Saturday, 1 December 2012

The Number 451 Route (Not)

The Overground
With one week to go before the big join-up and the maps already up on the trains (Very deceiving – West Croydon looks like a footstool for Clapham Junction) this is one person’s account of the Overground, south of the river…. 

When ‘London Buses One Bus at A Time’ started their project in March 2009 all my journeys north of the river were dependent on waiting until 9.30 (to travel free) and then on the vagaries of Southern Trains before being able to access the Underground at London Bridge.  ‘Twas ever thus as we in South East London had always been left off the tube map and ‘out of the loop’ – pitied, neglected, ridiculed, unloved and unvisited.

In the spring of 2010 all that was to change. In the build-up we had been suspicious – we were to lose our intermittent Charing Cross trains: could anything compensate?
Then the Overground arrived.  I dubbed it the Butterscotch Line – fancifully, its official colour reminded me of Angel Delight pudding – but more prosaic family members call it orange.  The trains were new, spacious, quiet, surprisingly frequent and initially very empty. Suddenly our trains were the envy of all other tube users. For paying passengers the promise was to get through London avoiding the costs of the central zone (this has since been reneged on with Shadwell/Whitechapel (See Comment below)  suddenly moving into Zone1). Visits to and from family in Camden/Islington/Hackney became easier by train. Drinks all round then. Passengers with dogs, buggies and bikes all piled on. Several areas with new stations and good links to the whole Underground Network == all good. 

Very quickly the Overground became the victim of its own success. It is virtually impossible to get a seat at most times of day and in the rush hour you are talking serious Japanese style overcrowding in those spacious aisles.

However it all seemed worth it with elderly relatives at the far end of the Jubilee Line, the ability to access ‘serious shopping’ in about 35 minutes at the West End or Westfield, Stratford. It made an afternoon trip to a gallery or museum very feasible. Employers and employees could cast their nets wider.  As for the Olympics we had a completely hassle-free time getting off at Shadwell and sneaking onto a 339 bus to Fish Island – virtually at the Victoria Gate. Accessing East /West lines at Whitechapel has benefits and changing Overgrounds at Canonbury offers joys from Stratford to Richmond.

But that was then. The Overground is about to get its final link to Clapham Junction, while we (I speak here for all passengers who use stations between New Cross Gate and Sydenham) lose the lovely South London Loop (manky rolling stock but pretty route). The travellers at Denmark Hill lose direct trains to Victoria and London Bridge.

And what’s this with New Cross? The admirable Diamond Geezer who has studied the frequency of the proposed complete network makes it clear that New Cross will continue to receive 4 trains an hour.  Have TFL (or the Overground) never stood on Platform 2 at Canada Water as nearly empty trains head for New Cross while the platform gets dangerously crowded with folk waiting for Crystal Palace or West Croydon services?  You can more or less walk from New Cross to New Cross Gate and it’s only 2 stops on a bus with just the good old ‘Marquis of Granby’ in between. Do they really need four trains an hour? Another solution might be to add more carriages to relieve pressure as I assume the tracks are fully committed?

The new bits will be good and will allow our third lady who buses to join on the Overground fun.  Still, stopping trains at Dalston Junction will not be helpful with yet another ‘opportunity’ to tangle with the new-style indicator boards (they can lie you know) and it’s hard to see which is the order of running and which the platform.

So once again I find myself awaiting a new phase of the Overground with mixed feelings... Watch this space. . 

PS The 451 runs round Staines

PPS You may enjoy this version of the Underground map - biased for  South London


  1. 5-car trains for the Overground are on the horizon apparently -

    However, trains longer than this will require major platform extension work at several places - Canada Water probably being the most troublesome.

    Personally, I'd rather like some London Overground to replace the expensive mess that is Southeastern!

  2. It is actually Shoreditch High St (SHS) that is in Zone 1. Whitechapel and Shadwell remain in Zone 2. The move of SHS to Z1 was part of the funding agreement for Phase 2 of the East London Line. It was put there to placate TOCs like Southern and South Eastern who were worried that they would lose valuable commuter traffic to the City if people could get to the City via a SHS that was in Zone 2. As someone who has a Z23 Travelcard this change is very irksome as I have to divert via Stratford and Canada Water to avoid the Z1 fare to get to South London on the ELL.

    The Overground is a very good service and is rightly popular. I doubt that the line south of New Cross Gate could take any more trains which is why New Cross retains its trains as well as linking to South Eastern's services. I give it about 10 weeks before the new SLL service is full to bursting in the rush hour.

  3. The 451 (Staines - Kingston via Byfleet) was withdrawn in August 2010.