diamond geezer

 Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The next time you turn up at Whitechapel station, you're going to be thinking "What happened here?" Read ahead, and be prepared.

The station entrance, you might remember, is on Whitechapel Road. But there you'd be wrong, because that entrance closed over the weekend, and it'll stay closed until Crossrail arrives in December 2018.

You might also remember a set of steps heading down into the ticket hall (now closed), then two further sets of steps behind the ticket barriers heading down to the Overground (both now sealed off), plus that slightly gloomy hallway up the side (also sealed off) leading to an old wooden footbridge (to be removed) with steps leading down to the District line (to be replaced). Most of all you might remember the ancient Next Train indicator halfway across, from the days when it was important to know from which platform a District line or a Metropolitan line train was leaving next. This old black lightbox may not have been operational for some time, but has hung around in situ for years because it's proper heritage, and now that's disappearing too. When the Whitechapel Road entrance reopens in 35 months time a new step-free walkway will have been constructed, slung directly above the Overground tracks, and the route in from the street will be pretty much unrecognisable.

As of yesterday the entrance to Whitechapel is now at the other end of the station, a hundred yards or so to the west, requiring a trek through the busy market to what used to be an insignificant alley called Court Street. TfL have made it easy to spot by plonking an elevated roundel outside the fried chicken shop, and also gone to the effort of shifting the pedestrian crossing that used to be outside the station so it lines up with the new access point. The subsequent approach to the station's not ideal, there being eleven steps up to overbridge level, so I doubt I'll be the last person to assist a mother by manoeuvring her pushchair up the incline. But the route is easily broad enough to cope with the crowds, and won't you look at that, the charity chuggers have relocated already.

The new temporary entrance is notionally on Durward Street, a backstreet you'll be seeing a lot more of, although half of it is currently blocked off by Crossrail works making access from the east less than optimal. The new way in looks pretty substantial, a proper passenger portal kitted out with ticket machines and a glass-fronted control room, even a defibrillator just in case. This is going to be the entrance to Whitechapel station for 35 months, which is about 4% of your life, so it might as well be decent. After that, though, it's all being removed in favour of a permanent rear entrance a bit further down the road, so just as well it's nothing special.

Once through the gateline a bland passage heads off to the left, over the eastbound District line, before turning and heading down a temporary staircase to platform level. The landing point is somewhere you won't have stood before, and for good reason. As recently as 2011 there were four parallel platforms here, but the middle two were taken out of service and then boarded up, and construction workers have been busy behind the hoardings ever since. A set of escalators up to the the new concourse are being installed here, and the remainder of the gap between the outer tracks has been filled in to create a broad island platform. It's this which has been part-revealed at the foot of the staircase, as the hordes step down into the path of long-vanished trains.

If you're after a District or Hammersmith & City line service, your work is now done. But if it's the Overground you require there's a longer trek to go. The new temporary entrance is at completely the opposite end of the station to where you'd like to be, and where you would have been a week ago, so you'll need to walk the entire length to catch your train. The two original curving staircases are still there, previously distinctly separate, whereas now you have a choice of which one you want to go down. I'd say the steps down from the westbound side of the platform are likely to be a bit quieter, should you be after a slightly less hassled life. But that's only if you want northbound trains from platform 5, which is where both sets of stairs end up. Platform 6 is a different matter altogether.

To get to the southbound Overground from the District line has always been a hassle. You've either had to go down to go up and then down, or up to go down and then down, such are the awkwardnesses of one railway line passing above another. Indeed this is the precise spot where the Overground passes under the Underground, the nexus of a much beloved trivia fact, which is why it's been a bit awkward to negotiate. No longer. Workers have again been busy behind the hoardings and have constructed a whole new staircase at the very far end of the District line platform to ease the pressure. What's more this is a proper permanent staircase, as you can tell by the handrails and the immaculately-finished tread, and will form a key part of the Crossrail-enabled station come 2018. Try to work out what'll be behind the blue hoardings as you step down.

If you think entering Whitechapel station sounds complicated, imagine what it's been like for those arriving. Passengers stepping off their trains yesterday headed off towards what they thought was the way out, only to find it was no longer there. Replacement signage is, let's just say, not always entirely obvious, indeed at the far end of the southbound Overground platform I couldn't find any 'Way out' signs at all. To counter the anticipated confusion a large number of staff were dotted around the station to direct lost souls in the correct direction, indeed it looked like several of the workmen on site had been given the day off to add to the customer service throng.

People'll get used to it, they'll have to, indeed there are probably several further tweaks to come as December 2018 approaches. But this is an important staging post in the evolution of a station, from Victorian staging-post to 21st century infrastructure node, as Crossrail transforms all it touches. Just be aware that gaining entry and exit might now take rather a lot longer than you're used to, but that the extra exercise is all in a good cause.

How to get from the southern end of Overground platform 6 to the drycleaners on the Whitechapel Road
Last week: walk up two flights of steps to the ticket hall, walk through the ticket hall, climb seven steps to exit, first shop on the right (50m)
This week: walk a few yards up the platform, turn right into new passageway, ascend 15 steps, double back and ascend 15 more steps, arrive at far eastern end of westbound District line platform, walk entire length of platform, ascend temporary staircase, turn right and ascend half a dozen more steps, continue to temporary ticket hall, turn right through ticket barriers, head straight on to exit station, turn right across footbridge, descend 11 steps, continue to end of Court Street, turn left at fried chicken shop, walk one train's-length to the last shop before the former station entrance (400m)

» Eight photos from Whitechapel station this week
» Four photos from Whitechapel station last week
» Official Crossrail 'Whitechapel station' webpage
» 3D map of the temporary Whitechapel station layout

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