diamond geezer

 Thursday, June 05, 2014

London's least used stations
No 6:
Morden South

Morden, at the southern tip of the Northern line, definitely isn't one of London's least used stations. Seven million passengers pass through annually, which is above average as busy-ness on the tube goes. But just down the main road, barely half a mile distant, is a station that manages only about 1% of that total. It's Morden South, on the Sutton Loop, and only five railway stations in the capital are used less.

The Sutton Loop is part of south London's swirl of rail lines, the tangled knot that makes the tube map look like child's play. It runs from Streatham round to Streatham, via Wimbledon and (not surprisingly) Sutton. It's where Thameslink trains from Bedford and St Albans have traditionally headed, if they weren't going to Brighton, not that this seems to help passenger numbers much. First Capital Connect admitted last year that "more than 16,000 journeys are made on the loop each weekday", which isn't an especially big total when there are ten stations along the way. The quieter half of the loop is the section from Wimbledon to Sutton, also known as the St Helier line, served only by trains going round and back again. And Morden South is the second station down.

It's a fairly standard suburban station, architecturally, if minimally outfitted. A large metal canopy covers one end of the island platform, while the rest is open to the sky. Underneath the canopy are a handful of vandalproof seats, probably more than enough to cope with the daily rush, half of which are semi-sheltered in case the rain comes in horizontally. A couple of plastic bags dangle from the pillars, collecting precisely as little litter as you might expect from a station like this. There's a help point button in case you get lonely, and a couple of enamelled colour maps which show that trains from both platforms go to Blackfriars. The only thing that changes is the next train indicator, so you can always watch that for up to 29 minutes if you've timed your arrival wrong.

But step beyond the overhang and you might see things a bit differently. The platforms are unusually far apart, and the gap between has been grassed over to create a broad swathe of lawn. This stretches some way into the distance, I make it seven lampposts worth, and is currently replete with daisies should you fancy a picnic. That's not recommended, by the way. And look across the hedge to see the largest mosque in Western Europe, that's Baitul Futuh, its highest minaret rearing up 36m into the sky. Technically it's the largest mosque complex in Western Europe, and was constructed a decade ago out of an Express dairy, but it's an impressive structure nonetheless. All those worshippers nextdoor, and yet so few ever seem to arrive via Morden South.

The station has no actual buildings, just a set of steps that descends between the tracks to exit at ground level. Someone's written MORDEN SOUTH halfway down the stairs in a font that doesn't look quite right, part of a station "renovation" sometime back which involved slapping a vinyl covering over whatever brickwork and plaster previously showed. A "Meeting Point" has been provided, not that I imagine it gets used much, while a helpful sign reveals that "all trains from Morden South towards London in the morning peak have seats available." No member of FCC staff wastes their time here, they've long been replaced by a ticket machine and a CCTV camera. It's all terribly underwhelming, to be honest, but then maybe it's meant to be.

The main road outside Morden South is the A24, and there are houses just to the left giving the illusion that this is a busy spot. But there aren't many houses in the neighbourhood, and you only have to go a short distance before St Helier station (one down the line) is nearer. Across the road is a large greenspace which looks like it might be popular, but no, Morden Sports Ground is fenced off and inaccessible via any direct route. And immediately beyond the mosque, blocking access from the east, a considerable amount of land is taken up by the one thing that sucked all the life out of this poor station - the Morden Northern line depot.

You can walk across it if you like. An alleyway leads off from London Road, which pretty soon becomes an elevated blue metal footbridge. Many who use this long tunnel are walking home with shopping from Lidl, but if you choose to stop it's easy to peer through the grille at a phenomenal number of tracks, and the sheds where several tube trains spend the night. Officially known as Alstom Transport Morden Metro, this is one of two major depots on the Northern line, with space to stable 25 trains undercover and at least a dozen more on parallel exterior tracks. During the day it's fairly quiet, but first thing in the morning imagine a dripfeed of trains heading out into the cutting below London Road to emerge alongside the platforms at Morden station.

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When the southern end of the Northern line was being built in the 1920s, the intention was to continue beyond Morden to join a new railway being built between Wimbledon and Sutton. The link would have been at Morden South, which would have become a proper tube station and thereby much more popular than it is today. But those extension plans were thwarted in Parliament by the Southern Railway, who managed to keep the whole of the Wimbledon and Sutton Railway line for themselves... not that it did them much good in attracting passengers. The tube extension was duly forced to terminate at Morden, as it does today, with the proposed link used instead to create the Northern line depot. And that leaves poor old Morden South abandoned forever on the wrong side of the divide, a tube station that never was, serving less than 250 passengers a day. [8 photos]

London's least used stations (2012/13)
No 1:
Sudbury & Harrow Road (18,050)
No 2: South Greenford (38,360)
No 3: Sudbury Hill Harrow (51,376)
No 4: Angel Road (63,040)
No 5: Birkbeck (86,360)
No 6: Morden South (87,638)
No 7: Emerson Park (113,904)
No 8: Drayton Green (123,038)
No 9: South Ruislip (142,830)
No 10: Castle Bar Park (144,182)

Passenger numbers on the St Helier line
No 38: Wimbledon Chase (389,586)
No 12: South Merton (157,632)
No 6: Morden South (87,638)
No 16: St Helier (192,132)
No 26: Sutton Common (323,266)
No 24: West Sutton (301,178)

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