Something unusual is happening on London's railway network next month. A new station is opening. It's not on the tube - no brand new station has opened on the tube since 2008. It's not on the Overground - no brand new stations have opened on the Overground since 2010. It's not on the DLR - no brand new stations have opened on the DLR since 2011. It's on the 'ordinary' railway, where no brand new station has opened since Stratford International limped into existence in 2009. And officially it's not really a new station at all, simply the reopening of a very old station which closed in 1985. It's Lea Bridge, and residents of west Leyton will be pleased to have it back.
The Lea Bridge Road runs from Clapton to Whipps Cross, once part of the main northeastern egress from the capital, three miles without a single station to its name. There are two bridges across the Lea, one the main river (in the vicinity of the Princess of Wales pub), and the other simply the Flood Relief Channel. The former Northern and Eastern Railway runs close to the latter, and roughly parallel, before heading north across Walthamstow Marshes. The combination of rail and water creates a considerable disconnect, so getting around isn't as easy as it could be, even for those on foot or a bike, so the addition of a new station will really help.
Except the railway line in question isn't quite the useful link it might be. It's the line from Stratford to Tottenham Hale, also closed in 1985 but resuscitated in 2005 without its former intermediate station. If you live on the Lea Bridge Road and want to get to Tottenham, Harlow or Stansted, then great. If you fancy shopping at Westfield or a trip to the Olympic Park then ideal. But if it's central London you're after, then some deft changing of trains will be required, and you might have been better off taking the bus.
At the time of its closure, Lea Bridge was an unstaffed halt with two staircases rising to a bleak timber shelter. A burst of arson saw to that, and for the last umpteen years the entrance to the station has been blocked by two large billboards, with weeds overrunning the platforms below. It hasn't taken long to knock things back into shape. Works started less than a year ago, and everything's already pretty much ready to go. The platforms have been scrubbed up and made health and safety-ready, with shelters and loudspeakers and more CCTV cameras than would seem truly necessary. Some lighting still needs to go in, and the station name signs but they'll presumably be amongst the last things to be added.
And the station entrance has moved. It used to be up on the main road, where the pavement's quite narrow, but now it's been shifted down to one side to allow for level access. This is the part of the station that's still under construction, or rather being finished off, behind barriers and a freshly tarmacked path. The relocation is good news if you're catching a train towards Stratford, but less good for travellers going the other way who'll need to go up and over the new metal footbridge to reach the other side. And that's annoying because the footbridge passes the former station entrance on the main road, but seemingly with no access, which could feel like a tedious detour.
The station is scheduled to open on Sunday 15th May, with the first train (unusually) at eighteen minutes past eight in the evening (due to planned engineering works). Normally there'll be two trains an hour, shuttling from Stratford to Hertford East on Sundays and Stratford to Bishops Stortford for the rest of the week, and it'll be interesting to see how busy the new services will be. On paper not very many people live close by, with most of the land to the west of the station essentially the flood plain of the River Lea, but there's a lot of industry nearby (up Argall Way) and an excellent bus service to feed in punters from the upper reaches of Leyton. If nothing else it's refreshing to see a station being added to an existing railway line because it can be, rather than to feed the pockets of housing developers... or at least, we'll see.