Springs Branch’s London Travelcard Report

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This is a report of a day out on London's trains and tubes in 2012. The story could be subtitled “You Win Some, You Lose Some” on account of the number of disruptions and frustrations I encountered. It’s a lesson in what can happen if you choose to travel on a Bank Holiday weekend without first researching all the potential service interruptions.

I was in London for around 24 hours to break a long-haul journey from Australia to France. I’d arrived early on Sunday 6th May 2012 – crucially in the middle of the Bank Holiday weekend – and would leave the following morning by Eurostar for my final destination in Brittany. I was taking the opportunity of the stopover to get an impromptu snapshot of developments in the London railway scene.

In 2012 London Overground’s empire was well into its ascendency, so I wanted to take a look at some of the new Overground infrastructure and rolling stock, and to cover some of its still-incomplete orbital route – although I wasn’t planning on doing a straightforward circuit.

This was also the time when new S8 Stock had started to appear on the Metropolitan Line and it probably would be my last chance to ride on the subsurface A, C and D Stock.

In summary, I had an Underground-Overground day in mind, with a rough idea of what I wanted to see, but hadn’t worked out any precise itinerary beforehand.


The positioning move had been a Qantas A380 from Sydney to Heathrow (with the impressive flight number QF 001) and it was around 07:30 on Sunday morning when I fronted up at the Underground ticket office at Heathrow Terminal 1,2,3. The queue was short, there was no problem accepting my crisp, brand-new £50 note here (unlike at Sainsburys, Costa, etc. etc.) and I was quickly on my way to the Piccadilly Line platform with a Z1-6 Day Travelcard in hand.

I would be leaving on Eurostar around breakfast time on Monday, so had booked a hotel at St Pancras for Sunday night. The first leg of the day was directly to King’s Cross St Pancras Underground and on to the hotel, where I was way too early to get into my room, but at least I could get rid of my luggage.
:D Result: Uncrowded one-train ride by Piccadilly Line from Heathrow on a quiet Sunday morning – very easy, even with luggage.

Next I stretched my legs with a walk along Euston Road to Euston station. The following Friday, I would return to London by Eurostar, then take Virgin West Coast to Wigan to spend the weekend visiting family. The Virgin tickets had already been booked on-line, with TOD collection at Euston. I thought I might as well pick these up now, when the station was likely to be much quieter than a Friday afternoon.

Arriving at Euston around 9am, it certainly was quiet! The whole southern end of the WCML was closed for engineering work that Sunday, there was hardly anyone on the concourse and the only train on the departure board was for the DC line to Watford Junction.

Later I learned that Virgin ran a limited diverted service that day between Euston, Coventry and Nuneaton via the Chiltern Line using 15-coach Voyagers. This blockade was a minor nuisance, since my plan for later today included a trip out to South Kenton to watch Pendolinos and other traffic zooming up and down the WCML between Wembley and Harrow.
<( Fail: WCML closed – no Pendolino spotting today.

Collecting my tickets from the VT machine seemed to work OK, until I noticed there was no seat reservation coupon for the northbound journey. Since my journey would be on a Friday afternoon, it did seem like a good idea to have a reservation. With hardly any trains running, the Virgin ticket office was totally deserted apart from three bored-looking staff members at the desk. I explained I had already reserved a seat, but received no coupon from the machine. After looking up my booking, the guy asked what about my companions? There weren’t any, this trip was just me on my own.

“Well,” he said, “the system is holding reservations for three seats for you.”
We agreed this couldn’t be right (in hindsight, maybe I could have kept these three seats) and he said he’d issue a new reservation.
“Can you make it a window seat with a proper view?” I asked.
“Sure, no problem,” and a new coupon was printed and handed over.
“It is a seat next to a window, isn’t it?” I queried as I prepared to leave the counter.
“Of course, sir. Have a nice journey.”

I’m not sure if any readers have the Pendolino seat map committed to memory, but I was given seat D41, and you can probably guess what’s coming next. When I turned up to travel five days later, this seat was right up against the blank sidewall, with no possibility of a view.
<( Fail: Virgin Trains staff faithfully promise they are giving you a window seat with a view when there is no view whatsoever.

With the VT tickets safely in my wallet and my Pendolino window seat secured (!) I continued to Euston Square Underground station. The westbound H&C was taken to Baker Street, where I was hoping for a trip along the Metropolitan to sample the new S8 Stock, and to take probably my last ever chance for a journey on A Stock. As soon as I got to the main line platforms at Baker Street a S8 train arrived, advertised as the 09:41 to Uxbridge. I had a few minutes before departure to sit on the almost empty train and admire the clean, brightly-lit and spacious new rolling stock. At 09:41 we took off and I rode this train as far as Harrow-on-the-Hill.

At Harrow-on-the-Hill I doubled back towards Baker Street. Now I wanted a train of A-Stock, but these were being steadily withdrawn at the time and I wondered how many would be deployed on a Sunday morning. Reassuringly, I had seen at least one set running towards Baker Street on the way out to H-on-the-H. I only had to let one southbound S8 go before the next ex-Uxbridge produced the required A60 and I was back on the move towards Central London on one the 50-year-old Metroland veterans.
:D Result: Metropolitan Line produced both S8 and A Stock on cue.

While waiting at Harrow-on-the-Hill, I’d heard notifications that the Hammersmith and City was suspended for the whole day between King’s Cross and Barking due to signaling work. This was a nuisance, as my next objective was the East London Line. I wanted to see the ELL for the first time operating in Overground mode, check out the newly opened section through Shoreditch, and take a ride along the reinstated former Broad Street viaduct to Dalston Junction. The obvious route would have been Baker St then H&C to Whitechapel, but that obviously wasn’t going to work today.
<( Fail: H&C suspended between Kings Cross and Barking.

The hastily-devised Plan B was a cross-platform change at Finchley Road, then take the Jubilee Line to Canada Water, scoring a bonus trip through Brunel’s historic Thames tunnel on the way to the ELL’s northern extension. As soon as I had alighted from the A Stock at Finchley Road a Stratford-bound Jubilee train pulled in on the adjacent platform and it was a trouble-free (if monotonous) ride below central London to Canada Water.
:D Result: Frequent services and smooth transfers between the Met/Jubilee, even on Sunday morning.

I just missed a northbound train at the Canada Water Overground platform, but not to worry, the PID showed the next one would be along in about seven minutes. I’d been on the East London Line a number of times in its Underground guise and back then it had always been a sleepy, somewhat neglected backwater. I could have been on a totally different railway now. A steady stream of passengers arrived onto the platform after me, presumably mostly changing from the Jubilee Line – how busy must Canada Water get in rush hour?

The 10:56 departure, a 4-car Capitalstar Class 378 working from Crystal Palace to Highbury & Islington, was full and standing when it arrived. Admittedly it’s not hard to be standing-room-only on those EMUs with the limited all-longitudinal seating. I took this as far as Canonbury, along the way admiring the refurbished underground stations, then the new above-ground section through Shoreditch and Haggerston, everywhere now liberally embellished with the colour orange.
:D Result: Nice to see the East London Line has morphed from its former isolated, run-down condition into a popular and useful cross-town rail link.

At Canonbury, I changed from a third rail Class 378/1 to a 378/2 with its panto up for the trip eastbound on the North London Line to Stratford. This train was busy too, picking up more punters at Hackney Central, including a team of ticket inspectors. The inspectors stuck together in the carriage further back (easily visible with the walk-through construction of the 378s) and their appearance may have been the reason for an exodus of lots of the usual suspects on arrival at the next station, Homerton. Strangely, many of those getting off the train didn’t seem to head for the station exit, but hung around waiting on the platform. Maybe they were spending the Sunday clearing 378 units for haulage?

Even without the contingent of East London hoodies and chavs who bailed at Homerton, the RPIs were still doing brisk business in the back carriage and didn’t even get into my car before we arrived at Stratford. I read somewhere a claim that after the NLL was taken over by LO and ticket machines and Oyster readers were installed, fare evasion had dropped from 40% to 2%. It certainly looked like a lot more than 2% of passengers were “having a chat” with the RPIs on my journey.

The NLL high-level platforms at Stratford were new territory for me – my previous visits here were pre-DLR and Jubilee extension, travelling by either a 2-EPB or Silverlink 313 and using the low level platforms.
:D Result: Frequent, well-patronised, modern trains on the Overground. Streets ahead of the ELL and NLL of the past.

As I was approaching Stratford, I decided to have a run out on the Shenfield Metro to Gidea Park and back through to Liverpool Street. This would probably be my last chance to travel on the old-school Shenfield suburban line before various Crossrail Elizabeth Line modifications started to be implemented. All being well, I would go all stations to Gidea Park on a Class 315 and return on a Class 321 limited stops from Southend, or vice versa depending on what showed up first at Stratford. I would be taking the Class 315s for reasons of personal nostalgia, not for their speed or comfort.

No luck today. I would not be getting the “before” part of my before-and-after Crossrail snapshot. All Greater Anglia services were suspended between Shenfield and Liverpool Street – the only service available from Stratford’s main platforms was the Central Line tube.
<( Fail: All Great Eastern Main Line from Liverpool Street suspended. My Gidea Park move was CAPE.

From Stratford I headed for an inspection of new Overground infrastructure south of the river. The Central Line was taken to Mile End, then District to Whitechapel, then back onto the East London Line, southbound on another third-rail Class 378 towards New Cross Gate.

Work had been underway to add the South London Line and Clapham Junction to the LO network in time for the summer Olympics. By May, construction of new junctions and track had been more or less completed between Surrey Quays and Old Kent Road Junction, but the link was not open for regular service. The SLL connection eventually opened in December 2012, significantly later than originally promised, so I missed out on covering the South London Line to Clapham Junction in Overground mode on this trip. However I did get to see lots of new concrete and steel already in place, plus the view of LO’s New Cross Gate depot whilst traversing the new northbound flyover from New Cross Gate to the ELL.
:| Partial Result: Some new Overground track covered at New Cross Gate, but SLL link not ready.

Now at New Cross Gate, I wanted to get to Clapham Junction to cover the western part of the Overground. The options were either via Crystal Palace or West Croydon (using the Overground and Southern), or back towards town on a Southern train to London Bridge, then Southeastern to Waterloo East and SWT forward to Clapham Jn.

The gen at New Cross Gate was that only Overground trains to/from the ELL would be operating today – Southern’s London Bridge services were suspended in both directions. I was unclear about just how much of Southern’s metro network was out of action (the guy manning the barriers at NXG was less than helpful) and I didn’t want to risk wasting time in some Rail Replacement Bus farce in South London suburbia. I couldn’t get to London Bridge direct either, so it was onto one of the frequent Overground departures from platform 5 back to Canada Water and a change to the Jubilee Line for London Bridge Underground.
<( Fail: Bowled by another shutdown – the Southern route into London Bridge.

The reason for bailing from the Jubilee at London Bridge (rather than continuing on the Tube through to Waterloo) was to make a short above-ground move on National Rail metals to Waterloo East. I wanted to check out progress with the new viaduct at Borough Market. Of course after I’d made the longer than expected trek up to the main line concourse, I found all trains to/from Charing Cross were suspended too! This one, I believe, was down to a bridge strike rather than Network Rail engineering possessions. I seem to recall a boat had struck a pier of the Hungerford Bridge (but can’t find any on-line reports which might confirm that was what had actually occurred). The outcome for me was the same – retracing my steps back down to the Underground and the dependable Jubilee Line to Waterloo.
<( Fail: All Southeastern trains into Charing Cross suspended.

Arriving on the main line concourse at Waterloo, the departures board had the inevitable message about Bank Holiday service disruption, but closer inspection revealed that all the aggravation was further out along the SW main line. London suburban trains seemed to be operating normally and it was just a matter of picking the first available one from the low-numbered platforms, which turned out to be a SWT Class 455 to Chessington South.
:D Result: South West Trains got me from Waterloo to Clapham Junction with a minimum of fuss on a Bank Holiday weekend.

From Clapham Junction the plan was to take the Overground via the West London Line and Hampstead Heath to Gospel Oak. From there I would try the GOBLIN, ideally right through to Barking, but with an option to bail at Blackhorse Road for the Victoria Line if jetlag set in and I had become too tired by that stage. This would allow me to tick off a bit of new track, sample London Overground’s Class 172 DMUs and take c2c back from Barking into Fenchurch Street.

But none of this was to be. When I got to Clapham Junction’s platforms 1 & 2, they were completely closed off. I assumed I’d got my bearings wrong and all WLL trains now must leave from 16 or 17. This led to a hike back across the whole CLJ footbridge before I discovered – guess what – the West London Line service was suspended today, along with the North London Line through Willesden Junction.
<( Fail: West London Line closed. My Overground “outer circle” tour was well and truly torpedoed for today.

Consolation prize was spending a bit of time on the platforms at Clapham Junction, sitting in pleasant afternoon sunshine watching the comings and goings of Southern and South West Trains units, together with one or two of the Gatwick Express Class 442s. Too late now, but I realized I could have got here from New Cross Gate with a change at Crystal Palace or West Croydon after all – most other Southern services seemed to be running OK.

It was now after 15:00 and I was beginning to feel tired – jetlag, no doubt compounded by the disappointment of being thwarted by Bank Holiday line closures wherever I tried to go. I decided my next move was to head for my hotel room, a hot shower and to put my feet up with a cup of tea.

For anyone with a basic grasp of London’s rail map, the options to get from Clapham Junction to King’s Cross St Pancras are pretty straightforward – you only need to decide whether to go via Victoria or Vauxhall, right? I jumped aboard a random Southern Class 377 for the hop to Victoria, then down to the Tube for the Victoria Line and another Mr Meldrew "I don't believe it" moment.
<( Fail: Entire Victoria Line was closed due to signaling upgrade. The H&C was also closed east of King’s Cross, therefore no Circle Line running today either.

Most “normals” would be annoyed at having to devise a roundabout route to get themselves from Victoria to King’s Cross, but every cloud has a silver lining, and this one gave me an opportunity to do a couple of my “last ever” moves on Underground subsurface stock. It was D78 Stock westbound on the District from Victoria to Earl’s Court, then a C77 working a Wimbledon to Edgware Road service and finally a C69 forward to King’s Cross St Pancras.
:D Result: My last C69, C77 and D78 Stock moves accomplished.

I did get some more value from my Travelcard later that day, going to meet friends in Holloway (the suburb, not the prison). This time I used buses – I’d had enough of rail and tube suspensions for one day.
Now I know that next time I’m thinking of travelling on a Bank Holiday weekend:-
  • Work out a reasonably detailed itinerary.
  • Carefully check TfL/TOC websites beforehand.
  • Take a smartphone with internet access for up-to-date information on the day.
 
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fishquinn

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Shame about the thousands of 'fails' (you certainly didn't have good luck)! Very poor from the VT staff as well - did you sit in your reserved seat? At least you managed to get your last A stock, C stock and D stock in the end though.
 
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..... Very poor from the VT staff as well - did you sit in your reserved seat? ......
Unfortunately it was Hobson's Choice. The Pendolino was the last off-peak Glasgow train from Euston on a Friday afternoon, so was full and standing. I hadn't participated in the cavalry charge down the ramp at Euston to find an unreserved seat because I thought I already had a nice one reserved for me.

..... At least you managed to get your last A stock, C stock and D stock in the end though.
I thought I'd been on my last D78 Stock, but who knows?
Maybe in a few years time I'll be travelling on the Kirkby/Wigan or the Blackpool South line and one will turn up disguised as a Class 230.
 
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Kristofferson

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Despite successes being few and far between, this was an entertaining read all the same!


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Techniquest

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That had to be more than disappointing! Not exactly the awesome experience it should have been, but you sure did well in the circumstances!

An excellent read, and a trip down Memory Lane for me. Silverlink 313s, ELL in its LU form, C stock and more, good times :) Of course, I'm also happy that things have drastically improved since then!

Rather hope your trip to France went better!
 
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