diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 04, 2024

Happy 40th Birthday to the Bakerloo line.

Not the actual line itself, that's 118, but the current extent of the line with trains operating between Harrow & Wealdstone and Elephant & Castle. Elephant's been the southern terminus since 1906, despite umpteen attempts at an extension. But the northern terminus has varied quite a bit, especially in the 1910s and the 1980s, and it's exactly 40 years since it settled permanently on Harrow & Wealdstone.

A short history of the northern end of the Bakerloo line

The Bakerloo line extended incrementally over the course of a decade from 1907 to 1917.

March 1906: The line opens. Baker Street is the northern terminus.
March 1907: Marylebone (then called Great Central) is the new northern terminus.
June 1907: Edgware Road is the new northern terminus.
December 1913: Paddington is the new northern terminus.
January 1915: Kilburn Park is the new northern terminus.
February 1915: Queens Park is the new northern terminus.
May 1915: Willesden Junction is the new northern terminus.
April 1917: Watford Junction is the new northern terminus.

In 1939 the Met's Stanmore branch was transferred to the Bakerloo line, and 40 years later transferred to the new Jubilee line.

November 1939: Stanmore become another northern terminus.
April 1979: Stanmore becomes the Jubilee line's northern terminus.

The Watford Junction end of the line was never well served, with far more trains terminating at Queens Park than continuing all the way. For example in 1932 two-thirds of northbound trains got no further than Queens Park, eight every hour reached Harrow & Wealdstone and only four made it to Watford. British Rail were running alternative services so Watford Junction wasn't totally missing out. But in 1965 the need to cut costs saw Watford trains reduced to peak hours only, and in 1970 reduced to just eight trains a day, four in each peak. Off-peak the Bakerloo line ran no further than Queens Park. This paltry service continued until 1982 when costs needed to be cut still further.

September 1982: Stonebridge Park is the new northern terminus.

Here's how that looked on a tube map.

Trains all day to Queens Park.
Trains in the peaks to Stonebridge Park.
British Rail only to Watford Junction.

But this cutback wasn't popular so the GLC met the costs of re-extending peak services as far as Harrow & Wealdstone. By 1987 they were off-peak too, as they have been ever since. But the crucial date when the northern terminus rebounded to Harrow & Wealdstone was 4th June 1984, and that's how it's been ever since.

4th June 1984: Harrow and Wealdstone is the new northern terminus.

I've been for a walk along the Harrow & Wealdstone extension for the 40th anniversary, and it wasn't much of a treat but it did help to explain why running tube trains is much better than not running them.

Stonebridge Park
From September 1982 to June 1984 this was the northern terminus. The station's strategic importance for scheduling is that a large Bakerloo line depot exists just to the north so it makes sense to run trains this far. A train turfs out here roughly every 15 minutes. Like the rest of the stations on this section it was built by BR rather than LT so it's a bit utilitarian. The '2' on platform 2 still looks very Silverlink, not very Bakerloo.

To get to the next station you can take the number 18 bus.

Wembley Central
This is one of the tube's uglier stations, buried under a concrete raft since 1965 when Station Square was built. Ten years ago they dumped a stack of flats on top, which despite being colourful still look grim as anything, but that's modernday Wembley for you. In the ticket hall is a map showing the London Northwestern Railway network, which is ridiculous because Wembley Central's not on the map because LNR services no longer stop here. Only hourly Southern trains between Watford Junction and East Croydon stop here now. According to the sign above the gateline these trains also go to Milton Keynes but they haven't done that since 2022. Throw in a National Rail poster about face coverings and hand sanitiser and there's a real feeling of Totally Can't be Arsed about Wembley Central.

To get to the next station you can take the 483 bus but it goes all round the houses so it's probably faster to walk. It's not a nice walk though, first a genuinely dead-end estate then an oppressive railside alley, and I'd actually recommend taking the bus.

North Wembley
This is no stunner either, a small brick building which looks like a two-storey house with one floor missing. The ticket hall is small and a bit gloomy and faces onto busy East Lane. Yesterday the gates were wide open so you could have travelled up the line for free without having to Push Your Luck. The only interesting feature, which is excellent, is a huge painted ghostsign above the roof which once pointed down towards R.A. Squibbs & Partners Estate Agents. That's now the much blander Wembley Estate Agents, Mr Squibbs having passed on, but more fool them for changing their name given the huge advert bearing down.

To get to the next station you can't take a bus and even driving is indirect so best walk, it's only ten minutes and the midway alleyway's not so bad this time.

South Kenton
This is proper minor, a glum subway adrift in suburbia. A staircase leads up from the middle of the gloom to a lonely island platform, and because there isn't room for ticket gates it's one of few ungated tube stations on the network. It also has a water ingress issue so the waiting room's currently closed and the ticket machine won't accept cash because there's nowhere to store it. The chunky Dutch-gabled hostelry alongside is The Windermere - you might remember it from the Capital Ring - and couldn't be more optimistically 1939 if it tried. South Kenton is invariably the Bakerloo line's least used station, and rightly so.

To get to the next station you can take the 223 bus via Woodcock Hill, but I walked across Northwick Park which is a very big park but mostly deep grass or cricket pitch so I wouldn't necessarily recommend.

Incredibly similar to North Wembley, but without the ghost sign and with a lilac parapet alongside.

To get to the next station you can take the H9 bus, and although it goes all round the houses it's still probably faster than walking. It's a sloggy backstreets walk with a brief light industrial interlude, and you're not missing much if you miss it.

Harrow & Wealdstone
A big-hitter station, at least in terms of mainline calls, even if it doesn't feel it these days. Outside looks bold and solid but step within and you can tell it's seen better days - a long-shuttered newsagent, a once-grand pillar, an overtrodden stair. There are quicker ways to get here from town than the 50 year-old trains with the semi-legible destination, but if you want to sink into the seat cushions the Bakerloo's the only way to travel. To Harrow & Wealdstone, the end of the line as of 40 years ago today.

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