DLR extension: Stratford International
It's been two years now since the High Speed station at Stratford International opened to passengers. Mostly, they stayed away. The station building existed in a closed bubble within a building site, and access throughout that time has been by transfer bus only. You just wouldn't, not if you didn't have to. But now there's a new lifeline, a curving track round the edge of the Westfield Stratford City development to link Kent commuters to East London's rail network. About time too. But the problem is, for the time being at least, Stratford International DLR is in just as much of a bubble as the bigger station across the road.
Architecturally, this is a fairly standard DLR outpost. A concrete chasm leading to dead-end buffers, similar to Woolwich Arsenal but open to the sky. There are two bay platforms but currently only one is needed, with each train lingering only a few minutes before departing back the way it came. There are two exits for passengers, one at each end of the platform. The main exit leads up a set of self-aware escalators to the end of Stratford City's North Loop Road. More intriguing is the ascent viastaircase to a wholly pointless alternative plaza, laid out with ticket machines that nobody need use and maps that nobody need read. One day there'll be a bus stop alongside, but that's years off. For now a lonely stretch of pavement has been barriered off, allowing passage to the main exit at street level for those who exit this way by mistake. It's not far to the other Stratford International's cavernous ticket hall, where still not very many passengers pass through on their way to umpteen non-International destinations. Expect footfall to increase somewhat when the gates to Westfield open in a couple of weeks time. Much of that will be shoppers whizzing home to Kent, but most, I suspect, will be Londoners lured out to catch the DLR home, when they'd actually have been far better off walking back through the shopping mall to Stratford proper. It's still going to be a bubble out here, even post retail explosion, and I'd expect passenger traffic to remain light for a few years yet.
So is this DLR extension a colossal waste of money, benefiting a lucky few who can't be bothered to walk? Well yes, sort of, for now, but long term, absolutely no. After the Olympics this is going to be the closest station to the Athletes Village, so there'll be thousands of new homes for whom this DLR halt will be the perfect escape route. There might even be actual International services to the continent if you hang around long enough, to justify the station its name. This is London planning perfectly for its future, even if all looks fairly pointless now.
DLR extension: Stratford
It's a two minute journey from Stratford International round to Stratford, half of it in the open (past the Aquatic Centre, and ooh look, the Olympic Stadium) and the other half through an unexpected tunnel. The line curves through a broad trench beneath the Westfield complex, all brightly lit concrete and parallel escapeways, for a good thirty seconds or so. And then it emerges bang in the middle of Stratford station, low level, dividing the two halves of the building in two. It would be brilliant if this was a line most passengers wanted to use, it's so conveniently placed, but instead most need to scurry over the top to reach the platform or exit they actually require. Don't be tempted to leap on the new DLR just because it looks nearby - you'll probably be quicker crossing to the Jubilee to get to West Ham, and definitely so to get to Canning Town. And definitely don't leap aboard to get to Westfield, walk along the subway and ascend the escalators at the far end. But I rather liked the opportunity to wander out once more in front of Stratford station's glass façade, just as I did as recently as five years ago when these were the North London line platforms, even if the view was now more building site than bus station. If the new DLR extension is to succeed, it's the connection here that has to lure them in.
DLR extension: Stratford High Street
That's three consecutive stations with Stratford in the title, a sequence so tempting that one train guard yesterday had to warn inbound passengers not to disembark here by mistake. Not that it's very far to walk if you do. DLR trains take under a minute to rumble between Stratford and Stratford High Street, and it'd be even shorter if the latter station had been actually built on the High Street. Instead the old Stratford Market station building lies boarded up, for now, with access to the platforms down a long ramp concealed round the back. That's not going to attract the punters in, not that there are as many as you might think passing by on the main road. The Broadway is currently Stratford's busiest shopping road, not the High Street, which boasts little more than a dead cinema, a bingo club and a Chicken Pizza Village.
Throw in all the approach ramps and Stratford High Street station is probably double the length it needs to be. That's bad news if you decide to gain access in the middle by the lifts because there isn't an entrance there, instead you have to walk up to one end or the other and double back. Passers-by can easily peer down into this station, subtly recessed behind a glass wall, while rising behind are the Victorian brick walls of the Stratford Workshops. They used to print most of Britain's train tickets and train timetables in there, apparently, not that it's easy to get hold of either at the new station next door. As for the southern entrance, that's ideally placed for a handful of council properties set around a soulless green, although the local population would probably rather save money by walking to Stratford or West Ham rather than frittering away cash on the train. I strongly suspect there'll be more passengers getting off here than getting on, that's my hunch. But even then I bet it'll still be much busier than Abbey Road next down the line. Of which more tomorrow...