The Scene: 2 days into the Easter holiday and all my friends are about to go away. Time to take the chance before a week of being bored.
The Capital Ring is a route which circles around London which I would like to have fully completed within the next few years, and perhaps one day I will do it all in one go. For now however, I decided to take the opportunity to complete one of the closest sections to where I live.
I did a little planning before setting out, since unfortunately the signage around the Capital Ring is far from complete (although they tell you otherwise). Walk London’s page is a good place to start since it has some handy information and advice relating to all the sections of the route.
Another very useful tool for navigation is the Google Map Route that Konstantin Binder created and posted online. You can also download a KML file which I placed in Dropbox, which can then be opened in the Google Earth app for iPhone, finally showing me the difference between this and the Google Maps apps. Upon import, the section appears as so:
Of course you can also zoom in the map and get more detail providing there is mobile phone signal available. Easy in London you might think, however thanks to some rather pedantic residents in the Harrow area, 3G signal can be a bit flakey. This is combined with the fact that that my phone, running on Virgin, who use the EE network (Orange and T-Mobile together) seems to often choose to use whichever one has poorer signal.
Anticipating this or a battery failure beforehand, I decided to carry a trusty Ordnance Survey 173 Explorer Map, which was definitely a wise decision.
Having only organised the trip 30 minutes before needing to leave, I quickly ate some food and ran to the station for another one of those ‘trains every 30 minutes’ services…
West Ealing: My nearest station, although Ealing Broadway is far more convenient due to better frequencies, more lines and bus links. A rather boring place overall. Look out for train spotters watching the Great Western Main Line.
Luckily we both made the same train at our respective stations, continuing onto the line which is one of London’s strangest and which I’ve never had an excuse to use before, the Greenford Branch Line.
Although the line is close to many houses and businesses, its poor frequency, combined with other local transport causes it to be one of the least used branch lines in London. Noticeably few people got on or off at any of the stations on our Saturday journey, although the recent addition of Oyster Card acceptance has made the line line more accessible and station usage data seems to be increasing.
The upcoming Crossrail project will either encourage usage of the line or kill it off further. Currently the plan is to terminate services at West Ealing instead of continuing them into Paddington, although the peak time frequency will be increased in compensation. Linking to Crossrail should provide ‘one change’ journey opportunities into London, although many currently change at Ealing Broadway and Paddington, meaning an extra hassle. There are also no plans to ‘electrify’ the branch when Crossrail comes, meaning that services could suffer further because of isolation from the main line.
Anyway, along our journey we first come to Drayton Green station, better served by the E1 and E11 buses to Ealing, where one teenager boards, and no one leaves. At the next station, Castle Bar Park (the busiest until Greenford) the teenager leaves, and I suspect he didn’t buy a ticket or use an Oyster Card since all these stations have no ticket barriers. The lack of ticket machines due to persistent vandalism does not help either meaning that he technically has an excuse. Confusingly, this station still has a ticket office open in the morning peak, which I suspect gets little use.
We continue over a viaduct over the Ruislip Road East and the River Brent and past the Perivale Golf Course and Athletics track, the scene of a few sports days back when I was 10, to South Greenford station, the third least used in London. Still, there is a new departure board here and a solar power help point for the few passengers using it. Perhaps I should send a freedom of information request to find out how many people have actually used it, although that might be a bit sad.
Onwards to Greenford, passing over the A40 and slowing down to enter a different section of signalling – London’s last remaining semaphone signals controlling access to the platform at Greenford along with the link to the Chiltern Main Line and the New North Main Line for freight and diverted trains. The New North Line is the former route from Paddington to Birmingham, now just handling a very limited amount of freight, diverts and one train per day operated by Chiltern Railways for driver route knowledge. Recently it has also been used by First Great Western for their long route to Oxford due to a blockade at Reading. Perhaps I’ll take a ride on that Chiltern service one day, although I can’t wait too long because this alignment is set to be taken over by High Speed 2.
Picture from Wikipedia, showing the Central Line and a First Great Western train leaving having been cleared off by the old signal.
About 10 minutes later, we rise up through the middle of the Central Line tracks to reach Greenford station, a weirdly high up station where most people are waiting for a far more frequent (although often slightly slower) way to Central London.
Being so high up, the station warrants one of the two only escalators which takes you ‘up’ to a platform on the Tube, the other being installed at Stratford to cope with the 2012 Olympic crowds, covering a far shorter height.
Despite this, there is also something else that is special about this particular escalator, with it being the only ‘working’ wooden escalator in London. Following the King’s Cross fire, all the others were either removed or converted with metal treads, although this one was saved by the fact that there would be no chance of a fire spreading up as it did there due to the fact the trains are not running below, creating wind currents.
Unfortunately, the escalator was broken (typical) when we went, due to a ‘faulty handrail,’ although it is still quite interesting to see even when not in action.
Here’s a video of it actually working:
Outside the station, you are greeted with a very dull shopping parade, and as (not) expected for the end of March it started to snow. Luckily, it stopped after a few minutes and we began our walk along the Capital Ring…
Stay tuned for Part 2