Stratford station has a new platform. It's called platform 3a. It opened just over an hour ago. And I thought you might like to see some pictures.
Platform 3a is an extra platform on the westbound Central line, immediately opposite the existing one. It's been built to ease congestion because, as you can see, platform 3 gets a bit packed with London-bound travellers even before breakfast on a Sunday morning. The idea is that passengers can choose to stand on either platform 3 or platform 3a, whichever is more convenient depending on how they've arrived at the station. And then the train doors will open on both sides of the carriage, and everyone can pile in. Result.
Platform 3a looks like it's been ready for ages - indeed I spotted a fox trying to nip down the entrance ramp way back at Easter. But the officialopening was this morning - no fanfares, no announcements, just the removal of barriers at the two entrances leading off the upper mezzanine. So far, not many people have noticed. There's no direct route onto the platform, instead a zigzagslope leads down to train-floor-level, so the way in isn't necessarily obvious unless you read the signs [photo]. I suspect the zigzag is also a crowd control measure, designed to stop passengers on the mezzanine from spotting a Central line train with both of its doors open and then trying to run through a carriage to get to the Shenfield platform on the opposite side.
One hour in, and there was a definite imbalance of passengers and TfL staff split between the two platforms. Old platform 3 was packed with people awaiting the next westbound arrival, having trooped up the stairs as usual from the subway beneath. Meanwhile new platform 3a was nigh empty [photo]. There were about five TfL staff keeping an eye on things, checking that all the double door-opening and stuff was working [photo]. But they still outnumbered the passengers, each of whom had several yards of shiny new glass-fronted platform to themselves. [photo]
When the next train drew to a halt, both sets of doors opened as planned. Passengers on board appeared to be much better informed than those outside, alerted in advance by the driver to exit to the right for trains to Shenfield but to the left for the DLR, Jubilee line and fast exit to the street. There'll be an even faster exit once the new mezzanine ticket hall opens (soon, who knows?) but that's still very much taped off and in darkness for now. When the train was ready to depart, the doors to new platform 3a closed first and then those to old platform 3 opposite. No 'dwell time' had been saved, the crowds were too imbalanced for that. But once Stratford's Central line users get used to the new experience, expect (slightly) faster journeys and less abominable congestion for those heading underground into town.
This brand new platform is just another stage in the relentless enlargement of Stratford station. Its upgrade began in the late 1990s, re-emerging as a shiny glass shed when the Jubilee extension line opened. Two major projects kickstarted further growth. First the emergence of the Stratford City development immediately to the north of the station, surrounding a fairly pointless Eurostar halt in a concrete crevasse. And second the emergence of the Olympic Park on the station's doorstep, requiring a vast throughflow of passenger traffic for a few weeks in the summer of 2012. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been thrown at Stratford station to bring it up to scratch, which will soon mean two new ticket halls to relieve the pressure on the current queueing nightmare. The old eastern subway is being reopened, so that there can be three clogged walkways threading beneath the high-level platforms. And that brand new footbridge across Stratford's tracks will finally open, reached by a palatial staircase from the bus station, in the hope that everyone will go shopping at John Lewis instead of Wilkinson. Westfield's not due to open for another 12 months, but we're promised the rest of Stratford's station upgrade by the end of this year. [aerial photo, July 2010]
Stratford station platforms (roughly north to south) » Platforms 1 & 2: London Overground services to/from Richmond (opened April 2009) » Platform 12: National Express East Anglia services to Tottenham Hale/Stansted Airport (reopened 2005) » Platform 11: Bus service to Stratford International (will end once DLR extension opens) » Platform 10a: No regular services (buildingson platform demolished 2009) » Platform 9 and 10: National Express East Anglia services to/from Norwich/Colchester/Southend » Platform 8: National Express East Anglia services to Shenfield » Platform 7: Not used (bay platform, never used) » Platform 6: Central line eastbound (to Leytonstone & beyond) » Platform 5: National Express East Anglia services to Liverpool Street » Platforms 3 & 3a: Central Line westbound (to Mile End and beyond) (3a opened 5th September 2010) » Platforms 4a & 4b: DLR platforms to Canary Wharf (and formerly Lewisham) (opened 2007, replacing Platform 4) » Platforms 13, 14 & 15 [low level]: Jubilee Line to Stanmore (opened 1999) » Platforms 16 & 17 [low level]: DLR platforms to Stratford International & Canning Town (formerly North London Line to North Woolwich & Richmond) (opening this year, maybe)