diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 03, 2015

Tottenham Court Road station has a new entrance.

It's appeared at the foot of Centre Point, where five years ago there were fountains, and where next year there'll be a large public plaza. TfL describe it as a new glass Tube entrance, which may conjure up the wrong image. It's more a glass triangular prism, resembling a plastic sandwich carton but on a considerably more lofty scale.

It's all part of plans to prepare the station for the arrival of Crossrail, which is expected to increase the number of passengers flooding through by one-third. The original tube station had insufficient subways and a tiny ticket hall, whereas the new station will have wider passages, extra escalators and an entirely additional exit. You may be using them a lot.

The new entrance opened yesterday in time for the morning rush hour. Workmen were still peeling off the stickers from the new signs in the ticket hall when I passed, labelled Exit 4 Charing Cross Road. For the last year or so you've only been able to enter from the corner of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, but this new entrance will save anyone coming from the south a short walk.

For now, access to the giant glass splinter is slightly restricted. You can't get in from the Centre Point side, only from Charing Cross Road, across a pedestrian crossing and behind a row of barriers. The pavement also passes in front of a worksite access point, where an attendant in hi-vis stands waiting in case lorries need to take precedence. But when all the exterior works are complete it'll look very different, with passengers arriving across an extensive pedestrian plaza. Where traffic currently ploughs up Charing Cross Road only buses and taxis will be allowed to pass, and a separate glass entrance will disgorge passengers directly onto St Giles Circus.

Given how enormous the glass roof above new exit 4 is, you might be expecting a bank of escalators beneath. Not so, there are only two, but that presumably will be plenty once all the other entrances are open. There's also a set of stairs along one side, which might look a bit low-tech but is actually a crucial mitigation should either of the escalators ever be out of service.

A theme is becoming apparent in the artworks at New Tottenham Court Road, in that French artist Daniel Buren likes putting big shapes on the walls. At the last entrance to open they were all black and white, whereas here they're multi-coloured in bold bright tones, this a deliberate move to aid visual accessibility. Just as many of the original Piccadilly line stations were tiled with different patterns to help illiterate Londoners to recognise where to alight, so passengers at Tottenham Court Road will be able to drift towards the colourful or the monochrome to make a correct exit.

It's all rather pretty, and it's all rather spacious. Indeed the impression I got yesterday was of a project with plenty of space and at considerable scale, and therefore usefully future-proofed as passenger numbers rise. Because it's not just Crossrail that'll be bringing more people come 2018, but Crossrail 2 is also destined to stop here if it's ever built. Having created all this additional capacity now, TCR should cope for decades into the future without having to be closed and rebuilt again.

Back down at platform level, enabling works for Crossrail are now pretty much complete, which means that the reopening of the station to Central line trains is imminent. Officially TfL are saying they'll be stopping again from Monday, but the word on the street is to expect a soft launch at some point on Sunday afternoon, allowing the new underground connections to receive some gentle weekend testing before the rush hour onslaught arrives the following day.

And then the tube station will be fully open again, and just in time for Christmas. It'll then be another three years before the Crossrail part of the station is operational, with trains to Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf stopping too. While you're waiting, keep an eye on the immediate neighbourhood as the pace of change hots up. Seven years ago this Soho street corner featured a sex shop, a concert venue, a Waterstones, an internet cafe and one of the best fish and chip shops in town. When the dust clears, and the property development fallout settles, it won't just be the underground station that's been utterly transformed.

TfL press release and official TCR photos
Behind the scenes video from Londonist
Background information from Ian Visits

Crossrail timetable
May 2017 (1½ years): New rolling stock on TfL Rail - official start of ‘Crossrail’
May 2018 (2½ years): Heathrow to Paddington section operational
Dec 2018 (3 years): Trains run through central section to Abbey Wood - bingo!
May 2019 (3½ years): Central section connected to Stratford and Shenfield
Dec 2019 (4 years): Full service operating including Slough and Reading

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