02 December 2009

The 'Lasso Line'

"Some say that he arranged Richard Bowker's job offer in the United Arab Emirates; and that when he shunts HSTs he always checks the points first. All we know is, he's called The Stig!"

Not widely publicised, unless you read the press reports on Transport for London's (TfL) website, is that from 13 September the London Underground's Circle Line will no longer be circular. At the same time, the Thames- and zone-less Tube map that has caused so much controversy will also be altered to put right the wrongs and to show the new spur to the Circle Line.

It's the route that literally goes nowhere and is the first to be suspended at weekends or due to a train/driver shortage. The Circle Line is one of the most unreliable Tube lines and this is without the intervention of Bob Crow's RMT.

The new-look Lasso Line, I mean, Circle Line

Taking Edgware Road as a starting point, the current Circle Line operates as follows: clockwise via Euston, King's Cross St. Pancras, Liverpool Street, Tower Hill, Westminster, Victoria, Notting Hill Gate and Paddington. Anti-clockwise in the opposite fashion. From 13 December, again taking Edgware Road as a starting points, the following will take place:

Trains will depart Edgware Road ANTI-CLOCKWISE, operating to the same loop as now, though upon return to Edgware Road will continue to Hammersmith via Ladbroke Grove, Wood Lane & Shepherd's Bush. Trains will return from Hammersmith to Edgware Road where they will then operate CLOCKWISE via the existing route back to Edgware Road. From here, they'll then start the cycle by returning anti-clockwise, bound for Hammersmith.

The main advantage is the increase in frequency between Edgware Road-Hammersmith, with trains every five minutes, though operating in between Hammersmith & City Line trains. TfL claims the new-look route will enable trains to return to normal workings quicker, following breakdowns and signal failures. This is because there is a lack of maintenance depots in the central London area, and getting to stricken Circle Line trains is not easy. Now they will all operate to/from Hammersmith, trains are nearer to two maintenance yards. However, this will only permit 'state normal' sooner than now if a Circle Line train fails in the section between Hammersmith-Edgware Road.

Perhaps the main advantage will be the possibility for passengers to travel between Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush on direct trains to Aldgate and Euston/King's Cross St. Pancras, rather than having to change as now. The main disadvantages are that although a push is being made to prevent the Circle Line from being suspended at a moment's notice - especially at weekends, the reality is that this will still happen and bang goes the five-minute frequency to/from Hammersmith. Those boarding at Notting Hill Gate et al will no longer have a direct service to Euston or King's Cross St. Pancras. A softener is that changing at Edgware Road for these types of journey will be made possible without the need to change levels.

Additionally, the Hammersmith & City Line will be extended beyond Aldgate to Barking and Plaistow. The combined frequency between Hammersmith-Edgware Road-Euston-King's Cross St. Pancras-Aldgate will be a train every 4 minutes.

Some online media have referred to the changes bestowed on the Circle Line to be the most dramatic in the line's 125 year history. The move is bold, but one that some within TfL have been calling for many years indeed. The 14-mile line carries just over 75 million passengers each year and in 2011 the six-car stock will be replaced with 53 air-conditioned seven-car S-type trains.

Critics have cited the only reason the Circle Line has been altered (to look more like a lasso) is to serve the new Westfield Shopping Centre in Shepherd's Bush, utilising the new Wood Lane station. Others are concerned that with the new reversing manoeuvre at Edgware Road, it could spell the end of the District Line trains between Wimbledon-Edgware Road as capacity to stable and reverse the additional stock isn't there. Others have called into question the need for the Hammersmith & City Line to exist at all.

But perhaps the biggest criticism of all is that the new-look Circle Line causes problems for those on the Circle Line Pub Crawl.

As a railwayman working in this area, I feel we should give the new system a trial and see how well it performs. There are many advantages for frustrated commuters, especially those between Baker Street and Aldgate, and more trains along this section, with trains all heading west to the same destination, should see an improvement. The seven-car S-types introduced in 2011 will over just under a 20% increase in seating, too. My own personal understanding regarding the potential for District Line Wimbledon-Edgware Road services is that these will continue and that should capacity issues arise at Edgware Road with double-backing Circle Line stock, the former will be given priority; the latter doubling-back at South Kensington. (The Stig)