Happy March. And happy welcome back to the Goblin. That's the Overground line from Gospel Oak to Barking, which has been completely closed since September last year, which is a very long time. It reopened on Monday, not that there was a lot of fuss, or maybe there was, just in a place where I didn't see it.
Perhaps there wasn't a lot of fuss because Network Rail bodged the revamp, their contractors fitting ill-thought-through equipment, which means the line won't be fully electrified as quickly as had been hoped. Structures due to carry overhead wires were “incorrectly designed”, and in one place the headroom proved lower than anticipated, so the crucial threading of the new cables couldn't happen.
Plenty of significance did get done during the lengthy shutdown, including the extension of platforms ready for longer trains and the lowering of several stretches of track underneath bridges. Unfortunately the electrification works lagged some way behind the civil engineering, so whereas we should now be entering a 'testing' phase, there is alas nothing up and ready to test.
It was always going to be the case that the Goblin's two carriage diesel trains would return in February, in advance of four carriage electric trains being introduced early next year. But this mess-up means the line's going to have to shut again for a protracted period while Network Rail make good, maybe over the summer plus additional weekends and possibly Christmas and quite frankly who knows, if any kind of long-term deadline is to be met.
So I went along to check, and absolutely yes, the trains are running again. Here are some other things I noticed.
• It's very obvious, both at stations and riding the line, that the overhead masts aren't yet complete. Indeed I was struck by the wide variety of structures I saw in various states of completion. Posts with bars, posts without bars, posts with bars and a hook, posts with two bars, posts with two bars and two hooks, posts with big thick winding wheels, long trellised gantries, struts that fit under bridges, big silver arches lying flat on the trackside, silver posts upturned on the embankment... this is certainly no straightforward assembly job. But absolutely nowhere are there any cables strung up above the tracks, nor any indication that sufficient infrastructure has been erected to allow this to take place.
• OK, so Woodgrange Park has cables, but then the line through Woodgrange Park was electrified in 1962, it's the rest of the line that's catching up 55 years later.
• Several of the platforms have been extended during the closure, but you can't walk on the extended bits yet because they're sealed off with makeshift planklike barriers, and then there are proper permanent barriers beyond that for when longer trains are introduced next year.
• Some of the stations, for example Wanstead Park, now have shelters to wait in which weren't there before.
• Some of the shelters at other stations, for example Blackhorse Road, still have posters up for the Mayoral election on 5th May last year.
• At least a couple of the stations, for example Woodgrange Park, now have banks of ticket gates that weren't present before.
• Several of the Next Train Indicators along the line are announcing arrivals that don't necessarily match up with synchronous reality.
• The new lifts at Blackhorse Road won't be ready until next month, but there's a veritable hi-vis army on site working to keep to the deadline.
• TfL have stopped printing Overground timetables - in fact they stopped last December. You can still find a full pdf timetable online, but nothing gets printed out and left in stations any more, which all goes to save a bit of money.
• All the other Overground lines now have line diagrams in the carriages, as well as the over-complex orange spaghetti map of the entire network. Goblin carriages have no line diagrams, only the spaghetti maps, which is an opportunity missed.
• None of the tube maps at any of the stations have been updated. They still show the line as closed, even though the station's open. Technically that's absolutely fine, because all current tube maps say "closed until February 2017", and it's now March, so there's no possible ambiguity. But now might be a good time to bring out a new tube map, given that one entire line has reopened, and Lambeth North station too, except there's no sign of an update yet, even online where you'd think it would be easy to tweak.
• As of Monday morning service was withdrawn on the two rail replacement buses that had been covering the route. Most regular users will have been delighted to see them go, because they were slow meandering things unable to follow the same direct route as the railway, took hugely longer than the train and often stopped several streets away from stations. Some regular users will however be very sad, because they'd been able to travel for miles across London every day for five months without paying a penny.
• One thing that happens all too often on the Goblin is stopping at a red signal "while we wait for a freight train to clear the junction ahead of us". A lot of freight comes this way, and that's the main driver behind the government funding the electrification, because it'll help clear space on various other east-west lines.
• (from the comments box) The first new Class 710 electric train is due to be in passenger service on 11th December.
• (from the comments box) A recent change in EU/British Standards means there's now insufficient clearance under the bridge at Crouch Hill station. National Rail have a waiver in place to allow wires to be strung if the bridge cannot be raised before electric trains come into operation.
• (from the comments box) During the construction works there were (embarrassingly) at least two breaches of sewers in the E17 area, one at Queens Road and one at Pretoria Avenue.