diamond geezer

 Wednesday, September 22, 2021

The other new tube station on the Northern line extension is a bit smaller, a bit simpler and a bit more useful for existing residents. It's also in a different borough, which was helpful because it meant TfL could ask for funding from two different councils. The area last had a station in 1848 when the London & South Western extended to a new terminus at Waterloo, and is still dominated by a railway viaduct. It's Nine Elms, and suddenly it's nine minutes from Leicester Square.

Nine years ago this was an underused corner of Sainsbury's car park, ripe for redevelopment and infrastructural refill. The supermarket promptly expanded into another part of the site, hiding its car park underneath, leaving room for civil engineers to carve out a deep box where the trolley store and a burglar alarm factory used to be. For a couple of years you could look down from a passing bus into an enormous trench supported by concrete beams, until they capped it off with a couple of understated boxes and today it's a portal into the 272nd Underground station.

As at Battersea Power Station station the trains arrive either side of a broad island platform, but here there's a lot more island than platform. This is a result of there only being one set of escalators, not two, which leaves a lot more circulation space between the tracks. If escalator counting is your thing, know that Nine Elms has one bank of three and BPS has two banks of two. At the heart of the subterranean expanse is a shiny information arch where you can consult the new version of the tube map (or in case of fire, grab an extinguisher). Inexplicably the two tube maps posted up elsewhere on the platforms are the old version which doesn't include the extension, so could never have been relevant.

You've not much reason to go right to the far end of the platforms unless you need the lift. Nine Elms has just the one, but it does go direct to street level so escaping from the station is much quicker than at Battersea. Poke your nose into the other extremities and you'll find emergency stairs and several doors labelled 'Intervention route to track'. Although it might be interesting to discover what lurks beyond the fire doors, best hope you never find out.

Two things Nine Elms has a lot more of than Battersea Power Station are seats and adverts, for connected reasons. Passengers can expect to wait awhile on the platforms here before a train arrives (currently up to 12 minutes), so TfL have kindly provided somewhere to sit and something to look at. The whole outer wall is postered, unlike BPS which has none, while a few bright digital screens grace four of the pillars. Those coming down the escalators also get to stare at a large unmissable video screen, although on launch day it was only promoting the company that supplied it. According to TfL's most recent blogpost, it's hoped that "advertisers wanting to target affluent residents and shoppers in zone one" will choose to use it.

The gateline is broad and leads swiftly into a ticket hall, then straight out into the street. For those who hang around there's not much to see, partly because the intended artwork got cancelled to save money. But there is a bank of ticket machines on one side and a little office on the other where the staff hang out, plus some large roundels splashed across the glass above each exit. I was particularly exasperated to see a 'Please stay hydrated in hot weather' sign in one corner, given that temperatures hadn't exceeded 20°C since the extension opened and it was the penultimate day of summer and ffs the health and safety pedants are obsessed.

Nine Elms isn't architecturally impressive from outside, more a long porch along the glassy end of a very large grey box. A second featureless cuboid covers the emergency exit at the far end, this even drabber - isolated and adrift amid a blank piazza. It's all because the new station is designed to be built on top of, in this case with a trio of towers containing 479 flats, 40% of them affordable. The percentage is only that high because the current Mayor controls what gets built on TfL's land, whereas the luxury highrises nearer the river got nodded through by the previous incumbent.

What's reassuring about Nine Elms is that it's faced on two sides by some very ordinary pre-existing residential areas. On the other side of Pascal Street is Apple Blossom Court, a sheltered housing scheme, plus a loop of postwar flats around Bramley Crescent. Across Wandsworth Road are the Vauxhall Estate (built by the Church of England) and the Wyvil Estate (a significant cluster of very 1960s blocks). And between them runs Wilcox Road, one of the outposts of Lambeth's Little Portugal, with its characterful parade of independent shops and cafes. It's such a shame that people who come to ride the extension are much more likely to end up in an overpriced Nine Elms eaterie than here enjoying a friendly pavement coffee accompanied by a Portuguese custard tart.

One of the biggest changes hereabouts this week isn't the new station but the arch that's been opened up beneath the railway viaduct. Previously the Thames-side Nine Elms strip was very much cut off from this side of the tracks but now the two sides are connected, purely so that those on the rich side can catch a train. It also means that Nine Elms residents are no longer stuck with Waitrose, they can easily walk through to Sainsbury's, while Waitrose has become directly accessible to those living on the less well-off side. The route follows a temporary slalom across the very eastern end of New Covent Garden Market, its hoardings attractively decorated with pictures of fruit, before negotiating a rainbow crossing and disappearing into the new arch. The workmen giving it a final touch-up on Monday were very keen that I came back after dark to see how they'd illuminated it.

This unassuming walkway is the first publicly accessible breach through half a mile of viaduct in decades. It's not just the new underground railway that's connected Wandsworth to Lambeth, its arrival has made a significant change at ground level too.

40 Flickr photos of the new extension (20 from Battersea Power Station and 20 from Nine Elms)

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