, but they can get one station right, so that Boris has the proper backdrop for his media event this morning. When you see the photos of him at Enfield Town later, remember that no other station yet looks even vaguely similar.

Theobalds Grove
Several crack teams of signage specialists have been going round the new Overground network over the weekend to cover over the old nameplates before the working week begins. Their orange and white stickers are hasty replacements - strips of vinyl stuck across the blue and white of the previous operator, which are themselves stuck across the white and black of the previous operator, and so on. Professional contractors from Merson Signs are in control, with a rolling plan to have reached an interim stage by today, and to have everything permanently installed by September. And thus far all looks good, the vinyls neatly affixed and the roundels at Enfield Town smoothed down with loving care. All that is except at one particular station just beyond the M25, where they've only gone and spelt the name of the station wrong. [2 photos]

Theobalds Grove is a lightly used halt on the edge of Waltham Cross, adjacent to the church where my Mum and Dad got married. I wasn't planning to alight here, but my eye was caught by an 'o' that shouldn't exist, so off I hopped to see what was what. The stickering process in was full flow, indeed almost complete, with two gentlemen in hi-vis jackets busy affixing a vinyl strip that read 'Theobolds Grove'. "It's spelt wrong," I said in an attempt to be helpful, "it ought to have an 'a' in it". To prove my point I gestured down the platform to an old sign they had yet to cover over, but struggled to communicate further as I'm not convinced we were speaking the same language. So I went and told Twitter instead, and boy did Twitter love it.

Even the Evening Standard got excited, Sunday being a quiet news day, and (with permission) turned my photo of the spelling mistake into an online article. They also pointed out that this isn't the first time the station's suffered a similar indignity, indeed an exterior sign displayed the same error for a lengthy period back in 2008. The repetition suggests that somewhere there's a rogue database with the incorrect spelling, and occasionally someone generates signage from it without checking and hey presto, embarrassment. Whatever, the Evening Standard invited TfL to comment, which they duly did with a mildly frustrated rebuttal.
A Transport for London spokeswoman said: "We are aware that a small number of misspelt signs were put up for a short period of time at Theobalds Grove today. They have been removed and are being replaced with the correct signage."
By "we are aware" she means that a member of the public noticed something that internal quality processes failed to spot. By "a small number of misspelt signs" she means all of the signs on the station platforms, which you could describe as a small number or alternatively as 100%. By "for a short period of time" she means for as long as it took to demand the contractors returned to sort things out. And by "are being replaced with the correct signage" she means heads will roll. Hopefully this morning's commuters at 'Theobolds Grove' won't notice that anything was ever amiss, unless perhaps they read their newspapers on the ride home.

Bush Hill Park
One enormous benefit of switching the former West Anglia lines to the London Overground is that stations will now be staffed from morning till night. I saw plenty of uniformed staff on duty at various stations yesterday, generally in pairs, because presumably that's safer. Several Overground stations have no ticket office, which forces staff permanently into the passageways or onto the platforms. At Bush Hill Park I was impressed to see two staff ensuring that a passenger in a wheelchair could board the train, which otherwise might be out of bounds given the whopping step up between platform and carriage. One fetched the portable ramp that's now available at ten of the stations on the extended Overground network, and the other informed the driver so that the lady in question could disembark just as safely further down the line.

This newly accessible journey was a fine example of how orange-ification brings lasting improvements for better travel, improvements that commuters in some other parts of London are eyeing with envy. Lower fares, more frequent services, increased reliability and (eventually) new trains will be making things better for travellers up the Lea Valley for years to come. Indeed when today's relaunch is over and yesterday's spelling mistakes are forgotten, the Overground's advance looks unstoppable.

It strikes me that many of you probably have no idea what several of these new Overground stations look like, so here are photos of Bethnal Green, Cambridge Heath, London Fields, Rectory Road, Bruce Grove, Highams Park, Chingford and Bush Hill Park, taken just before this weekend's rebrand took place. To view all of 15 today's Overground photos, click here.

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