13 April 2018

A Trip round The Smoke

It had been some time since I last visited London with the sole aim to have a ride on the Capital’s transport system. Despite today being ‘unlucky’ (Friday the thirteenth), I found time to head from Peterborough to King’s Cross with Virgin Trains East Coast before heading into the Underground system.

Having had to go searching for the iconic Tube map at King’s Cross St. Pancras station, I was a little dismayed to see that very little additional information is now presented as standard in the ticket machine areas. Knowing that I wanted to sample a ride on the new Class 345 trains that will eventually run the full length of the Crossrail route, I headed for the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines to take me to Liverpool Street.

This is located underground the entrance to St. Pancras International station, from where I could see something new – a TfL Information Centre, painted in pink. I headed in and had a gander at the information on offer. Ideally I wanted what I refer to as the London Connections map, which shows all rail lines in the Greater London area, extending to the south coast and as far north of Peterborough, with the Underground and Tram networks interwoven, too.

This was not forthcoming, so I had to ask at the counter. The friendly assistant knew immediately the map I was seeking and then spent a minute going through leaflets on her side of the desk before finding it. Two minutes later I was descending the relative depth to the eastbound Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines platform for a newish S7 Tube train.

Neither checking the train’s destination nor the service it was working, once aboard the first S7 to arrive, I was momentarily confused since I found myself studying a linear route map for the District Line, which doesn’t call at Liverpool Street (or King's Cross). Soon after, once I realised my embarrassing mistake (these S7s work District and Circle Line services and show both route maps side by side), I became orientated once again and headed to the surface at Liverpool Street.

A quick check online showed that currently thirteen Class 345s are in service between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, operated by TfL Rail, which is the preliminary name for the Crossrail concession, which was awarded to MTR to operate. The Elizabeth Line name will be introduced in full when Shenfield/Abbey Wood–central London–Heathrow/Reading from December 2019.

Built in Derby by Bombardier, the Class 345 is an electric multiple unit (EMU) formed of seven coaches, with the intention to extend them to 9 in due course. The deal, signed by the DfT in February 2014, is worth £1 billion.

The first, most striking thing, to notice about the ‘345’ is the lack of yellow paint anywhere on its front/end. The requirement for a yellow end was dropped with the introduction of new accessibility legislation, which comes into effect on 1 January 2020. A requirement of new EU legislation, the PRM-TSI (persons of reduced mobility – technical specifications for interoperability) requires greater emphasis on accessibility for those with mobility issues and improved wheelchair spaces and accessible toilets. It also rightly spells the end of toilets that flush their waste onto the tracks, while dispensing with the need to paint the ends of trains yellow.

With Bombardier’s Aventra (Class 345) conforming from new, these impressive people carriers became one of the first trains to operate on the national rail network devoid of yellow at each end.

TfL has specified a black and purple colour scheme, matching the main elements of the specific roundel which is to be applied to all stations along the Crossrail route. Inside the seating trim is the standard TfL railway design, though coloured in differing shades of purple and while with black. The trains do look quite smart.

I'm a secret fan of the moquette used by TfL on its Underground and Overground services. This 'exclusive' application to items such as wallets or purses is something I'd consider buying if the price didn't feel so exorbitant that it was being done purely to fleece tourists

Unlike the Class 378s that operate the London Overground network and only have longitudinal seating, the ‘345s’ have got some traditional forward/rearward facing seats, though this is in relative short supply. Fortuitously, since I’d boarded at the first station, I was able to sit in one of these for the journey to Shenfield.

Having taken the obligatory first photos of each end of my first ‘345’ (345010), we were off at 1230. Interestingly, once opened fully, Crossrail won’t be using these platforms at Liverpool Street station, so photo opportunities of these trains at the main national rail platforms will become very short-lived, once trains start calling at the newly constructed subterranean platforms en route to/from the West End and Heathrow/Reading.

345010 stands ready to depart London Liverpool Street at 1230 bound for Shenfield. This view will become a thing of the past once the Crossrail service under central London begins operation

I was travelling using pay as you go contactless, touching in and out with a contactless card. Having travelled from King’s Cross St. Pancras to Liverpool Street I was still in Zone 1. Shenfield is outside the main Underground zones, where ‘special fares apply’, according to the linear route map inside the ‘345s’. Brentwood was the furthest station to be in a traditional zone (9).

The journey was very enjoyable. Large numbers boarded at Stratford and many alighted at Ilford and Romford. We thinned out towards the end of the route. We arrived in Shenfield at 1311, two minutes early. On the adjacent platform, I saw a Class 315 ready to work the 1314 return journey. I thought I’d not make this, so dashed across and, following a photo, sat awaiting departure.

The Class 315 is very much a railway stalwart. Built between 1980-1981, a total of 61 trains are in operation, generally running in pairs, forming 8-coach trains. They seat 318 per 4 coaches, so 636 as an 8-coach train, compared with the ‘345’ and its 450 seats. The ‘345’, however, can accommodate an additional 1,050 standees, which is where they come into their own. While the ‘315s’ have very obvious individual coaches, where doors have to be opened to move between the them (with signage discouraging this) and when coupled together passengers are unable to walk from the front 4 coaches into the rear four. Bombardier’s ‘345s’ are open and relatively spacious and where passengers can see both extremities of the train from any point.

Wearing its relatively new TfL Rail livery is BREL-built 315018 at Shenfield working the 1314 service to London Liverpool Street

Having departed Shenfield it dawned on me that I’d not touched out and back in again as I was in too much of a rush not to miss a return trip aboard a Class 315. I headed hastily to the excellent www.oyster-rail.org.uk that offers very detailed information on using Oyster, far and away more comprehensive and forthcoming than TfL’s website.

It showed that if I were to return to Liverpool Street and touch out, I “could be” charged two maximum single fares if I exceeded the limit of 90 minutes from having first touched in. A return trip to Shenfield exceeds this (just), so I left my ‘315’ at Ilford (zone 4), where a 110-minute maximum journey time is allowed from zone 1, and touched out.

A trip to Costa later, I touched in and headed into central London aboard 345010 again, alighting at Stratford.

I wanted to sample the relatively new trams introduced to Tramlink, operating between Wimbledon–Croydon–Beckenham Junction/Elmers End/New Addington. Travelling to Elmers End seemed quickest via the DLR to Canary Wharf thence another DLR to Lewisham then a Southeastern train bound for Hayes.

Gaining access to the DLR platforms at Stratford for anyone leaving a TfL Rail service bound for London is incredibly straightforward. I walked along the same platform to the end and turned left up some steps. Two autonomous DLR trains were at the platform and I chose not to catch the train ready to leave in favour of boarding the other train, where I could bagsy the front seat for a driver’s eye view of the route.

I’ve travelled the full length of the DLR on many occasions, but occupying the front seat is always very enjoyable. We had a very informative passenger service assistant who announced additional information for certain stations that was seemingly omitted by the automatic announcements.

It was a shame to leave at Canary Wharf since I knew I’d not be fortunate to occupy the same seat on the next DLR service, which arrived two minutes later from central London. As I expected, the train was very busy, with families making the most of the final week of the Easter holidays. Once on board and sat in a sideways-facing seat, we were off.

I’ve often wanted to leave at stations such as Mudchute and Cutty Sark (for Maritime Grenwich), but never have. While today’s plan was very much spontaneous, I’d still planned to head for a ride on London’s trams, so maybe next time?

I’d never undertaken a connection at Lewisham before. The DLR terminus is next to the national rail station. Once on the platform there was the usual high standard of information for all modes of transport. I noted that there was a direct bus to Elmers End, though many buses depart not from the DLR/rail interchange, but a walk a little further into town which, while stood on platform 2, put me off a little.

An all-electric Class 465 arrived punctually, and we soon departed. All the windows were open in my coach, which I thought would mean I’d have to endure wind tunnel-like conditions, though the reason soon became clear; the radiators were stuck on hot and were belching out a significant amount of heat. So much so that the excessive cool air from outside felt nice and I even started to nod off.

Upon arrival at Elmers End, it was over the footbridge to the platform opposite, from where on the opposing side, the Tramlink service to Wimbledon departs. There was an old-style tram waiting time, so I jumped on.

Earlier this year the ‘stopping pattern’ changed. I think this sounds a little too simplified – the routes were changed, so that trams from Wimbledon, after passing through the centre of Croydon, bifurcate for either Elmers End or Beckenham Junction. The New Addington service, upon arrival in Croydon, undertakes the town loop before returning from whence it came.

While a previous blog post criticised modern trams and their lack of decent seating capacity, the ability to take a seat with a view on Tramlink is quite high. Longitudinal seating is not in fashion here. 2+2 seating in most areas with large areas by certain doors for wheelchairs or buggies/prams is the order of the day!

Looking at the next tram screens located at each stop, the destination of the next three services is shown. Heading in the opposite direction was “1st Elmers End. 2nd Beckenham Jn. 3rd See front of tram.” Oh dear.

Upon arrival at East Croydon there was a driver change. We then continued. A little further on, while on the one-way loop system, I overheard a few passengers a little disgruntled that the tram was no longer destined for Wimbledon. I looked behind me at the nearest next stop screen and saw we were now bound to return to Elmers End via the town centre loop.

There was no announcement by the driver to explain why this was the case. He was happy to allow the automated system to rather clinically state the new destination for the tram without so much as a by your leave.

Not wanting to return to Elmers End, I left at this stop (Church Street) and soon after the tram departed. I always raise a sly grin when I hear someone with a broad London accent exclaim the F-word, and there was plenty of that in evidence as around 50 people were stood on the platform having been forcibly disgorged.

The next tram indicator then showed the next Wimbledon service would be in 21 minutes. A scrolling message followed that stated the service between Croydon and Wimbledon was suspended due to a failed tram. Cue more unintentionally humorous expletives. Using the excellent Google Maps app on my phone showed that to reach Wimbledon station by bus would take over 1:20! No wonder Tramlink is so popular between Croydon and Wimbledon.

A newer tram arrived, destined for New Addington. I thought that I’d jump on it to go round the town centre loop to reach West Croydon station and leave for a main line rail service to central London. Yet as soon as I boarded the driver was announcing that we were now destined for Wimbledon! Hooray!

Church Street is the location for this shot of Stadler tram 2559 originally designed for Beckenham Junction, but once on board the driver told us we would now be heading to Wimbledon

Most of the tram then left to be replaced by many of those on the platform outside. Soon after we left. Now, by accident, I found myself on one of the new trams, I had a look around to spot any differences to the original ones that commenced the service back in 2000.

Following a tram hiatus since 1952, twenty-four low-floor, articulated Bombardier Flexity Swift CR4000s were introduced in a red-based livery during 2000. From 2006 the green-based livery that is used today was introduced. The tram fleet numbers start at 2530, with the last tram to operate in 1950s London was numbered 2529. Stadler Rail was awarded a contract in 2011 to supply a further six new trams, which entered service the following year. These are from the company’s Variobahn range and a further six were added during 2015 and 2016.

A total of 36 trams are now operated by Tramlink, with the newest 12 being supplied by Stadler and the original trams built by Bombardier. Originally four different route numbers were used, though recently these have been dropped and the change to 'stopping pattern' earlier in the year has seen a greater simplification of the network, making events such as failed trams, easier to react to. First is the current operator of the Tramlink concession.

En route to Wimbledon now we were held for the single-track section after Reeves Corner while a whopping six trams heading towards Croydon were allowed through. Clearly the ‘blockage’ had been dislodged.

The alignment hereafter ostensibly follows the former BR trackbed, which saw heavy rail services cease in 1997 to make way for Tramlink.

Upon arrival at the Tramlink terminus at Wimbledon station, signage wasn’t clear at all for how to reach the District Line platforms. Instinctively following the crowd, I found myself crossing over the main national railway line where signage for the District Line presented itself.

Once aboard one of the new S7 stock again, the driver announced the train wouldn’t be departing for 10 minutes and since no other Tube was present, we all deduced that this was more a public information announcement rather than a tacit request to move onto another service.

A dwell time in excess of 10 minutes at an Underground station is not something Londoners are used to

Soon after departure, and by now it was after 1600 on a Friday afternoon, the train became very busy, with standees from the first stop. Whether this was due to a train missing in front or normal practice for this time of day – or both – we were soon headed into central London. I left at Victoria and once at the surface started a long, meandering walk to King’s Cross station, something I’ve done a few times over the years, which takes in the various squares offering wildlife while at the same time a section of Oxford Street to see the absolute opposite.

Fed and watered at The Melt Room on Noel Street (which claims to be the cheesiest place in London – I’d suggest it’s more a toasted sandwich shop in which all its menu contains average amounts of cheese), I found myself heading to platform 0 for the 1906 Virgin Trains HST bound for Lincoln, which I left at Peterborough at precisely 45 minutes after departure from London.

It was a great day and saw a couple of items ticked off my metaphorical bucket list. The Class 345s were the stand-out element of the day. I hope they’ll be well suited to their planned Crossrail role once fully operational in 2019. Even while typing this up, the possible connection improvements as a consequence of Crossrail (after having seen similar with just two through Peterborough–Horsham trains on the Thameslink route) seem quite impressive.


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