diamond geezer

 Tuesday, April 27, 2010

This is the London Overground service to... Dalston Junction

New Cross Gate stationFor a brand new railway, south of the river very little has changed. Walk into New Cross Gate station and you'd hardly notice that the East London line's here at all. No signs in the street, no directions in the ticket hall, not even any special orangey livery on the platform. The only obvious clue that a new rail service has arrived is the bright yellow train [photo], but don't expect to be told where it's going or in how many minutes it departs. Southern Railways appear to show no interest whatsoever in the Eastern interloper recently returned to their platforms. Best hop aboard ("Please stand clear the doors") and speed away.

The trains may be new, but the interior's not lovely. More like a cattletruck on wheels than even the bleakest tube or bendy bus, these carriages are clearly designed to cram in as many vertical passengers as possible. Whenever there are more than 150 people on the train then somebody's going to have to stand, but at least if rush hours ever meet full potential then nobody should be left on the platform. It was apparent this afternoon that most of the travellers were enthusiasts rather than commuters [photo], as they spent most of their time looking at the carriage walls or out of the window, rather than at a newspaper.

Passenger trains from New Cross Gate run alongside a fenced-off squeezed-in depot, then on past the heavily engineered junction where trains will one day veer off towards Clapham. Surrey Quays is the first station where all lines converge. It still looks remarkably similar to how it did before the line shut, apart from two bold white staircases built as emergency exits because Mr Health & Safety dictated. Canada Water genuinely is exactly the same as before, except that the curves in the platform roundels are now Overground Orange.

Smiling locals can again alight at Rotherhithe, delighted to have their commute restored after so many lost months. Trains rumble once more through the Thames Tunnel, not that anybody staring out of the window could discern any of its historical splendour in the inky blackness. And Wapping's open too, despite long-ago fears it'd have to close because the platforms were too narrow. Instead the biggest problem here is that nobody's yet erected any station nameplates at the far end of the platform, so passengers in the first carriage get no clues whatsoever as to where their train's just stopped.

Passengers on the District Line platforms at Whitechapel are similarly in the dark. Most have yet to notice that the strip of tape across the downward staircase has been removed, and that the revamped East London Line is now open for business. The ELL's platforms aren't especially revamped [photo], although there is a fresh footbridge which forces Shadwell-bound travellers on a up-and-over long diversion. And the cretins have been out, installing a brand new "next train indicator" so close to an exit sign that running information is totally concealed from half of the northbound platform. Never mind, there'll be a train along within eight minutes.

Shoreditch High Street ticket hallWhere Shoreditch station used to be, the track now bursts above ground past a City Farm and across Brick Lane. But the daylight doesn't last long, as trains hurtle into the gloomy concrete tube at Shoreditch High Street. This is perched awkwardly in the middle of nowhere, and the ticket hall and stairs are large enough to accommodate rush hour crowds from office blocks not yet even on the drawing board [photo]. As for the station platforms, they're defiantly uncharismatic [photo], and only a lover of brutalist chic could ever find the place even vaguely attractive.

Wheels screech west, gearing up for a rooftop ride across the streets of Hackney. This is the proper new bit (apart from the fact that trains ran here as recently as 1986 and it's just cost a billion pounds to put them back). And the view is great, especially at Hoxton station which has the best vantage point on the line. The Geffrye Museum in particular looks delightful from above, like a long village hall airlifted into the urban maelstrom. The City's skyscraper cluster is perfectly framed behind curved track to the south [photo], while the northern rails run arrow-straight along the viaduct [photo].

Haggerston stationHaggerston's architecturally similar, at least at platform level, but with an intriguing loopy mural downstairs beyond the ticket hall [photo]. The station's not yet even vaguely busy [photo], but there are plenty of staff ready to sell you a ticket or to point you in the right direction. Both platforms here (and indeed elsewhere along the line) have their own dedicated "bloke with a megaphone" [photo]. These are friendly souls who announce everything the automated announcements do, but with a smile. I had a very pleasant chat with two of them, each clearly delighted to be part of a successful new enterprise (and to finally have real passengers to talk to).

Next stop Dalston Junction [photo], where this train terminates. The track slowly descends back to ground level, and eventually below, before terminating in a gleaming subterranean vault. Actually only two of the lines terminate, while two outer tracks run on past big red stoplights towards Highbury and Islington. They'll be properly connected next year, which'll give Boris another chance to nip out and celebrate with a photo opportunity. I missed all the hullabaloo this morning, and the enormous crowds who gathered to see off the first passenger train. Dalston was rather quieter by late afternoon, and not even the dripfeed of station-spotting photo-snapping enthusiasts could fill its surprisingly cavernous ticket hall.

I don't know who first sat down and thought "you know, we should reopen the Haggerston viaduct and link it to Croydon via Wapping" but I salute their vision. Political will and engineering expertise have finally enabled the connection of communities that might otherwise have stagnated. I fear it may be some time before London reaps the benefits of any comparable investment.

www.flickr.com: my East London line gallery
22 photos altogether - 12 of them from today

Who was on the first train?
Ian [report] [photos]
Lewminesce [line report] [on-board video]
Londonist [report, with pictures]

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Life viewed from London E3

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