A brand new rail service whimpered into action yesterday, linking one of London's busiest stations to one of its least used. It's been on the drawing board since 2011 under the project name ‘STAR’, the acronym referring to the route Stratford-Tottenham-Angel Road. Angel Road was permanently closed earlier this year and replaced by Meridian Water, a very short distance to the south, and it's to this new terminus that the new service operates. One day tens of thousands of people will live and work here, but for now it's a building site with a superfluous half-hourly train service. Let's take a ride. [background info][video]
What's happening at Stratford?
Stratford is the southern terminus of the new five-stop service. The line from here towards Tottenham Hale was reopened in 2005, initially with one train an hour, then two. Trains for Bishop's Stortford still depart platform 11 on the hour and half hour, but as of this week the new trains to Meridian Water slot into the gaps, providing a very welcome turn-up-and-go service. Not everybody's noticed yet, though. A couple of people in my carriage thought they'd boarded the usual long distance service, and had to hop out later at Tottenham Hale to change trains.
What's happening at Lea Bridge?
Lea Bridge station opened in 2016, and since then has received a half-hourly service. Local residents are the biggest beneficiaries of this week's new service because they now have four trains an hour to Stratford and four trains an hour to Tottenham Hale. For those erecting the new flats alongside, it's an estate agent's dream.
Just north of Lea Bridge station is where the engineering magic begins. A third track has been added alongside the existing two, 5½km in length, all the way from here to Meridian Water station. The two-trackness of the Lea Valley lines has long been a major bottleneck, with the need to run the Stansted Express inhibiting local services, so the new addition is a proper gamechanger. This third track never once overlaps with existing lines, ensuring that the new STAR service can always run unhindered. But because there isn't a fourth track only one train at a time can use it, and that train has to be back at Lea Bridge before the next northbound service comes through, so we are already running at maximum capacity.
What's happening at Tottenham Hale?
Absolutely tons is happening at Tottenham Hale, and has been for over a year. The station is being remodelled to improve tube/rail interchange and to add step-free facilities. The latter has now been completed, courtesy of a fresh footbridge located roughly halfway along the platforms, which makes getting about much easier for all. The remainder of the station remains a chaotic mess with temporary barriers, annoying diversions, inadequate ticket-issuing facilities and a giant box that isn't yet the new concourse. It had better be worth the wait.
The arrival of a third track has meant the need for a third platform, which has been added alongside the existing southbound platform to create a wide island. Trains for Stratford can arrive on either side, with those from Meridian Water on the left and those from Bishop's Stortford on the right. Confusingly the three platforms have been numbered 2, 3 and 4, with '1' reserved for a fourth platform should there ever be the money for a fourth track. There is room, at a squeeze, but don't get your hopes up.
What's happening at Northumberland Park?
Total transformation has occurred, the most obvious manifestation of which is that the level crossing has has been entirely removed. The previous footbridge has been sealed off too, and replaced, which on the plus side is step-free but on the minus side is a heck of a lot further to walk. One staircase is reserved solely for use by football fans, the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium being within walking distance, and these new Stratford services will greatly assist with carrying them away.
The revamped station has all the architectural ambience of an electricity substation. A ridiculously long ramp covers the space where platform 1 might one day go. Maps and posters on the way into the station have been tied to a fence in the absence of proper frames. Tiny signs urging passengers to hold the handrail hang at the top and bottom of the stairs. But whereas two of the three platforms only see only one train an hour off-peak, the extra platform gets two in each direction, and that's going to be a genuinely useful resource around here.
What's happening at Meridian Water?
London's newest station is no buzzing hotspot, but at least it's livelier than its predecessor. It has daytime and weekend services for the first time. It has lifts. It has ticket barriers, even if they've been left open. It has next train indicators, even if the ones outside sometimes claim nothing's coming. It has a plaque, unveiled by Chris Grayling back when he was still important. And it has a whopping staircase down to a hoarding in front of a building site which will one day be the centre of a thriving neighbourhood, but is currently a levelled void.
Down on the platforms all the action is on platform 2, which was previously unused. It's eight carriages long and being filled by eight-carriage trains twice an hour, each carrying a load that could probably be transported in a taxi. The journey from 33000 passengers a year to 4 million will be a long one, but that is the entire point of the new station, the new track and the new service, else Meridian Water's ten thousand new homes cannot be built. For the time being only the southern end of the new route is going to be of widespread use, but if nothing else you might now be able to get to IKEA more quickly.