diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2) Custom House to Canary Wharf
(2 miles)

If you were hoping to see a lot of railway on this Crossrail walk, I'm sorry, that was yesterday. From here on the tracks head underground, so there'll be nothing to see but shafts and worksites on the surface. If it's any comfort, passengers in 2018 won't be seeing much around here either, with most of their ground level passage through Newham screened behind those concrete walls we spoke of earlier. The final portal before Paddington is located between Custom House and Royal Victoria DLR, a little closer to the former, and not easily seen from the footbridge at either. The remainder of the former North London line is currently a building site, and the ideal site for such, inconveniencing almost nobody. Meanwhile a string of pylons strides alongside, confirming this as a key infrastructure highway, and presumably lowering property prices on the upper floors of the two apartment blocks being built alongside.

It's time to cross the River Lea, just the once, but the sweeping meanders on Bow Creek near the mouth mean it's very nearly twice. Crossrail's engineers have taken advantage and taken over a large area of former industrial land overlooking the Limmo peninsula. This huge worksite is well away from housing, has easy road access from the Lower Lea Crossing, and has proved the perfect point to drop two tunnelling machines into the ground. Elizabeth and Victoria were lowered 40 metres down in October 2012, reaching Farringdon in May last year after a five mile burrow. Construction teams are still busy on site, swinging a girder round on a crane as I passed, which'll one day be a crucial part of your everyday journey.

Welcome to Tower Hamlets, and to Leamouth. And it's welcome back to the DLR, with Crossrail taking pretty much the same path to the north of the East India Basin before switching to the line of Blackwall Way. All the buildings are new round here, anything lowrise being from the end of the last century, and anything virulently erect considerably more recent. This cluster of oddly-shaped towers looks like something a barrel-load of over-funded architects would have designed, which is probably precisely the case. The Providence, Ontario and Streamlight Towers are premium almost-waterside developments, very much unaffordable housing, and look like they'll be joined by several even weirder siblings in the medium future.

Below ground Crossrail reaches its lowest point to pass beneath the Blackwall Tunnel, before clipping the corner of a less well-known feature - Poplar Dock. Now a marina, it's had a long history as a goods railway dock and was under the ownership of British Rail until as recently as 1981. The deep tunnels now swing round Billingsgate Market to line up for a direct hit on the full length of the West India Dock. A chain of banks line the privatised waterside, kicking off with Barclays whose employees can be seen through the ground floor windows tapping iPads and sipping on coffees, somewhat surprised that a stranger has decided to walk round their smokers' boardwalk. Meanwhile a skiff of security guards thrusts around the dock below, searching for whatever, because in a place like this you can never be too careful.

Like Canary Wharf on the Jubilee line, the new Crossrail station has been built inside a drained portion of a commercial dock, not least because this means 19th century navvies did much of the digging work. Unlike Canary Wharf on the Jubilee line, the new Crossrail station has been designed to look a bit like a ship in the water, the upper decks a retail and entertainment hub while the platforms lie deep in the hull. You might even have visited - the lower levels were open for Open House in 2014, and the shops and restaurants are open already. Of course they are, because why hold back a shopping centre until the trains arrive?

Crossrail Place, it's called, and contains the kinds of businesses financial workers like to use at lunchtimes or after work. That means coffee and ramen, burritos and juice, plus a BUPA dentist and somewhere to fix a bike. It means a linear roof garden filled with semi-tropical plants, but part-open to the skies so less than welcoming when the rain hits. It means the premier top floor location has been given over to a lobster crabshack restaurant whose name beams down from the prow of the ship as if the name of the station below was in fact Big Easy. And it means a luxury basement cinema where you can splash your bonus on a £17 premier ticket and some wasabi peas to nibble, without the risk of oiks from Stratford sitting behind you and yapping all the way through the film. Catching a train may one day prove to be the cheapest thing to do here.

Those seeking to get prematurely close to Crossrail should make a beeline for the toilets. There appears to be only one set of public conveniences for the entire 250m-long building, and it's been positioned on what's been designated level Minus Three. There are no stairs to level Minus Three, and while there are escalators down from outside the cinema they're currently blocked off. Instead you can only reach level Minus Three by lift, and then from only one of the sets of lifts in the building. It took me a couple of goes to get it right, before locating the westernmost shaft near the main bank of escalators and heading down past a staff-only basement to a sealed-off hallway. The gents were on the small side and nothing special, but a button in the lift confirmed I was only one floor above the ticket hall on level Minus Four, possibly the nearest you can get to Proper Crossrail in 2016.

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