The Insider: East London Line Uncovered

Brockley Central Senior was, in many ways, the inspiration for this website. Not only because he used to help run the Westcombe News for SE3's answer to BrocSoc, but also because he was an early adopter of the computer-as-wet-nurse lifestyle. We grew up resentful of the amount of time he spent with the BBC B microcomputer (at least until we learned how to play Elite), then the Amstrad, the Z88, the Agenda and all manner of other technologies that became redundant even before they were plugged in. Now, our children resent us for the amount of time we hog the laptop and he is blogging for us. The circle of life is complete.

Yesterday, he went behind the scenes with other bloggers, photographers and journalists to try and answer your questions about the new East London Lines. Here's what he came up with:

On a sunny March morning your BC correspondent and other members of the press gathered at New Cross Gate for their first taste of the new East London line, or rather that section of it that is allowed to carry trains for practice runs and press briefings.

We were going to get a view of the new operations centre and maintenance depot before taking to the rails. Along the way there would be, we hoped, an opportunity to get some answers to the questions that are uppermost in BC readers’ minds: how late will it run, can the trains run with more carriages, what will happen if Southern trains cause a snarl up on the new route south of New Cross, and why can’t we get a better station in Brockley?

First stop: the operations centre or OBC (Operations Building Complex). Complex it certainly was, and also well fortified against explosions and other threats to its ability to keep the trains running on time. Inside, we were taken through the complexities of managing a service that relies upon four companies to manage its trains. The Canadian company Bombardier supplies and maintains the trains themselves, TfL provides the infrastructure, London Overground Rail Operations Ltd. (LOROL) operates the trains, and Network Rail controls the signalling. To ensure that the four parts of the system are able to combine their operations reasonably smoothly, the operations room is a large open plan space where controllers from each company can speak directly to their counterpart in another organisation.


Trains coming off the old East London line route would have to feed into the Southern lines controlled by Network Rail. So what would happen if a train on the Southern line caused a delay to the London Overground train, or vice versa? There was, it seems, no simple answer. It would be up to the controllers to prioritise the services, and they would try to take into account the number of passengers affected by any delay. In other words, passengers on the East London line might well have to wait while NR controllers sorted out a problem that might be affecting hundreds of commuters on the busy line into London Bridge. Still, we were assured that they had a good plan to utilise the spare capacity on the southern section of the route and had timetables which, if adhered to, would keep everything running smoothly for Brockley commuters in a hurry. The biggest potential spanner in the works appeared to be the need for great precision in timing the transition south of New Cross, with 6 East London trains an hour having to feed into the Southern network at precisely the right intervals.

Next stop, the service depot, a large building to the north and east of the Operations Building. Here there are four sparkling new service bays with not an oil spot in sight. As the trains themselves are brand new you can only hope that these bays will not be seeing too much heavy action just yet. But here the carriages can be washed and cleaned as well as serviced, and there are enough sidings (17) to hold the fleet.

Noticing that the building was only large enough for 4 carriage trains, we asked what would happen if the trains were increased to 5 or 6 carriages? The answer was that there is no provision for this, and no – trains will stay at 4 carriages for the foreseeable future, though some stops further up the line are indeed capable of handling longer trains.



Now it was time to take the train north to Dalston, checking out some of the new or refurbished stations along the way. This section of the new line will open in April and trains are already shuttling backwards and forwards allowing more than 100 drivers to master the route and the control staff to practice monitoring and managing the rolling stock. When it’s open the new line will employ more than 250 people, including drivers, customer service staff, controllers and managers, and cleaning and support staff.

Inside the train all was bright, quiet and relaxed for our run. Hardly surprising, given the small numbers in our party. What would it be like when commuters pile on in the rush hour though? Well, although the trains are not particularly long, the carriages are very spacious, with bench seats and wide aisles. Travellers can easy walk the length of the train thanks to a trick borrowed from the beloved bendy bus that permits articulation of the carriage connections. So the carrying capacity is generous, which is not to say that they won’t get crowded at times.



Our first stop was the remodelled Shadwell station. BC readers may remember the gloomy and dangerous-feeling stop of yesteryear. That feeling has gone. Now it’s all tile and glass, with a bright office for the staff, up-to-date station equipment and new and enthusiastic staff. Outside, the surroundings are being given a makeover too, partly to ensure a better connection to the DLR line that runs above it into Bank and Tower Bridge (see picture).


Next, to Shoreditch, one of four new stations on the route. These have been designed by the architectural firm of West and Williams, and have some of the monumental feel of the Jublilee line stations, albeit on a smaller scale. We were informed that the tunnel-like structure around the line at Shoreditch will allow the creation of a future shopping/business complex for the area. At present this is obscured by the old railway arches that have listed status and whose relationship to the new line has not been without local controversy.

After Shoreditch, the line crosses Kingsland Road over a new bridge and heads north to Dalston, last stop until the Highbury and Islington section comes on stream next year.

All in all, a great day out for BC’s oldest junior reporter. The line will undoubtedly bring many new connections and commuting possibilities on much improved rolling stock and will be an asset to Brockley. The staff, many new to their posts, seemed full of enthusiasm for the new line’s potential and staff morale is currently very high, as far as we could judge. Whether their morale and that of its future passengers will stay that way is, of course, something that only time can decide.

And oh yes, the new trains will run till just after midnight. But an attractive and well planned Brockley Station might have to wait a while longer.




Also on the trip:

London Reconnections
Dave Hill
Londonist

40 comments:

Hugh said...

Couldn't see myself mentioned.

Brockley Nick said...

Hugh - you're being too literal. The metanarrative is all about you.

The Oracle said...

Excellent reporting by Brockley Central Senior methinks.

Crofton Parker said...

Great stuff, BC Sr. Depressing about how early the trains stop running though - crap Overground hours as always suspected.

Anonymous said...

Midnight's okay - plenty of time to finish up for last orders.

Anonymous said...

Midnight's a bit pants. Maybe TFL can give us a night bus running from Dalston to West Croydon via Brockley. If it followed the ELL route, I guess that would mean the bus would have to go through the Rotherhithe Tunnel, which will never ever happen...

Anonymous said...

What's the problem? The tube stops running at 12.30am which is also not long after midnight....

sevenoakser said...

Half an hour makes a big difference to me on nightshift - difference between train home and nightbus home.

Anonymous said...

Train drivers have to sleep too.

Anonymous said...

God knows we all know enough about what train drivers want.

Monkeyboy said...

Big advantage for me is that you can go to Canada water and not have to play platform lottery like you do at LB toward midnight. It's a major intelectual challange after a beer or three.

The Cat Man said...

roll on shoreditch!!! I cant wait for the direct train route - several decent pubs there - how this will affect Brockley's regeneration is anyones guess!

State the obvious said...

I thought most of the pubs in Shoreditch High Street provided entertainment of the nature that the White Horse in New Cross Gate attempted for a short while to put on.

Didn't think Cat Man walked down that side of the Road.

monkeyboy said...

this makes me oddly excited.

M said...

You clearly haven't been to Shoreditch in quite some time then.
I was there on Monday night for a gig and it took me an hour to get home because I just missed a train from LB. The ELL can't come soon enough.

Tamsin said...

A slight diregression. BC Snr doesn't by any chance still have the technology to read Amstrad files? There is a novel my mother wrote locked away in a now unreachable medium.

Doing something about unlocking it has been one of those things that I was going to do next month sometime for the last ten years.

BCY said...

According to The Londonist Dalston to NXG will open around April 12th:

The section between New Cross Gate and Dalston Junction is currently scheduled to open around April 12th, and the full service is due to welcome passengers on May 23rd.

BCY

Brockley Nick said...

@BCY - reported on here weeks ago :)

Lou Baker said...

@ Monkeyboy

You might not have to play platform lottery at Canada Water but you will have to play destination lottery.

When the full line is up and running in 2012 only half of the southbound trains will go to Brockley.

Get on the wrong one after a few beers and you could end up in New Cross or, worse, at Clapham Junction.

Sevenoakser said...

Tamsin, dunno if this is what you are after but there's a company that will transfer old Amstrad disks to CDs:
http://www.apextechnology.co.uk/floppy-disk-data-recovery-news.asp

Mb said...

That's still a whole lot less confusing than LB.

Mb said...

Actually Lou, your right. I'll have 8tph 4 to Brockley, 4 to New Cross which is about a 15min walk to my house - heaps better than the hit and miss LB service. I know the line doesn't meet your specific needs (a line from your house direct to work and on to the kings road for a babycham) but for some, like me, it's just fine.

BCY said...

@Brockley Nick - Just a reminder and just really excited about the line opening. I can turn up and more or less go. I usually connect with the Jubilee Line, so dont care if at LB or CW. Also I can get direct to Shoreditch (connecting at NXG)!

BCY

Anonymous said...

no, your not reading Lou's detailed analysis. It will be shit and all the destinations - especially those in East london are REALLY shit. Do pay attention.

Brockley Nick said...

@MB - no, you'll have twelve trains per hour. 8 to Brockley, 4 to New Cross.

In 2012, there'll be another 4 to Clapham Junction. Only Lou could chalk this up as a bad thing.

Monkeyboy said...

This is so good i may explode. I shall use it exclusivley.

Would this be a good time to tell him that i get a free pass because i work for London Underground and that h, in effect, pays a lttle bit toward that?

erm...no I guess not. Sorry, forget i said anything.

Beecroftian said...

Great article and between BC and London Reconnections I now have a good idea of what the new stations will look like, can't wait to ride the line!

One thing I noticed in the BC article was that the architects you mentioned (West and Williams) are in fact Weston Williamson. You can see some images of the stations
here

Tamsin said...

While on the subject of trains and train services - the Petition to restore the direct services to Charing Cross and the cuts to the London Bridge Service (due a fortnight before the ELL will open to public use so happy travelling in those two weeks) is less than a couple of hundred short of 5000, so please, if you haven't signed, or if your friends and neighbours who ever go to the West End theatres in the evening and would quite like a direct train home haven't signed, go on-line - sorry my computer's playing up, can someone else supply the link - to do so.
A meeting has been arranged with the permanent under-secretary for transport and the organisers want to hand it in. Would be good if it were over the 5000 mark.

Tamsin said...

Sevenoakser - thanks, I will follow this up. Really, really will - sometime this year!

Anonymous said...

Mr BC, Thank you very much for this entertaining and informative update.

All, I for one cannot wait for the extension of the ELL. ACtually having it as opposed to it "coming in a few months" will make a big differnece.

Tamsin, good thinking. yes, I too have had quite a few jobs on the go like that one!

CuriousOfBrockley said...

@BrockleyNick. I have listened to Lou Baker and Headhunter on this and wondered about their negative aspects versus your utopian view. But can they be all wrong? It seems that they make very good points. We may be being sold a sugar-coated lemon.
Would you mind my asking if you, or any company you work for, represents this transport initiative, in any way? It is important to know. And I apologise in advance if you have already confirmed this, or not.

Brockley Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"can they all be wrong"... well of course they can and also I think you'll find that Nick has actually given lots of space to the campaigns to retain the LB/Charing Cross service, although he may not have agreed with their doom laden conclusions.

Thee ELL will work for me and I suspect that for MOST it will be great boon. Transport planning is always inevitably a compromise, we can be a little parochial sometimes. TfL/NR do not exist soley to make this little bit of london a transport paradise. We'll be better connected to London, east of the city - look on a street map. And have additional connectivity to the center, if you can bare to change at Canada Water which Lou seems unable to fathom. A compromise? yes, but thats life

Monkeyboy said...

Nick beat me too it. I'll wave to Lou as I get on my air-conditioned ELL train while he stubournly waits for the direct rain to LB. I'll even wait for him at the barriers at the other end...hang on, no I won't 'cos I'll be on the Jubilee Line rather then being stuck at the LB Underground gate line.

Brockley Nick said...

@Curious - I have no professional connection with the ELL. My interest in it is the same as yours. I live here.

I don't consider my views utopian in the slightest. Although I don't consider them to be the end of the world, I have actively promoted the campaign against rail service cuts and consider them unacceptable, given the promises that were made. In fact, one of my objections to the misinformation about the ELL is it gets Southern off the hook. By saying that cuts are inevitable as a result of the ELL, it gives them an excuse to do so.

As I have asked before, if running six trains per hour is impossible because of the ELL service, then why are they able to continue 6tph during peak time, when the network is at its busiest?

It's just easier for them to run 4 trains. Which is why we must keep campaigning to restore the services, as soon as more capacity is available at London Bridge, post Thameslink.

I am keen to make sure that key facts are not misrepresented. I am the same about all issues on this site and in my real life - ask anyone who knows me how tedious I can be.

My position is simple - the ELL will by no means be perfect, but on balance the addition of a new line, with more destinations and connections and a doubling of train frequencies (more in the mornings) is a very good thing. I can't believe that is controversial.

I find the contortions Lou Baker goes through to say otherwise quite funny, but extremely tiring after a while (if you're new to the site, you may not be aware how many threads he has jumped on to make the same points).

Anyway, this debate probably got boring about 10 threads ago. In less than two months' time, we can all make up our own minds how useful the service is and Lou and HH can stage their own personal protests against it.

Welcome to 2010 said...

Can Lou Baker and Headhunter both be wrong at the same time?

Hahahahahahahahah!

A-hahahahahaha!

Fair and balanced, like Fox news. said...

Thank goodness for the dissent from Lou and HH because frankly the uncritical ELL cheerleading that was going on was odd.

Brockley Nick said...

Cheerleading? I don't know if you've ever tried writing two or more stories every day about an area like Brockley, but it's hard. The ELL is unarguably the biggest story in town (and will continue to be a big story in 2011 and 2012 with the additional expansions), so whether or not you think it will be a useful service, the amount of coverage it has had is in proportion to its significance to the area and the number of news angles it has thrown up - not all of them positive. eg: the "Damn the Gods" story I wrote.

CuriousOfBrockley said...

@BrockleyNick. Fair enough. I guess these negative comments are getting to me too.

I certainly look forward to trying the changeover at the Jubilee and commenting further then.

Keep up the good work, Nick! You have delivered a quality item to the area with Brockley Central - regardless of what the train change may bring.

Brockley Nick said...

@Curious No worries. It will probably break down on its first day. I'm shutting down the site if that happens.

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