diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Railway update (1) - Hackney Wick

Where shall we start? Let's start at Hackney Wick, where a brand new station building opened on Sunday. No longer must passengers weave up a set of ramps from Wallis Road. Instead a swish new entrance has opened up on White Post Lane, cutting underneath the centre of the station (but not yet connecting fully on the other side). This is no tedious concrete box, this is an uncompromisingly brutalist structure comprising several separate constituent parts.

Out front is a slab portal, part sheltered, with a non-ticket office embedded within. Echoing staircases wind up to the platforms, one on each side, their surfaces enlivened by an orange handrail and ribbed timber. The fun part is the connecting subway, one wall all zigzagged glass, the other cast concrete etched with chemical hieroglyphics. Both represent complex organic molecules and are a clever nod at parkesine, the world's first plastic, which was manufactured (very) close by.

The new station is an undoubted architectural triumph, given the reaction one of my recent tweets has accumulated, and you can enjoy several more lovely photos over at Ian Visits. But this is also "the central project in the regeneration of central Hackney Wick", its gravitational pull helping to ensure that every unlisted local building gets knocked down to make way for not-quite affordable flats, and the harbinger of destruction for the area's quirky artistic vibe. Going, going, not yet gone.

Railway update (2) - TfL Rail (west)

Sunday was also the day Heathrow Connect services transferred to TfL Rail, which is Crossrail's larval stage. On Day 1 nothing changed except some restickered carriages, but on Day 2 some additional proper purple trains kicked in. They're not yet allowed in the Heathrow tunnels, while outdated signalling is being upgraded, so are restricted to shuttling as far as Hayes & Harlington instead. Geoff caught the very first one, if you'd like to have what's going on explained in a comprehensive video.

I took a ride from Acton Main Line, which is very much the runt of the western TfL Rail stations. Although it's the first stop out of Paddington it currently gets only two trains an hour, and although they're now both purple, you still can't get to Heathrow direct. I just missed one, so that was a 28 minute wait.

The second most common announcement at Acton Main Line is "For your own safety, please stand behind the yellow line." That's because the most common announcement is "The train now approaching platform X does not stop here", which plays out several times an hour, and can make waiting passengers somewhat despondent. I noted that all the trains on platform 4 are going somewhere called "London Padding", because the Next Train Indicators can't cope with 17 characters, and nobody seems willing to cut the "London" off the front.

Now that Acton Main Line is a TfL Rail station it has a permanent member of staff, whose job is to watch over the non-existent barriers and await infrequent trains. They also get to walk down onto the platforms every half hour and urge passengers to move along a bit, because every TfL Rail train stops at the far end. I asked why nobody has put up a sign saying "Trains stop further along the platform" and was told that management prefer the member of staff to do it, as it adds a personal touch. I hope that was a joke.

By the end of next year Acton Main Line will have a spanking new station building, rather than a shuttered hut, and a fully accessible footbridge with lifts. Currently it has no new station building and no footbridge, because upgrades to western Crossrail stations are embarrassingly behind schedule. Unless you enjoy a bit of purple purgatory, don't dash down.

Railway update (3) - Tube map poster, May 2018

A couple of years ago TfL accidentally published a tube map which placed Morden in the wrong fare zone. They noticed just in time, and had to pulp the lot. This week they've made a similar blunder, but not noticed, and their error is all over the network. The paper maps are fine, and the online maps are fine, but the poster maps have an embarrassing omission in the bottom right hand corner. Somehow, with all the designers' juggling and shuffling of edges and labels, New Addington has gone missing.

The tram stop is still there, at the end of the line, but the name of the stop is absent. Once again the pre-publication proofing regime has failed, but this time the error has made it as far as station walls. Will they get 4000 reprints done, at a cost of £2.06 each, or will the outer reaches of Croydon remain embarrassingly invisible until the next update in December?

Railway update (4) - Thameslink 2000

Sunday was also the day a millennial project finally came good. Destinations north and south of the Thames were linked via a proper timetable for the first time, with tightly-scheduled streams of trains fed through the central core from St Pancras to Blackfriars. Only, as you're probably aware, it didn't quite work out like that. Dozens of trains were cancelled, due to bad planning, impossible expectations and inadequate driver training. You can read all about the reasons for the debacle, in admirable detail, over at London Reconnections.

Here are the display boards at Farringdon at the height of Sunday's fiasco, showing four cancellations out of the next eight trains. Services between Kentish Town and Plumstead proved particularly ripe for relentless sacrifice. "We are sorry to announce that the XX:XX to XXXX has been cancelled due to an operational incident" was the most oft-heard announcement of the day.

Yesterday's cancellations weren't so great in number, but were arguably more serious because they impacted on a working day, and because they came on top of a massively restructured timetable forcing thousands to readjust their commute. In the middle of the day I snuck down to try out a couple of services, to see how the central core was holding up.
SuttonElephant & Castle14 minsSt PancrasSt Albans
Perfectly on time throughout. The train paused a couple of times outside Blackfriars, and again outside Farringdon, but still pulled into both stations on schedule thanks to padding in the timetable. When I made the same journey on the Northern line, it was one minute quicker.

BedfordSt Pancras15 minsLondon BridgeBrighton
Three minutes late throughout. The train paused once outside Farringdon, but maintained the same delay thanks to padding in the timetable. When I made the same journey on the Northern line, it was five minutes quicker.
My experience is that if you only want to ride through the core section, Thameslink's probably a good option now it has a turn-up-and go frequency, although the tube may well be quicker. But if you're passing through from one side to the other, or attempting to reach a specific suburban location, delays and cancellations could still seriously impact your journey.

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