diamond geezer

 Saturday, January 16, 2021

Yesterday was Pudding Mill Lane station's 25th birthday. Unfortunately lockdown prevented the Silver Jubilee celebration that would inevitably have taken place, but rest assured I popped down and sang Happy Birthday on your behalf, and took some cake. Unfortunately I sang it to the wrong station because the 1996 version was demolished in 2014, but it's the thought that counts.

A brief history of Pudding Mill Lane station

20th June 1839: The Eastern Counties Railway opens alongside the future site of PML station. Stratford gets a station but there's no point opening a halt amid the Bow Marshes. During construction a pudding-shaped windmill beside the Pudding Mill River is demolished.
31st August 1987: The Docklands Light Railway opens between Stratford and the Isle of Dogs. No station is provided at Pudding Mill Lane but the location is safeguarded for future development. A passing loop will be added later.
15th January 1996: Pudding Mill Lane station opens, on the cheap, to serve a few adjacent industrial estates. Access to the island platform is via a claustrophobic central staircase. Usage is not expected to be high.
6th July 2005: The IOC selects London to host the Olympic Games in 2012. Tiny Pudding Mill Lane will be the closest station to the stadium. The adjacent industrial estates are instantly doomed.
13th July 2012: Pudding Mill Lane station closes temporarily, two weeks before the Olympics, because it could never have coped with the passenger numbers.
13th September 2012: The station reopens following the Paralympics, but its days are numbered. A replacement is already under construction a few metres to the south.
18th April 2014: The original PML, born 1996, closes forever. It had the misfortune of being on the direct alignment of Crossrail, at precisely the point where trains will emerge from tunnels on the approach to Stratford.
28th April 2014: The current Pudding Mill Lane station opens, a large glass box on a freshly-constructed double-track viaduct. It's now the largest station on the DLR.
4th August 2016: West Ham play their first match at London Stadium. Police are initially reticent to allow supporters to use the station, but will eventually change their minds.
11th December 2022: Estimated date on which passengers will finally be able to travel on Crossrail between Stratford and Whitechapel, passing through the original site of Pudding Mill Lane station.

» If you'd like to see what the old Pudding Mill Lane station looked like, Ian Visits wrote a post about it and I took 30 photographs on its last day.
» If you'd like to see what the new Pudding Mill Lane station looks like, Ian Visits wrote a post about it and I took 30 photographs on its first day.

The old Pudding Mill Lane station is mourned only by trainspotters who loved the mainline vantage point provided by the open platform. The new one is state of the art but in an oddly tedious way, having been built to withstand a future that's not yet arrived. The platforms are much wider than necessary for the handful of passengers who normally use them. The staircases are broad enough to cope with large crowds that almost never materialise. The concourse under the tracks echoes with inactivity. The retail unit built to take a coffee shop has never had a tenant. The piazza beyond awaits a community yet to appear. There is a reason why Pudding Mill Lane is the second least used station on the entire DLR network.

And it's been even quieter during lockdown. My daily exercise often takes me past on my way into the Olympic Park and normally there's absolutely nobody else here. I don't think I've seen a bike in the bike rack since March, other than an abandoned one missing a wheel. The two bins of Metro newspapers are always topped up but never empty, so I guess at least 50 copies end up in the recycling daily. I saw two passengers arrive yesterday morning and almost recoiled from the shock.

As 2020 went by I got an increasing feeling that TfL had abandoned the place. The electronic rainbow board that listed disruptions abruptly disappeared, or broke and was covered over. A chained-up poster announcing weekend line closures in October lingered until the last week in December. The tube map poster vanished several months ago leaving a large white space on the information board. I know someone must come round occasionally to update the other posters because these do change in line with official government restrictions. And someone definitely turned up in August to remove the cash option from the ticket machine, although the nearest Oyster ticket stop is half a mile's walk away, should anyone ever be caught short.

Unsurprisingly the blank piazza outside is a favourite with bored youth. Sometimes it's a pair of skateboarders practising tricks under the shelter of the viaduct. Sometimes it's acrobatic cyclists taking advantage of a large paved expanse. Occasionally it's been dozens of teenagers gathered to show off their biking skills before abandoning fried chicken wrappers and cans of Red Bull on the benches. And on one particularly memorable occasion it was a congregation of 200 feral kids egging each other on to perform massive wheelies with menaces before scarpering in all directions when a police van turned the corner.

Perhaps the oddest thing about Pudding Mill Lane is that nobody lives nearby. Normally when you open a new station the developers move in and take advantage, knocking up flats left right and centre, but nobody whatsoever lives within a 200m radius. Large areas of post-Olympic hardstanding remain empty, one used as an occasional car park and another for a temporary container hotel. Even now this 1500-home neighbourhood is still only at the masterplan stage, with a first planning application due to be submitted later this year. By 2030 this should be a much-needed mass of densely-packed residential blocks, assuming people still want to live in the capital. In the meantime Pudding Mill Lane is still a staff-free halt in the middle of nowhere, just as it was when it opened 25 years ago.

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