diamond geezer

 Monday, May 24, 2010

On Saturday I travelled from Whitechapel to Forest Hill. I had to change trains.
On Sunday I travelled from Whitechapel to Forest Hill. I didn't have to change trains.
And Saturday's journey was quicker. Hurrah for the new London Overground.

Forest Hill welcomes London OvergroundYesterday was the first day of through traffic on the extended East London Line (yes yes yes, I know you know this). Communities on either side of the Thames were suddenly joined together via one train rather than two. From Dalston to Croydon, the entrances to Overground stations were bedecked by orange and white balloons. And there were a few freebies for passengers to celebrate.

Ten thousand complimentary tickets were being given out, in commemorative plastic wallets, so long as you got to a station before its allocation ran out. I had no luck at Whitechapel, I was apparently too early, but eventually collected one from a smiling member of staff at Forest Hill. Ooh lovely, there was a Zone 1-6 travelcard inside, which mean I could have whizzed off to Upminster or Uxbridge if I'd felt the urge. But oh no, not when there were corners of Penge and South Norwood I had yet to explore.

The Overground had been working perfectly well on Saturday, as far as it went, but Sunday morning at Whitechapel was another matter. The next train indicator1 on the southbound platform was blank, then showed three completely different next trains over the space of two minutes. The member of staff charged with overseeing the platform sighed2, and attempted to consult her timetable3, and failed.
1: At least the next train indicator on the southbound platform is visible. No such luck on the northbound platform. Here the next train indicator has been placed midway between the two staircases coming down from the District line, and had been perfectly visible for weeks. Alas two newly-placed exit signs now sandwich the information board on either side, so step away and the electronic indicator completely disappears. When's the next train due? 90% of the platform has no idea. Not even the uniformed member of staff, who's reduced to listening to the audio announcements like the rest of us. TfL's obstructive cretins have been out again, and I continue to despair at their non-joined-up thinking.

2: Why are there so many staff on London Overground stations. What exactly do they all do? In particular, why does each platform appear to have its own uniformed attendant, armed with a megaphone, at all times? I mean, there's no need to announce the next train because a disembodied female voice does that anyway. And there's usually no need to engage in customer control because the platforms at most stations are generally quite empty. Instead these folk tend to stand around looking a bit lost, or maybe chatting to their opposite number on the other side of the tracks. Don't get me wrong, it's lovely for us passengers to have a human being to engage with in case of need, and it's great to see so many people with new jobs they clearly care about. But, in this age of austerity, the ELL has a definite whiff of unnecessary over-staffing.

3: The new timetable booklet's a bit dumbed down, isn't it? Between Dalston and Surrey Quays only first and last trains are given, because an 'every five minutes' service is deemed to need nothing more. Only the branches south of Surrey Quays get a full printed timetable. That's great if you're travelling north from New Cross or Croydon, because you can avoid a fifteen minute wait between trains. But it's useless if you're travelling the other way, say from Hoxton to Crystal Palace, because you have no idea when to turn up. A thinner timetable may cost less to print, but for southbound travel it's a false economy.
Two different tribes of people were out on the Overground yesterday. The first were residents of southeast London come to experience the new trains on their network. How new they looked, compared to the 20th century carriages they were used to. And what strange destinations they linked to. Four screeching girls stared at the contorted wiggly route map and opened their eyes to far distant possibilities. A bloke in a pink shirt used his mobile to ring a friend and explain how exciting the new service was "...except the line seems to go nowhere you'd actually want to go." These people are used to going straight into London Bridge, so Whitechapel and Shoreditch must be a bit of a let down.

And the second tribe were residents of north and east London travelling in the opposite direction. What were these fabled southern lands to which they were suddenly connected? They brought their three-quarter length shorts, and their bikes, and set off in search of exciting things to do. It being a gorgeous day, many decided to head to the only place they'd heard of which wasn't Croydon, and took the branchline into Crystal Palace. Crowds of merrymakers poured off the train into the cavernous Victorian building - which was particularly impressive for a service that didn't even run on Sundays last week. [photo]

From what I saw yesterday, the new southern Overground is a hit already. Maybe some of that was down to the free tickets, but if you can fill trains on a Sunday afternoon then your railway line has a future. All things considered this hasn't been an expensive project for TfL, generally making better use of infrastructure that was there already, and rebranding with a vengeance. But it just goes to show, stick nine stations on the tube map and suddenly everybody wants to go there. We north Londoners should have realised sooner.

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