diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 02, 2013

JUBILEE: Up the line

It's time to take an end-to-end journey on the Jubilee line. That's an 1870s bit, a 1930s bit, a 1970s bit and a 1990s bit, which is far more of a 20th century mixed bag than any other line. From Stratford to Stanmore is 22 miles by train, but nearer fourteen direct, because the Jubilee goes all round the houses. Let's start at the modern end.

Pretty much Nowheresville when the Jubilee line extension first arrived, Stratford has since been transformed into East London's transport hub. Three platforms line up beneath the station's glass roof, with the next departure announced via an inadequate Next Train Indicator (which I've slagged off before). A mass of humanity swarms towards the Jubilee line concourse, squints to work out which platform's departing next, then dashes/jogs/runs towards the rear of the train to board before it leaves. The end result is one of the most asymmetrical loading patterns at any terminus station. The front carriages are always nigh empty, because nobody can be bothered to walk that far, or daren't walk that far in case the doors shut. Meanwhile the back carriage is rammed, the rear of the back especially so, because people are lazy, or fearful the train might leave without them. It's a sub-optimal start, to be frank.

I take a seat at the back of the next-but-one train, and wait. For the first minute it's very quiet, then comes a light flurry of people who didn't think they'd be able to reach the first train in time, and then the hordes. A large family group arrives and despairs at not being able to find five seats together. Three lost-looking tourists stumble in, bemused and blocking the entrance. A middle-aged couple sit on either side of me and conduct a conversation past my face. Two teenage girls board with McDonalds meals ("We'll stink the train out" "I don't care"). Two French boys sit on the floor to play a tiny handheld game. As the doors beep an older lady ducks in, and gets mildly smashed, then stares dejectedly because she can't sit down. And we're off, in cattle truck conditions... even at the weekend.

Thanks to the DLR there are now two additional stations to pass on the way to West Ham - one suspects neither is busy, but it's not easy to see. This southbound run isn't scenic, running past the main depot, some rows of flats and a string of commercial units. If the Jubilee was ever meant to bring prosperity to this edge of Newham, it hasn't quite yet. But the interchange at Canning Town throbs with people - there's some event on at ExCel that involves dressing up, so Princess Fiona shares the platform with a crowd of weird but undistinguishable comic characters.

That's it for overground, which means we're about to enter the tunnelled extension section with the splendid architecture. North Greenwich glows blue, though darkly, and you don't get the best view from the train. "Exit here for the Emirates Airline and the Oh Two" says the recorded announcement, plugging two different multinational brands, like you do on the modern Underground. There's no such promotion at Canary Wharf, just some whopping great roundels at the foot of a silver void. It might be busy up the front end of the train, but nobody walks down to the back, neatly balancing out our earlier Stratford-related rear overcrowding.

A third crossing of the Thames brings us to Canada Water, where the Overground allows South Londoners to flock in. Then Bermondsey allows a rare glimpse of daylight pouring down the escalator shaft, which is a bit brighter than those dull grey tiles on the walls down here. At London Bridge those French boys have to be almost dragged from the train by their parents, who just about make it onto the platform with their luggage before the doors close. It's busy here, so busy it's hard to believe that 15 years ago only one tube line served the mainline terminus above. It's less throbbing at Southwark, which is barely any distance from Waterloo East, and not that far either to Waterloo. By now the great majority of people who boarded in Newham have disembarked and I have fewer, different neighbours. I would have one more but he arrived too late and ran headlong, slap, into the platform doors.

Westminster is the last station with protective glass panels, and also the last with metal panels bolted to the platform walls. Green Park is much more 70s, and often smells somewhat of dank water, which isn't quite the right image for the heart of Mayfair. It feels here like a tipping point has been reached. The train's much emptier, as if the northwestern suburbs are rather less buzzing than the east. And the journey onwards is more jolty too, which must be 20 years difference in quality of track. I like the tiling pattern at Bond Street, a wrapped gift with a blue ribbon, with a letter 'B' that must still stand for Bond and not yet Burberry. Then the next station has its Sherlock Holmes theme, a series of cameos depicting the detective's stories, one of which is placed out of reach at the end of the platform beyond a barrier.

I'm surprised that Baker Street is the middle station on the Jubilee line, I thought we'd come much further. It also signals the transition to becoming a local train for local people, with the buzz of central London now behind us. The lengthy run of step-free stations is long gone too. St John's Wood is another that wheelchair users can't access, which'll be because we're now on the 1930s section of the line. Swiss Cottage also has that pre-war style, with glorious uplighters on the escalators, and a tiling pattern that echoes the Hainault loop. And then, after nearly half an hour in subterranea, we emerge into daylight again.

Finchley Road boasts an optimal cross-platform interchange with the Metropolitan. A Chesham train lines up beside us, supposedly running fast to Wembley Park, except we manage to run faster and are only overtaken as our train brakes for West Hampstead. This is the first station we've seen with a shrubbery, or indeed any attempt at horticulture, here somewhat softening the adjacent builders yard. Hurrah for the viaduct approaching Kilburn, one of the finest vantage points on the Underground, with north London spread out in panorama all around. Less hurrah for the husband who boards here, then holds the door open for several seconds while his wife totters on heels behind.

Two platforms at Willesden Green stand empty, where Metropolitan line trains could but don't stop, much to the relief of long-haul Bucks commuters. The tracks now pass the backs of gardens, some small and yardy, others larger and cultivated. It's properly residential by Dollis Hill, its island platform blessed with splendidly curved canopies and still with flowers blooming yellow and gold in their beds. Neasden's less special, sorry, with a light blue shade to the paintwork across the station. Watch out for the enormous depot to the right, for the Met rather than for the Jubilee, though always with an intriguing additional assortment of rolling stock parked outside.

We reach Wembley Park just eleven and a half minutes after Finchley Road, which isn't much slower than Metropolitan passengers who've leapfrogged the intermediate five stations. But theirs are the busier trains as we continue outbound, indeed there's only me left by now in my Jubilee carriage as we duck beneath the mainline and head north. Much of the rest of the ride will be along the backs of substantial white-painted semis, our surroundings now properly Metroland. We pass the foot of Barn Hill on the way to Kingsbury, a station with an almost rural feel that greatly reminds me of Croxley. Queensbury misses out on the illusion by being elevated, although that does allow a view of the unique roundel roundabout built to give this 30s community a sense of place.

That temporary-looking stadium beneath the tracks before Canons Park is The Hive, the new home of Barnet Football Club. The nearside building could be an out-of-town warehouse, while their main stand resembles a three-bar electric fire... but the club's not planning on being here long. And then there's only one station to go, running up the side of a park (it's Canons Park, obviously), before queueing to enter the terminus ahead. Stanmore has three platforms, and like Stratford two are back to back while one's out on a limb. I don't understand the rationale behind the three Next Train Indicators here, which announce the platform of the next train south, then the times of the next two trains from that platform, which can be half an hour away. But this is only of interest if you're heading straight back south again, whereas what you should do is exit up the far stairs to Stanmore proper. Hmm, perhaps.

» Geofftech's five minute video - Secrets of the Jubilee line

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