Saturday, 1 November 2014

Quainton Road: What is a train service - Food for thought

Quainton Village

My splendid 6-volume gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (dated 1897) states that the village of Quainton lies in Buckinghamshire, 4 miles NW of Aylesbury, 55 miles from London and had a population of 885 who occupied an area of 5346 acres. In this gazetteer distances to London are always quoted from the local railway station, Quainton Road in this case, about three-quarters of a mile from the village. The distance is puzzling. By 1897 the direct route to London would have been via the Metropolitan Railway, the official distance to Baker Street being 44m 21ch (about 44¼ miles) and even allowing a bit extra to reach Charing Cross (the accepted origin of London distance measurement) one cannot get anywhere near the 55 miles quoted. The only way I can resolve this is to assume the gazetteer is not fully up to date and quotes the older distance to London via Aylesbury, High Wycombe and Maidenhead to Paddington. I believe this to be 55m 62ch, but it is nearer than any other combination of routes I can think of. It draws attention to the shortening of the route achieved when the Metropolitan came along, in any case a faster line than most of the old route.

Quainton is perhaps typical of a mid-Buckinghamshire village, even today having a population of only 1200. It still has a rather pleasing (and technically functioning) windmill and eight surviving almshouses, operated for many years by Winwood's Charity and dating back to 1687. In more recent times, life around this tranquil spot has been disturbed, in particular, by the Second World War. This introduced a prisoner of war camp, occupied by Italian prisoners between, so far as I can tell, 1942 and 1946. I have struggled to locate this site (rather less is known about the large number of prisoner of war camps in the UK than one might expect), but a 1948 aerial photo suggests it might have been alongside the eastern edge of station road. Although prisoners could be moved by road this consumed time, troops and petrol all of which was scarce. Prisoners were often moved by rail, and the location near a station is unlikely to be accidental.

Another wartime feature was the establishment of a food buffer depot just south of the station. With wartime food supplies so reliant on importation the risk of serious food shortage was felt to be acute and numerous government food 'buffer' depots were established in which food could be stored safely for extended periods. The idea was that the stock could be rotated, but that in an emergency the contents could be drawn down to keep supplies available for a while. In 1943 6.5 million tons of food were being stored in the UK and the depot at Quainton stored flour in a large brick building and sugar and sultanas in large corrugated huts, supposedly secured against rodents. The depots were all located where both road and rail facilities were good. At Quainton, the depot backed onto the railway yard and was only a mile from the main A41 trunk road.
Quainton Road today the buffer depot huts in a neat military line at centre and to right.

After WW2 and the rapid emergence of the 'cold war', and the prospect of nuclear strike, the government decided to continue operating the buffer depot system. There was a degree of optimism that if the worst happened transport would somehow be available to move food, and that power would be available to cook it (and people to eat it), but that is another story. By the 1960s the government estimated that stocks in or en route to shops would provide food for 33 days, and that the strategic stockpile in the buffer depots might provide enough food for 23 further days. This fell short of the entirely arbitrary 3-months of food stocks aimed for, but even by the early 1960s cold war planning for protecting the civilian population was degenerating rapidly. In the 1960s the reserve had fallen to around 600,000 tons, and by 1971 just 400,000 tons, against a rising population. The food (some of it tinned and quite old) was in good enough condition to sell into the market and create cash to keep the system operating for a while. When the Aberdeen typhoid outbreak occurred in 1963, it was quickly traced to contaminated corned beef which local officials suggested had had been part of a 13-year old 'nuclear' stockpile, but this was wrong—the stockpiled material was OK and it was a defective fresh import that had introduced the disease (it demonstrated some political concern about old stock being sold into the market though, as well as how long the canning process can actually preserve food).

By 1991 UK stocks had fallen to just 200,000 tons and the buffer depot system was at last abolished, the site at Quainton being closed and eventually purchased to enlarge the adjacent railway preservation centre. It is perhaps sobering to think that today the stocks held by supermarkets are probably good for about 12 hours and that this would be no more than double if it included food elsewhere in the supply chain actually in the UK and moveable. There are no strategic stocks at all (the fuel strikes a few years ago brought this home forcefully).

Wartime train services

All this is said by way of introduction to certain train service improvements that were demanded for Quainton Road station during 1943. I cannot yet be sure what demanded more trains, but either the buffer depot or PoW camp, or both, are plausible explanations for a change at a time when passenger facilities were generally being reduced. My suspicion is that it was more likely to be the PoW camp that demanded better transport facilities than a series of sheds requiring minimal supervision (but perhaps just an armed guard).

These improvements have exercised the lively imagination of several transport authors who have referred to the 'resumption' of Metropolitan Line services to Quainton Road. This, I feel, wholly misrepresents the position and to the uninitiated might suggest provision a train service of the kind enjoyed by, say, Uxbridge or Oxford Circus! Nothing could be further from the truth, so I had better explain.

The railway north of Harrow-on-the-Hill, all the way to remote Verney Junction, was leased to and operated by the Metropolitan & Great Central Joint Committee, a legal entity set up in 1906. Operations included the station and goods yard at Quainton Road. By 1933 the Committee's owners were the London Passenger Transport Board (as successor to the Metropolitan Railway) and the London & North Eastern Railway, as successor to the Great Central. The Joint Committee employed its own station and goods staff, ran the stations, issued the tickets, collected the fares and was responsible for the timetable. The Committee operated no trains of its own and local train services were operated on its behalf by the LPTB or the LNER as convenient, the Committee paying the operating company for the service provided. Study of time tables suggests the Committee was largely indifferent about whose trains fulfilled the schedules, though obviously only the Metropolitan could run through trains to the City and this was a factor in the Metropolitan having the range of timings it did. In addition, LNER express trains from much farther afield had to be accommodated as that company had the right to run a certain number of through trains (but the rights did not specify set times); there were not many of these so the problem could be managed without much difficulty. There was a complex clearing system which settled at weekly intervals the respective amounts retained by the Committee from through fares and the payments to the train operators for services provided.

In those remote parts of the line north of Aylesbury, passenger traffic was not abundant. All the stations were remote from even the nearest tiny villages and the terminus at Verney Junction served only a pub and the odd poorly-timed connections with the Oxford-Cambridge railway. The summer 1934 timetable shows that between Aylesbury and Verney Junction there were six LNER shuttle trains each weekday, each way, and two Metropolitan trains. Another Metropolitan train got as far as Quainton Road, where it turned round and this connected into one of the shuttles which began and finished at Quainton Road rather than Aylesbury. These all called intermediately at Waddesden, Quainton Road, Grandborough Road and Winslow Road. It may be noted that only the Metropolitan then offered through trains to points south of Aylesbury, but these both ran late in the day and one of those only went to Harrow. Almost certainly they were provided for operational convenience as it is inconceivable the traffic required it. As the Joint Committee was indifferent to who provided the trains, it is a moot point whether these odd trips constituted a Metropolitan Line 'service' as such.

In any event, by 1936 traffic levels were dire and there was some road competition. The joint Committee therefore withdrew the local train services, resulting in the closure of Winslow Road, Grandborough Road and Waddesden stations. Quainton Road remained open and continued to be served by LNER trains along the Great Central line, with the Verney line remaining open only for freight traffic. With most of the infrastructure remaining, the cost savings from withdrawing the passenger service cannot have been very great. London Transport is often blamed for directing the closures, a variety of implausible reasons being suggested. It is true that as half-lessees of the Joint Committee the LPTB had a significant say, and it is true that this area was both outside the statutory LPTB area set up by the 1933 Act and also incapable of developing much passenger traffic. It is also true that the LPTB had some significant financial difficulties looming and not much cash to support loss-making services, either directly or through its joint lines. However, I think harder reflection suggests these stations would almost certainly have closed anyway before long, even if it had been left to the LNER alone.

All this left Quainton Road with just six passenger trains a day, each way, plenty for the prevailing traffic and timed to allow a day in London or an evening out in Aylesbury. The 1939 service is shown in the following table.

In all the following tables, times given are at Quainton Road (for 'up' journeys) or Aylesbury (for 'down' journeys).

Table 1. Quainton Road Train Service in 1939
Southbound trains from Quainton Road Northbound trains Aylesbury to Quainton Road
08:24 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 08:06 LNER Marylebone to Leicester
11:39 LNER Leicester to Marylebone 12:40 LNER Marylebone to Brackley
15:21 LNER Leicester to Marylebone 16:52 LNER Marylebone to Brackley
18:09 LNER Brackley to Marylebone 18:40 LNER Marylebone to Quainton Road
19:03 (start) LNER to Marylebone 19:42 LNER Marylebone to Leicester
21:36 LNER Leicester to Marylebone 21:01 LNER Marylebone to Woodford

Some of these LNER trains ran 'express' to or from Aylesbury from Harrow or Marylebone, but some trains served all (or nearly all) stations between Aylesbury and Harrow, again supporting the view that the Joint Committee was indifferent about which company provided the trains.

The onset of World War II restrictions soon saw the service culled to just three trains a day (two in the morning and one in the afternoon) which wasn't much good for anything. By 1942 another trip was being operated, restoring a usefully-timed London evening departure. These trains were long-distance main line trains to or from Brackley, Woodford and sometimes Leicester, Nottingham or Manchester (north of Aylesbury, virtually all were all-stations trains, some with excruciatingly long running times).

Table 2. Quainton Road Train Service in 1942
Southbound trains from Quainton Road Northbound trains Aylesbury to Quainton Road
07:17 LNER Brackley to Marylebone 09:50 LNER Marylebone to Leicester
08:30 LNER Woodford to Marylebone 15:25 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
09:49 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 18:05 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
16:03 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 19:27 LNER Marylebone to Woodford

It is at this point I need to return to my original theme about the need for additional trains in 1943, to meet some government purpose.

The initial change was made from 5th April 1943 when the Joint Committee arranged for the LNER put on a 17:30 departure for Marylebone; this started its journey at Quainton Road using stock normally stabled at Aylesbury. A second LNER train (17:00 ex Marylebone) was extended from Aylesbury at 18:51 to arrive at Quainton Road at 19:00; this returned south at 19:08, in passenger service, to Aylesbury where it terminated and stabled. From the same date London Transport was required to extend to Quainton Road the 22:00 train from Baker Street, which had hitherto stabled at Aylesbury; it arrived at Quainton at 23:43 and returned to Aylesbury empty. At that time there were no local LNER trains that could be redeployed and the option instead of stopping the 22:00 Marylebone - Manchester express at Quainton Road (which it was timed to pass at 23:13) was understandably regarded as unacceptable.

We should not forget that even though this lone Metropolitan train went further than Aylesbury, it was still along tracks part-owned by London Transport and in any case the locomotive power had since 1937 been provided by the LNER, with LNER drivers, on behalf of LT. This arrangement, undertaken for administrative convenience with one late-night train in one direction only, cannot, surely, justify the suggestion that the Underground had resumed operation to Quainton Road!

In fairness I should say that on Saturdays (only) the 18:51 Aylesbury-Quainton Road and 19:08 Quainton Road - Aylesbury workings were also provided by an LT train rather than an LNER one, purely because the disposition of rolling stock made this more convenient, but I don't think this seriously challenges my point.

A new timetable came into operation within the month, on 3rd May 1943 and this refined the changes. The late night Metropolitan working continued unchanged but the late evening train was adjusted to be operated Monday-Friday by LT rather than the LNER (LT already ran this train on Saturdays). The new working saw it formed northbound by the 16:43 from Liverpool Street, departing Aylesbury at 18:40 and arriving at Quainton Road at 18:49. It formed a 19:03 departure from Quainton Road for Wembley Park, thence Neasden depot (later timetables saw the train forming a Baker Street service).

Table 3. Quainton Road Train Service in 1943
Southbound trains from Quainton Road Northbound trains Aylesbury to Quainton Road
07:17 LNER Brackley to Marylebone 09:50 LNER Marylebone to Leicester
08:30 LNER Woodford to Marylebone 15:28 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
09:49 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 17:06 (start) LNER to Quainton Road
16:03 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 18:07 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
17:30 (start) LNER to Marylebone 18:37 Met Liverpool Street to Quainton Road
19:03 (start) Met to Wembley Park 19:31 LNER Marylebone to Woodford

23:34 Met Baker Street to Quainton Road

These 'extra' trains north of Aylesbury did not appear in the passenger timetable whilst the war was on, perhaps confirming they were there only for those who needed to know; they did appear in timetables when the war finished. This is all an area that needs further exploration. Another timetable is shown below showing further variations.

Table 4. Quainton Road Train Service in 1946
Southbound trains from Quainton Road Northbound trains Aylesbury to Quainton Road
08:26 LNER Marylebone to Leicester
07:12 LNER Brackley to Marylebone 11:53 LNER Marylebone to Brackley
08:28 LNER Woodford to Marylebone 15:31 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
09:29 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 17:06 LNER Marylebone to Quainton Road
13:14 LNER Brackley to Marylebone 18:09 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
16:17 LNER Nottingham to Marylebone 18:40 Met Liverpool Street to Quainton Road
17:25 (start) LNER to Marylebone 19:34 LNER Marylebone to Woodford
19:00 (start) Met to Baker Street 23:38 Met Baker Street to Quainton Road

With minor variations these arrangements carried on until 29 May 1948. From the following Monday the late night Metropolitan train was simply withdrawn north of Aylesbury, while the early evening service was adjusted to be operated by an Eastern Region train instead; this was the 18:05 from Marylebone to Woodford, departing Aylesbury at 19:34 and calling at Quainton nine minutes later.

After that, only British Railways' Eastern Region trains called at Quainton Road until the Great Central route closed in 1966. The old Verney Junction route finally closed in 1947; such freight as remained was operated via the chord at Calvert, opened during World War II and better suited to surviving operations as it avoided shunting at Verney Junction. London Transport's interest in Quainton Road ceased in 1948 when the former joint line north of Aylesbury was allocated to British Railways to operate.

Of course, we are now staring East-West Rail in the face—the scheme to rejuvenate the old Oxford-Cambridge Railway. This scheme includes the introduction of passenger trains from London via Aylesbury and the Calvert curve towards Bletchley, and will pass through Quainton Road. I am not sure whether the decision has yet been made to double the track along this section. One cannot help wondering whether the locals will clamour to reopen to ordinary passengers the station at Quainton; this is at present in the hands of the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, which probably didn't expect regular passenger trains to be tearing through (actually the Chiltern trains just need to stop there—there are precedents for privately run national rail stations!).

Quainton Road Station - what changes to come?

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

What's in a name? 'Driverless', it seems

During early October I visited the small display about the design of the new deep tube rolling stock that London Underground had put on view in the spacious north ticket hall at King's Cross. It was interesting enough, for a design at such a formative stage and which has not yet been tendered to the train manufacturers who might (for practical reasons) have their own ideas. Most of the intended features had previously been aired in the press so, in truth, the amount of new information was not great, but it was interesting to study the many visuals at leisure. In any case, the display was not intended for the technical press so much as Piccadilly Line passengers, who, if all goes to plan, will be the first to sample the new trains.

Just to get the details out of the way, it is proposed to form up the trains from relatively short carriages which will reduce platform gaps that would otherwise occur, there may be nine or ten such carriages, producing a train a little longer than a 1973-stock that will occupy the whole of the platform area. Intermediate carriages will share 'bogies' (LU technical people call them trucks) with neighbouring carriages, so that (say) ten carriages would have just eleven trucks, compared with the present six carriages having twelve. This not only reduces weight substantially, but provides more room under the car bodies for equipment. It also makes it easier to provide through connections between all cars (like the S stock), making the train interior continuous.

The reduction in weight, caused by clever design and modern materials, means that the new trains will use usefully less energy than the 1973 stock. The LU thinking had been to re-invest this saving into providing air-cooling of the car interiors, meeting a perceived demand to make trains running through central London cooler, especially in summer. Unfortunately the huge growth in tube traffic means that a much more intensive service will be needed by the time the new trains enter service, so that total energy usage will unavoidably rise - increasing, not reducing, heat input to an already over-warm system. It is therefore recognized now that improvements to LU's tunnel ventilation systems will still be necessary if the tunnels are not to warm up further, and the 'energy balance' equation doesn't address the concerns of anyone who feels that the existing station temperatures are already much too high.

It can be hard to understand why the 'simple' issue of train cooling is constantly referred to as 'challenging' when most other metros are cheerfully addressing the issue or thinking about it. Unfortunately it is a basic rule of physics that this 'low grade' heat energy can only really be pumped around, and if you try and chill the temperature inside the train the only place you can pump the heat is to a point outside the train, raising the tunnel temperature. More importantly, it raises the air temperature in the narrow annulus between the train and the tube tunnel rings; this is not a problem when the train is moving and there is a huge passing airflow, but it gets quite interesting if a train becomes stationary for any length of time. First the very warm and perhaps static external air gets progressively less able to accept the pumped heat (reducing in-carriage cooling effect when perhaps it is most wanted) and then it will want to leak back inside the train in some form, so the carriages need good sealing at a time where on older trains people would already have opened all the windows, and older trains were notably leaky anyway. We then have to consider what would happen in the event of a major power failure stranding sealed trains in tunnels - there are of course a whole range of things that could be done to mitigate such risks, and which are being looked at, but the only point I want to make here is that 'simple' it isn't, at least in 12ft bore deep tube tunnels (another reason for not persisting with them indefinitely - see my last blog item).

We must then consider that the equipment can be quite bulky. On a normal train the air cooling (or even more bulky air-conditioning) equipment goes in the roof, next to the air ducting used to distribute conditioned air where it is needed. This is quite impossible in the deep tube where passengers are already banging their heads against an equipment-free roof. The reduction in trucks deployed does increase the space under car floors though, so it will have to go here. It will almost certainly mean rejected heat will be dissipated from beneath the train.

What did strike me about the display was the carefully crafted set of words used to describe the future of train drivers. I must start by saying it is the intention for the new trains to be delivered with a driving cab at each end, but to make the cab 'demountable' so it can be converted to passenger space in the event that it is decided no longer to have a member of staff in a driving cab (not something likely any time soon, as I have observed elsewhere).

The display made the quite proper observation that the new trains will be introduced 'from the early 2020s' [six or seven years hence seems a long time given tenders are being prepared now] and last for forty years or so, so the design should be future-proofed - they will last till at least 2060. So far so good - wish this had happened with some of our older stock.

The future-proofing message explained: '... this also means having trains that could one day be used in fully-automated mode. We would only consider implementing such a step following extensive engagement with our customers, stakeholders, staff and trade unions.' The message continues: 'TfL is committed to having a fully-staffed Tube network, on hand to assist customers and ensure safe operations.' And then: 'Given our existing train fleets, all drivers currently working at London Underground will be able to continue to drive trains for the rest of their careers'. It will be noted that though thrown together to imply some connection, these statements are each quite independent of each other and do not say that trains will remain fully staffed indefinitely. Options are obviously being kept open (and in any case what transport professional would be daft enough today to make a definite statement about what might be seen as desirable some thirty years away?).

Now, what to make of this. What I pick up on is the expression 'fully-automated mode', which isn't explained and leaves certain questions (understandably) hanging. Whatever it is, though, seems to mean that a driving cab is not necessary. In that context, what does fully-staffed tube network mean? If it means a member of staff on every [Piccadilly Line] train it doesn't actually say so.

The press (oh dear) found the display of sufficient interest to report about, though seemed to have difficulty with writing connected statements themselves. Many of the papers took the angle that 'driverless' trains were on the way, as though they were imminent and in some why connected with a threatened 'tube' strike which in the event didn't happen and was nothing in any way connected with train operations. The word 'driverless' did not appear at the exhibition, by the way and is a word the press seems to have latched onto without having any real idea what they are talking about.

Perhaps I could offer up the actual options that are open to LU, based on a slightly academic concept called Grade of Automation (or Goa).

GOA 1 means a manually driven system with some kind of automatic train protection (rather like traditional Underground).

GOA 2 means what is now called a semi-automatic system with an operator in the cab operating the doors and providing a start signal, the train driving automatically between stations. This is akin to the operation on Victoria, Central, Jubilee and Northern Lines.

GOA 3 means a fully automatic system with no need for a conventional driving cab and with the operator able to move around the train (usually, but not necessarily on every system, operating the doors and providing assistance). This is akin to the system on Docklands Light Railway.

GOA 4 means a fully automatic system without the necessity for any member of staff on board; it is sometimes called Unattended Train Operation of UTO.

Needless to say, each Goa level requires successively more sophisticated and reliable equipment that must address progressively more challenging tasks. It is accepted by transport professionals that the challenges of Goa 4 mean that because emergencies can arise (not all of which can be foreseen) staff must either be able to get to a stranded train very quickly or provide for a train being driven by remote control. In the deep tube getting to a train 'quickly' can be very difficult and some failures will inevitably occur where a train cannot be driven at all.

Goa 4 must perhaps be a very long term goal, but nobody yet has the answers to how to achieve this in the deep tube and quite rightly are not committing to anything that cannot at present be done (though this does not stop the politicos from mouthing vague threats about it).

So in that context, what might 'driverless' mean? The four lines already operating to Goa 2 are 'driverless' in that the train operators do not 'drive' in ordinary passenger service, yet Goa 4 (in the deep tube) is manifestly unachievable for at least 15 years and I suspect rather longer.

That brings us to Goa 3 then? Well I have been told by senior staff that LU has already considered Goa 3 and for exactly the same reasons I set out in my Modern Railways article on 'driverless' trains concluded that it isn't really practicable in today's busy deep tube network. I have seen odd references by LU to this form of operation, but I do not give them much credibility. In fairness, one can conceive that the more obvious practical problem of train despatch might be achievable in Goa 3 if it were managed from the platform rather than from the train, but this has its own problems and doesn't get away from some of the other shortcomings of cabless Goa 3 in a crowded deep level tube (and does not necessarily save much cost). I'll believe this is the approach only when I see it.

The problem with the word 'driverless' is that is has newspaper appeal, even if nobody knows what it means. We can hardly expect the papers leaping to explain Goa levels either - so the industry really needs to come up with some appealing terminology itself. As it happens 'Unattended Train Operation' is fairly self explanatory, and is the level likely to cause the most concern, upset or savings, depending on who it is being asked about it. 

That leaves us with the need to think of terms for Goa 2 where perhaps the term semi-automatic operation is descriptive enough. Goa 3 appears to be the problem area for a decent term, perhaps calling for something like mobile train operator operation or the like. I'm sure someone else can do better than these though.

This graphic of a doorway on one of the new trains shows level access (not done on the Victoria Line, requiring platform humps). We do not yet know if this implies narrower trains in order to achieve this, but if platform edge doors are in mind for Goa 4 operation then it is easier if trains are 'level' - but as we've found on S stock can increase gaps on curves. Another issue that needs a long term fix. Implications for door height I do not yet know.

In any event, the problems of maximizing automation in the deep tube and keeping the public and safety authorities on side are surely magnified by the need to operate trains in 12ft diameter tunnels, warming to an earlier theme. It would be good to think that by the time these 'new tube for London' trains are ripe for replacement our successors will have more space to work with.

If you want to know more about the complications of bringing these new trains into service, then click HERE. Meanwhile I note that the London Infrastructure Plan 2050 is quoting the following dates for Goa 4 operation (and note Goa 3 isn't mentioned): Piccadilly 2029, Central 2032. Silence for the rest. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

The hole just isn't big enough - the end in sight for the 12ft tube?


In my last post about driverless trains (December 2013) I queried how much longer it would be that we were going to be stuck with 12ft diameter tube tunnels. The much-extended London deep tube network was a product of late Victorian thinking and while it was a brilliant solution at the time it struggles a bit today. One problem is that people have got bigger. Moreover the sclerotic stations are less efficient not just because of crowding (far more people than that for which they were designed to operate efficiently), but because of changing passenger behaviours which means flows are slowing down.

The more I travel about when it is busy (and it is now busy most of the time), the more I am surprised that nobody seems very concerned and that there is no long term plan to deal with what I see will be a problem. I am not suggesting we begin wholesale reconstruction tomorrow, of course. But in a hundred years can we honestly expect any of these tiny tunnels to be in use in today's form? I think not, for the reasons that follow, and that leads to the next question. When, between now and a hundred years hence, will something be done? There's a lot of deep tube, about 280 single track kilometres, in fact. So whatever is done will need careful phasing over many years. That being the case, some kind of plan is surely needed, and we need the debate sooner rather than later.

Why the tunnels are becoming too small for purpose

My interest in making the tubes bigger was partly stimulated by observations from others that people are getting bigger. I observed that between 1875 and 1975 men aged 21 have on average increased in height from 5ft 5ins to 5ft 10ins and that the door height of a 1972 stock train is but 6ft 1ins. If we do the statistics, based on a spread of heights of those aged between 20 and 49 it means that in 1875 pretty much everyone would have passed through a notional 1972 stock doorway, whilst today 12½ per cent of males need to stoop whilst entering the cars and even then some of them cannot stand straight up without banging their head on the roof. At first it seemed apparent that in just a few years the proportion of passengers banging their heads would double, but then I realized that the latest 2009 tube stock has doorways that are a couple of inches higher (achieved in part by lowering the floors) and this is putting off the evil day when the average person is larger than the hole in the side of the train. Nevertheless, people are getting bigger and the tunnels are not.

There are also safety issues to consider. Today's expectation for tube construction requires an escape walkway to be provided along one side of the train, whilst existing tubes (with odd exceptions) have no escape facility except at the ends of the trains. This is problem enough today, but 'grandfather rights' and experienced staff mitigate the obvious dangers. I cannot help thinking that as the decades roll by, the safety authorities will become increasingly intolerant to the lack of additional means of escape, especially if LU pursues the 'driverless train' concept, in whatever form it develops. This at least invites consideration about enlarging tunnels, and if that were to be the plan then enlarging to main line size should surely be looked into.

As a guide, the existing tubes are about 3.6m in diameter, the Jubilee Line tunnels with walkway are about 4.35m, itself considered a compromise - ideally it would have been bigger to reduce evacuation times. Crossrail tunnels have an internal diameter of 6.2m and allow for main line stock with overhead line equipment. Perhaps if the 4-rail system is to be perpetuated (itself an interesting question) then tunnels 6m in diameter would do.

To give a flavour of the effort required, enlargement would require removing almost twice as much spoil per unit length of tunnel as driving the original tunnels required. We then have the issue of whether enlarged tunnels would clear existing nearby structures and tunnels, and all which that entails. Meanwhile, more and more tall buildings with deep foundations make the task of underground tunnel enlargement harder as time progresses, and without a plan there is no attempt to safeguard enlargement that I believe inevitable. In short, this depressingly vast task is not something to embark upon lightly and my concerns are based entirely on the premise that one day, however far away that might be, the existing small-bore tubes will simply not do the job and that LU need to start grappling with this as a long-term issue.

The recent Central Line strike, and the little motor difficulty they had a few years back when the line closed entirely for weeks, made me wonder whether that line would be a good candidate for early reconstruction. I offer the following thoughts:
  1. Virtually all the open air parts of the Central were built to main line gauge and the alterations required to restore such a gauge are (in the great scheme of things) quite small.
  2. It appears that London can function without the Central Line for extended periods at present traffic levels provided reasonable alternatives are provided.
  3. Much of the Central Area of the Central Line is duplicated by or accessible from Crossrail, at least partially. Once Crossrail is opened, but before its traffic has fully developed, there appears to be a once-in-a-lifetime window of opportunity to close the Central Line for reconstruction. (To divert Central Line trains into Crossrail tunnels before Crossrail services start would have been a realistic option for allowing Central Line reconstruction; alas, not now possible. Crossrail 2 might have offered a second opportunity if it were to take over a Central Line branch, but this is no longer the current plan).
  4. The Central Line will be one of the lines needing new rolling stock anyway within the next decade or so, probably with entirely new signalling, so the timing is reasonably good.

Although the Central Line is mainly straight, there are a few extraordinarily sharp bends in it and these could be eliminated, with consequential speed improvements (some other lines might benefit even more from elimination of irksome curve-related speed restrictions)

As already indicated, reconstruction of any tube line would be a formidable challenge, even though it has been done before and some of the issues are well known. It is probably not feasible to attempt enlargement with trains running (as was done previously) so closure for probably at least two years seems unavoidable. But what of the stations? If one is increasing the comfort and capacity of the tunnels then major station works are also invited, and may be necessary anyway, for example where platform access subways cross tracks at tube heights. Longer platforms perhaps beckon?

It may be argued that it would be easier to build new tubes and just abandon the old ones that could perhaps make useful cable or air ducts or emergency escape routes. The problem is that it is very difficult to find new routes across London at sensible depths, while the existing tunnels self-maintain their 'right of way' between the invading deep foundations of London's vast new buildings.

And People are moving more slowly

On the subject of stations, I fear that here, too, some kind of step change will be required sooner or later. Many Underground stations (and not just in Zone 1) are already at bursting point and any delays create a real problem for the staff. I sometimes watch with astonishment at the way seemingly impossible crowds are dealt with daily at some very poorly designed stations (and I say this as someone who once managed Victoria!). Without a long term plan I fear possible crisis where a large number of stations will require massive congestion relief schemes all at once. If a whole line is to be reconstructed then obviously this aspect needs coordinating too; it might even make the job easier.

I have been looking at some LU standards relating to handling passenger flows and I wonder whether these remain fit for purpose in the light of my own observations about passenger behaviours. For example, I am not at all sure that the standards for handling traffic in passageways and other public areas match what is now happening. I have been doing my own studies recently and make four observations.
  1. In very rough terms about a third of people in any crowd (including a moving crowd) are using some kind of mobile device, be it a mobile phone or music device (often combined) or a reading device. In the majority of instances the owner is fiddling with it, and it is to the device that immediate attention is focused.
  2. In virtually all cases where a moving person is fiddling with an electronic device whilst moving, their speed drops to about half that of the 'ordinary' flow, thereby causing the whole flow to slow down in relatively crowded or narrow spaces. (I invite you to check this for yourself.)
  3. In addition to slowing down, navigation virtually ceases and users are apt to weave across spaces (causing further slowing of flows) and then suddenly correct as peripheral vision identifies 'obstructions', such as a person coming the other way.
  4. When something exciting is happening on their electronic device, some users will just stop dead where they are, causing havoc to the flow rate. This includes trying to finish off a phone call inside a station entrance before the signal fails farther in, a particularly difficult track change between pieces of music, maybe requiring both hands, or the end of a very exciting chapter on their Kindle.

Let us be clear, if this kind of behaviour were isolated (such as those reading newspapers whilst going down stairs in a busy rush hour) then we just shrug it off. My own observations (St Johns footbridge at Clapham Junction is an excellent place to do this) suggest it is a massive and growing problem and that it is beginning to interfere with flows through stations quite seriously. Go and see for yourself; I recommend those mean not-quite-wide-enough subways of the 1960s/70s to be a good place to start. I do not have an answer to what I see as a mounting problem, but do think it is a factor that may not have received due attention by planners and is getting worse.

Luggage and baggage

In much the same vein I feel moved to mention the issue of luggage. When I first began using the tube in rush hours, it is my feeling that the majority of passengers did not have 'luggage' in the ordinary sense of the word. Many men carried nothing or a folded newspaper and umbrella, with a proportion having a modest sized briefcase. Women generally had just a modest-sized handbag with perhaps a shopping bag into which the handag was placed. In the evening, notably on Thursdays, carrier bags containing shopping items might be carried (anyone else remember the enhanced Central Line services on Thursday evenings to cater for 'late night' shopping, when 'late' meant 8pm?). True 'luggage' was not altogether uncommon but there was comparatively little of it, particularly in the rush hours when no-one who had given the matter any thought would bring suitcases.

Well, it isn't like that now.

Luggage is today carried in vast quantities, and not just on Heathrow trains where the grudging accommodation struggles to cope. Nor is it simply the quantity of luggage, it is the size of it and also the amount of it in relation to the people carrying it. Some luggage is so vast that it needs two people to carry it, with consequential impacts on boarding times and safety, for example on escalators, where it totters precariously and no-one can pass.. Moreover, I often see people with far more luggage than they can move alone, so bits of it are left whilst the rest is moved, to the consternation of station staff looking at what (to them) is a large suspect package. It is touching that people think it will still be there when they return! It may be my imagination, but quantities and weights of luggage seem to be going up, and this is not good for the operation of an already too busy and too small station.

I also need to mention the back-pack. Another recent survey of mine (Baker Street provides a good vantage point) suggested that very nearly half of the people I watched using an escalator for twenty minutes either wore a back pack or a large shoulder bag slung in such a way that it was effectively a pack pack, or had other large luggage with them. I will avoid wasting more than nominal space wondering why quite so many people need to be carrying items with them apparently sufficient to sustain them for a long weekend up a mountain, for the point is that they now do whilst once they did not. Now, our old friend the escalator had its material dimensions set in the days when small briefcases were the norm, and now they are not the norm. A briefcase or handbag held tightly at the side causes virtually no additional impediment to flow than its carrier would if travelling alone. This, in crowded conditions with an escalator operating at 145 ft/min (once its optimal speed) allowed the majority of treads to be occupied, or, at least, their right hand sides.

A back-pack, or its equivalent, unfortunately sticks out materially to the rear of its carrier and will often make it impractical to occupy the next step (occasionally next two steps), at least if one doesn't want a face full of back pack from a fidgety wearer oblivious of anything behind. I would not go so far as to say my study is sufficiently rigorous to redesign our station standards, but it is apparent that, on the face of it, escalator capacity is being materially reduced by this change of fashion, coupled with the luggage problem already alluded to. Again, the odd pack pack is hardly an issue but when it is apparel worn by over a third of passengers it begins to take its toll. I will forbear from other observations about this handy piece of kit, but the number of times these things get caught in train doors, or strike other passengers whilst their owners swivel about oblivious, is perhaps worthy of separate study but again wearers do not always seem conscious that the appendage sticks out to the rear a long way from their own centre of consciousness. My guess, for discussion purposes, is that escalator capacity may be reduced by about ten per cent by this change of fashion, and this is, I suggest material.

I suppose another fairly serious devourer of space is 'wheely' luggage. In the dark ages, when I grew up and then worked for LU, this form of luggage was virtually unknown; if a suitcase were carried then carried it was and although it obviously increased the effective dimensions of the carrier it was held close and occupied about the minimum of extra space possible. Not so today. The elderly, frail and encumbered may always have needed the take advantage of mechanical assistance but the numbers were low. Today. the world's sleekest, burliest and 'healthiest' of our passengers choose never to carry a suitcase and drag the tiniest item around on wheels. Whilst I myself find this very peculiar, this is immaterial. What is actually happening has three consequences: (1) the trailing luggage doubles a person's footprint in space that is very precious to start with; (2) it increases the safety risk because people moving around a busy space do not notice the trailing luggage as a person passes by and trips over it; and (3) the extraordinary behaviour of a proportion of people with wheeled luggage anywhere near an escalator scare people in keeping clear of them, further reducing capacity (I refer to those who, oblivious of the planet around them, stop dead on leaving an escalator to restore the wheels leaving no room for those behind to avoid the collision). It is no part of my job to do more than draw attention to this fad on the basis that our stations are ill-designed to cope with it and it has an impact on capacity. If it is a known problem (which I argue it must now be) then I expect to see it appearing in the flow equations, which I do not.

Consider now all these factors together. 


From this, I think I may summarize what I believe to be two strands of thought.

The first is that with people getting bigger, and walking slower whilst distracted, and carrying things that are larger and heavier, any tendency of stations to reach full capacity will be accelerated. If we think we might have a capacity problem, I think it could be worse. The second is that I am not sure that existing capacity standards (or for that matter operating procedures) are picking this up and perhaps more research needs to be done on how real people actually behave and whether the answer is to change standards or try and change behaviours.

Personally I find it selfish beyond belief that people immerse themselves in a little world of their own when using electronic busy places - almost as though the rest of the world ceases to exist. The truth is, I suspect, they don't give it a moment's thought. Apart from inviting us to mine more underground space in stations, at vast cost, the magnetic draw of electronic devices not only slows everyone down but creates material hazards. A recent project I was involved with discovered that significant numbers of people in the street were colliding with trams. They were not being hit by the trams, they were walking straight into the side of them. The suspicion was that their attention was entirely directed to their electronic device and, expecting the pedestrianized street to be clear just walk straight into the vehicle (research indicated the same phenomenon in several large European cities). We see some comparable evidence for accidents or near misses at foot way crossings over railways where electronic distractions are implicated. It would be a surprise if London Underground was in any way immune from accidents caused by this kind of distraction, but I can see no easy solution.

Returning to my theme before closing, the Underground is simply not big enough for the passenger demand now, and this is aggravated by passenger behaviours that may be impractical to change. One factor (but only one) is the size of the deep level tube lines, a legacy from Victorian times, for that is when the legislation was passed that created the core system that effectively defined the size of any further extensions. That deep-level system has served us well for a century, but I seriously question that it can do so for another hundred years, given all the prevailing pressures. Making any change will be horrendously difficult and costly, but will, I contend, have to be faced. It seems to me better that we start thinking about this now so an organized response can be considered and phased in over perhaps the next fifty years (it needs to co-ordinate with train renewal plans). It is a problem that will get worse, and not easier, the longer that it is left. However, major reconstruction does open up other opportunities that might not otherwise be considered, for example the scale and timing of station reconstructions, and even perhaps how our outer branches (and which outer branches) link to which central London deep level core lines.

I think we need the debate about the very long term future of the small bore tubes, and the time to start it is now. Perhaps at the very least, we should be insisting on passive provision being made in that any new tunnelling should contemplate eventual use of larger trains (I doubt in the planners of the Battersea extension or Bank reconstruction have this in mind). But our transport planning system is dominated by the mayor of the moment and other politicians who have little inclination to take very long term views and an electoral system that doesn't exactly reward very long term vision, especially if it costs now. Having said that, I do think Londoners would have little problem connecting with the idea that the old tubes and many of the stations are apparently far too small. We need today's practitioners and users to start any debate, so why not here and now?

By the way, on the last four out of five occasions I used London Bridge and the two flights of escalators in the exit routes, not one person was walking either up or down for the whole duration of my exit. It was so extraordinary I even photographed it: left hand side of all escalators clear.  What's going on? Is this another capacity-reducing tendency running amok? Keep your eyes open and keep asking the questions! 

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Wembley Central - things can only get better

Wembley Central station was opened by the London & Birmingham Railway in 1845, though it appears to have been a stopping place for one train a day (each way) since 1842. The station was located at a bleak spot along the Harrow Road. Though slightly closer to the tiny village of Wembley, it took its name from Sudbury, being renamed Sudbury & Wembley in 1882 and Wembley for Sudbury in 1910. These name changes reflect the growing importance of Wembley , which slowly expanded from its hilltop position along the Harrow Road, taking advantages of the improving railway service. The earliest station appears to have been built with a pair of platforms astride the twin tracks and extending both north and south of the bridge. Early maps suggest direct access to the platforms from the road bridge, with small station buildings on the platforms. A third track (with platform) was installed on the east side in 1858, this platform was wholly south of the bridge and backed onto the existing up platform. A fourth track on the east side, with its own side platform, had arrived in 1875 and is shown on by 1896 mapping. By this time the whole station had been reconstructed with all four platforms south of the bridge, and a station building on the bridge itself, on the south side and extending across the whole railway. Proper buildings and protective canopies were now provided on all platforms.

Wembley during the Edwardian era, looking north. The nature of the station on the bridge is evident. Fast lines (the original tracks) on left and what are now the slow lines in foreground.
Further reconstruction occurred around 1910-14 to accommodate the new electric lines built along the west side, on land taken mainly from the large back gardens of houses in Station Grove. The entire station building (though quite modern) was removed and replaced by a square building on a new plot to the east of the station; this was connected to all the platforms by a long footbridge running along the south face of the road bridge. The station building was slightly set back from the road and had a small ‘cab’ yard in front. I haven’t seen a photo of this, but it is likely to be similar to all the other ‘new lines’ stations of that period, but perhaps a little larger.

By the mid 1930s the arrangements at Wembley were proving unsatisfactory and the LMS decided to rebuild the station. The opportunity was also taken to widen the road bridge by 40ft and raft over the north side to allow a row of shops to be built where previously there had just been a brick parapet. The existing station was entirely demolished and a new one built, set back about 100ft from the road . Between the station and the road a new building was erected along the widened bridge with entrances at the extremities to what was in effect an arcade; between the entrances the ground floor frontage was occupied by nine shops facing onto the street. The station was situated within the arcade, with four sets of steps (serving all six platforms) leading down from the southern face. The main ticket office and parcels office was at the east end but there was a secondary ticket office at the western end as well (nearest the busy dc lines). The rearrangement at street level required 100ft of the dc lines’ platforms to be cut back at their northern end and a corresponding 100ft extension at the south end. The works also required extensive alterations to platform awnings and platform buildings. The result was a huge improvement over what had been there before and provided prominent entrances to the high street in addition to substantial property income. The station was renamed Wembley Central in July 1948 as part of the Railway Executive's post-nationalization attempt to reduce duplicated or ambiguous station names.
View of Wembley station, looking north, in 1938. The new station building and arcade are just about visible, as is the deck for the shops on the north side of the High Street bridge.
Right hand entrance to Wembley, soon after completion. The entrance leads to an arcade with station access within.
Between 1963 and 1966 a new property scheme was embarked upon. This was quite lucrative for the newly formed British Railways Board but was a mixed blessing for station users. The scheme involved decking over virtually the whole of the platform area to enable shops and offices to be built above. The railway benefited from income from the ground lease to the tune of £35,000 annually whilst the £3m development costs were borne by the developer. These were substantial sums in those days. The ticket hall area off the 1930s arcade was rebuilt, but without additional facilities and there was really quite little else of benefit to passengers. The platforms were now, in effect, confined within three concrete boxes, and were dark and gloomy. The brutal unrelieved concrete finishes were deeply unattractive and oppressive, the more so on a sunny day when brilliant sunshine could be glimpsed at either end but not enjoyed. While the works were going on, a temporary station was available with an entrance in Station Grove. The resulting 2½-acre concrete deck, together with existing land on its fringe, provided a 4-acre site for new construction. The raft sat on more than 1000 piles sunk to between 60 and 80 feet, and was further complicated by the need for early completion so as not to interfere with the West Coast electrification scheme, then in hand. The entrance onto the High Street was unaffected.

The Wembley Central Development in 1965, looking north, buildings nearing completion. The station frontage on the High Street (top left) is now dwarfed by its surroundings. 
The unfortunate and noisy station cavern was later the subject of several attempts to alleviate the poor passenger environment. The first was in 1983 when the station received a £30,000 face lift. This, it needed. The area in general, and the station in particular, was beginning to look scruffy and the unpleasant platforms almost became threatening. The dc platform areas were tiled and certainly improved, but it did little to mitigate the unattractive environment (the harsh strip lighting tended to undo some of the benefits of the tiling). The passenger experience was not assisted by train service reductions which increased waiting times. Further modernization, in 2006, was more drastic. White enamelled sheet cladding was installed along the whole length of the dc platforms, with blue borders at top and bottom. This was accompanied with new lighting, installed within its own angled cladding, and arranged so that some of the light reflected off the walls; this somehow gives a more spacious and airy feel. Though I hate the decking, and in fine weather insist on waiting in the short open-air section, I will concede that the platforms are now far less uninviting that they were a few decades ago. The slow line platforms on the ac tracks have not been so well treated and one would definitely not venture there to enjoy the view.
This 1970s map shows the 1930s station arcade butting up against the new rafted development. The station ticket office is the unmarked white space to the arcade's south, in line with the western arcade entrance.
The ticket hall area became an extraordinary place. With staff reduced to a minimum one ended up with indifferent station facilities concentrated at the dc end and the stairways to the other platforms outside the barrier line and usually closed off (for the arcade was a public area). Virtually nothing ever used the fast line platforms (3 and 4) but the slow platforms (5 and 6) were used rather inconsistently by various services. Latterly the only regular service is Southern’s hourly service for which purpose the platforms were unlocked shortly before each train and closed off again afterwards, with great inconvenience (I passed through it recently one evening by Southern and noticed none of the lights had been switched on. At least 50 people were picking their way out using the train’s lights. I don’t know what happened after the train left). A small number of early and late London Midland trains also stop there.

The arrangements at Wembley were becoming farcical, especially as traffic was picking up again and the facilities were in so poor a state (ceilings and tiling were in very poor repair and there was water ingress). In addition, uncoordinated development had left the station facilities tucked away and not commanding attention. Around 2004/5 the station operator (then Silverlink) was keen to get developer funding to fund a new station, with support from Brent, Network Rail and TfL. Agreement was finally possible, planning permission was granted and demolition began in 2006. The idea was to get rid of the ‘moderne’ street frontage and arcade to produce a small square and for a property development scheme behind to produce new and much needed modern retail space, housing and offices. It was hoped this might help prime further regeneration of the rather tired surroundings. As part of this a new station building would be provided. Early to be demolished was the 1930s street frontage and part of the 1960s ticket hall, a temporary building frontage being erected. This led to the strange arrangement where access to platforms 5 and 6 emerged, unprotected, in the square, remote from the station (with the platforms being kept locked unless a train was due).

This was all very well on a temporary basis, but unfortunately (as I understand it) the money ran out and these ‘temporary’ arrangements became fixed—the worst of all worlds. It is in this state that London Underground became the station operator in 2007. The temporary station building looked awful and unfinished (it was described by a local political activist and fellow blogger as an ‘allotment shed’ but he later told the Kilburn Times he withdrew the remark as it was an insult to allotment sheds) and it was only just before the Olympics started that it received a hasty £2½ million makeover, including lifts to make the station fully accessible. Despite the orgy of London Underground sign-fixing that followed, there was little more that could be done at street level without the development proceeding.

The 'temporary' ticket hall - part of the 1960s structure with a vaguely weatherproof makeshift front. This ended up doing duty for about six years. (From the Wembley Matters blog - Brent Green Party).
Fortunately, with the economy picking up, work has restarted and the block within which the permanent station will be situated is structurally complete. Although the station entrance is still a building site it has already allowed a new internal corridor to be brought into use that connects all the platforms together within the barrier line. That itself is a triumph. There is a fair chance that the station will be completed roughly as originally envisaged, but only time will tell.

This is an artist's impression of the final scheme as put forward 
And this is where we are up to by June 2014 (The building is to be a Travelodge hotel, due to be complete 'late Summer' 2014)

POSTSCRIPT. As of 1st November the building has not moved forward much beyond the photo above, and with no obvious sign of completion any time soon.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hammersmith & City Railway

After what has so far been an exhilaratingly busy 2014, I have finally stolen some moments to update the blog. One of the reasons for my distraction was the need to complete a book to a fixed deadline: the 13 June 2014. Many of you will realize this represents the 150th birthday of the Hammersmith & City Railway, opened in 1864.

My book was a London Underground commission. When I was first asked to look at the feasibility of a book I was concerned about what new one might say about what is, after all, under three miles of railway. I need not have feared.

It is an extraordinary thing, but actually it is a railway about which so little has ever been written that the field was wide open. It has (as far as I can see) never had a proper history written. There have been a couple of Railway Magazine articles that filled a gap, but so far as books are concerned the railway is only covered as an aside. Lee and Baker give it short shrift in their coverage of the Metropolitan, and although Alan Jackson (the nearest we will get to a dedicated Met historian) necessarily includes it in his book on the Metropolitan, the H&CR occupies surprisingly little space. McDermot's 3-volume history of the Great Western gives it little more than a page, and then only if one aggregates all the references to it.

I would not suggest my book is much more than a 'celebration' of the railway, though it is more about it in one place than has been attempted before. What I hope it does is to inspire others to take an interest in what is actually quite an interesting little railway. I am grateful for the huge assistance rendered by an LU manager (a former colleague) who was able to wheedle out much new material from TfL archives, far more than I could use and with yet more untouched.

1928 Railway Clearing House map showing Hammersmith & City Railway and its joint ownership. The arrangements around Paddington are complex, but a story for another day
The things that struck me about the Hammersmith & City that make this short little line interesting include the following.
  • The original railway promoters were a combination of consulting engineers, contractors and property developers. Each had their own financial aspirations that would be met by building the railway and comparatively little thought was given to the communities it would serve and the passengers it would carry. It is quite an interesting 'case study' in how private railway development functioned at the time. The motives of some of those involved were dubious though, curiously, one of the more obvious money-grabbers does not seem to have been very good at it and died impoverished. There is an entire history that could be written about this aspect of the line itself.
  • The way the railway was managed was unusual. It was common for a privately promoted line to engage another, more experienced, railway to run it. In this case the Great Western Railway was the obvious choice. What was slightly unusual was that after only three years the railway was effectively sold jointly to the GWR and the Metropolitan. Usually a joint railway is a separate legal entity (whoever the ultimate owners might be), but in this case it was 50:50 joint property and this presented some untypical management complications. A Joint Committee looked after day to day operations, but anything more seems to have been painful, with each railway having an entirely different operating philosophy.
  • The way the railway was managed was actually untenable, and the Metropolitan (for entirely practical reasons) was the more convenient hands-on manager, though not until quite late. Even in the twentieth century we note the GWR was doing the station reconstructions at Hammersmith and Ladbroke Grove and installing the entire electrification system (from which the line could not finally disengage until the 1980s).
  • The arrival of London Transport in 1933 was interesting. As so often we have seen, the LT corporate mind was easily baffled by partners with whom it was not ideologically in tune. LT found it hard to accept that the GWR owned half the interest in the line and might therefore have a legitimate opinion. The GWR was by no means negative, just different. Another area about which a whole book could be written - LT and its joint lines.
  • The GWR, in a half-hearted way, regarded the H&C as its own plaything. Even as late as 1947, its system map showed the Hammersmith branch as part of the GWR system, with no clue it was connected to the Underground. This illusion was fuelled by the existence of complex through booking arrangements with the whole of the GWR system, requiring vast stocks of card tickets to be maintained, even for seemingly improbable locations. Many of these facilities survived until the 1970s!
  • The H&C Railway built a station without consulting the GWR, which originally ran the line, and were genuinely astonished to find the operator didn't want to operate it as it was 'in the wrong place'; it was either dismantled or rotted away. This is surely very unusual (another unwanted station built in similar circumstances was eventually opened to become Westbourne Park).
The Great Western connection seems to confuse: many know it was somehow involved but not how. Perhaps this gives rise to the sprinkling of GW memorabilia around the station. The upper of the seats reproduced here is (I am told) a reproduction. I understand this style of seat to have been introduced early in the twentieth century so use of this style at Hammersmith is perhaps appropriate. It is plausible that this exact style of seat was employed during the 1906-8 reconstruction as they would probably have been supplied by the GWR, which rebuilt the station.

The lower style is definitely reproduction (and can be purchased from several suppliers for £300-£400 each). Unfortunately this GWR roundel device was not introduced until about 1934, long after the GWR was involved in fitting out H&CR stations and use of such a style here is far-fetched; it would be better at somewhere like Royal Oak. I applaud the use of pre-LT features where appropriate, but we should of course aim to get it right!

The line has left mysteries I have yet to clear up. For example Metropolitan shareholders were told in 1867 that they now had a half-interest in the Hammersmith & City and that the original H&C Railway had been wound up. Later evidence suggests that a company with that name continued to function with the object of distributing share dividends (and was wound up in 1949). I have not got to the bottom of this. There are operational mysteries too. When did the last GWR excursion trains from Paddington use the H&CR (as I think they did)? How were the liquid hydrogen trains operated and where did they come from (and, earlier on, were car-carrying trains actually run to or from Hammersmith)? When were parcels last accepted at stations (for conveyance by the GWR and perhaps British Railways)? Will we get certainty about why the order of the names 'Metropolitan' and 'Great Western' vary as they are presented on the trains? Will we ever find photos of the H&CR in its early days, particularly of Hammersmith? When was the last section of GWR conductor rail removed (and was any kept)? As you see, there is still lots to go at!

By the way, Hammersmith is now so busy that a new entrance is having to be made onto the forecourt. Plans show that the ironwork used on the existing entrance will be reproduced for use on the new one as well, and I look forward to seeing it. Perhaps sadly, the only place the entrance could go was where the barber's shop was located - this was a family business that had occupied the shop unit since 1911 when the ticket hall area was rearranged. It functioned for 102 years and I would think it a good contender for being the Underground's longest tenant ever. It would be interesting to know if there are any other businesses that have lasted that long. Its prices were quite modest too, and an original gas lamp survived till the end (though not in use). It closed in 2013.

Anyway, the Hammersmith & City book was one of several large projects that has kept me busy. I understand copies of the book will be available from the Museum after birthday celebrations, if anyone wants to know more. In the meantime, perhaps some unused research might make its way into a talk I have agreed to give in November!

All for now.

About Me

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is