diamond geezer

 Monday, December 03, 2012

Walking Overground South

Next Sunday the London Overground extends a tentacle across south London. A new link branches out from Surrey Quays towards Clapham Junction, of which only a mile is fresh track, and all the rest is existing railway. Most of this is the existing Inner South London Line, a horseshoe service linking London Bridge and Victoria which runs for the very last time this Saturday. I fancied a last trip over the weekend, except the entire line was closed for final upgrade purposes, so a rail replacement bus was running instead. And nobody likes riding those, so I walked eight miles along the new alignment instead...

Surrey Quays
Opened: Deptford Road 7 December 1869
Renamed: Surrey Docks 17 July 1911; Surrey Quays 24 October 1989

Very much a two-era station, this. The platforms have pillars and some original ornate ironwork, while above ground is a modern brick box with a glass ticket hall. The station's also a significant branching point. North of here, from Sunday, sixteen trains an hour. South of here, in contrast, three separate lines diverge and frequencies are considerably less.

» To walk the line to Clapham Junction take the Rotherhithe Old Road, then carefully cross the New into the Silwood Estate. Ahead on the left a large right-angled pipe crosses the railway - a remnant of the local lost river, the Earl's Sluice - which is also responsible for the wiggly border between Southwark and Lewisham hereabouts. A proper footbridge follows, constructed specially in Overground orange, immediately before the new railway's branching-off point. The long row of prefabs alongside this curve is home to the East London Line Infrastructure Facility (i.e. contractor HQ), and also to the Phase 2 Project offices. They'll be working hard to make sure Sunday's transition goes smoothly, and they'll have a grandstand view of the first official train.

Beyond the junction the line cuts beneath one, two, three separate railway viaducts. These are the lines splaying out from London Bridge, and they divide up the area into unlovely barriered segments. The next cut-through along - Bolina Road - is one of the most oppressive streets in inner London, but the new Overground link provides an alternative for those on foot or two wheels. A refreshed footpath runs between brick arches immediately alongside the railway - the only place along the new Overground where you can get right up beside the tracks, but there was nothing to see this weekend.

On the opposite side of the tracks is the SELCHP, the "South East London Combined Heat and Power" energy recovery facility. Its chimney is visible for miles around, belching steam high into the sky, while the fans arrayed beneath look like a full set of rocket boosters. Beyond the next arch is the very best view of the new track, at the point where it rises up from ground level to spend most of its next few miles on raised viaducts. And a mere ballkick over the fence to the right, that's The Den, home to Millwall Football Club. Closest to the line is the Dockers Stand, plus the Ticket Office, and on match days the surrounding streets are heaving. A new station right here might ease post-game transport problems and provide a major boost for the area alongside.

Surrey Canal Road
Opened: 9 December 2012 (sorry, no)
Cancelled: 2009

Plans for the East London Line Extension Phase 2b have long included a new station at Surrey Canal Road. It's close to Millwall's ground, and fills in a geographical gap skipped by Overground trains to New Cross and New Cross Gate. But alas no. Funding wasn't found when the rest of the new line got the green light, following a lengthy argument with government, and for lack of £7m the station was scrapped. TfL readjusted their plans to provide passive provision, so the viaduct includes space beneath for a passenger entrance (which is clearly seen from the road). A developer has since stepped in with the money, as part of a major regeneration scheme hereabouts, but that came too late to get this station built for 2012. Maybe 2015. Until then there's a mile and a half's gap between stations (or a very long walk).

» It should be possible to walk ahead alongside the railway through Bridgehouse Meadows, but not at the moment. This grassy triangle has been used as a worksite while the new rail link's been built, so dogs from the local estate have had to relieve themselves elsewhere for a few years. The path south from Surrey Canal Road is still sealed off, whereas workmen were busy this weekend up the end of Rollins Street attempting to ready the entrance for reopening. In the meantime a less pleasant diversion via Ilderton Road is required. This is the street of choice for many a pentecostal church, where on Sundays the men and boys wear smart suits and the ladies sport dazzling wrapped millinery. The new railway links to the existing South London line just south of Hornshay Street, where there's an actual Wheelshunters Club (which I think is still open, despite threat of closure).

Old Kent Road
Opened: 13 July 1866
Closed: 1 January 1917

The new Overground link follows the alignment of a former railway, unused in almost a century. You'd expect a station on the Old Kent Road to have been really busy, but the tram service to central London was so good that the train service proved unnecessary. The platforms were just to the south of the bridge, between the A2 and the sports pitches, but today no trace remains. There are no plans for a grand reopening either, sorry, because the site's too close to the next station down the line to be economically viable.

» Onward through yet another semi-modern estate. Some of these back right up to the railway, but a long stretch is taken up by light industrial units in the arches along Station Passage. It's amazing how large Network Rail's portfolio of under-railway rentals is, especially along the South London Line - here we find arches 93-132. Three from the far end, tucked back almost out of sight from passers-by, is the entrance to...

Queens Road Peckham
Opened: 13 August 1866
QRP is the first station on the Overground extension after Surrey Quays - five minutes by train, considerably longer on foot. And if you thought that was a long gap, sorry, there's much longer to come.

» Ian's been visiting this stretch of the line too - report here, photos here.

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