Gospel Oak – Barking experiences

I have just, for the first time, used the Gospel Oak to Barking service. I journeyed between Upper Holloway and South Tottenham, a treat probably better enjoyed outside the evening rush hour. The 2-car apology for a train arrived dead on time but interestingly full and after a brisk exchange of people it departed fuller.

What struck me immediately upon boarding is how few handrails there were. The only ones I noticed, after looking quite hard, were the orange-coloured vertically mounted ones around the doorways and draught screens. To the rear of the leading car was a vestibule area with transverse seats that might have accommodated quite a few people, but there was no handrail there at all. The outcome was a serious reluctance to shift away from the doorway areas.

The bulk of the seating in the leading carriage (and I imagine in the other one) was transverse. This left a fairly narrow corridor to stand in. There were no handrails here, so those braving this area were either steadying themselves on seat backs not designed for the purpose or, if they were tall and had long arms, by means of the leading edge of the luggage racks (which I don’t think were designed for this).

On the whole, this is a hopeless arrangement for what is now a busy commuter line. When I went to alight the people who were standing in the doorway area cut down the boarding and entering route to a corridor just one person wide, with consequential impact on station dwell times. Well, where do expect people to stand if there is nothing to hang on to? I have a dark suspicion that the absence of handrails in the place they are most needed might be something to do with the Rail Vehicle Accessibility Regulations (RVAR), but I just do not believe that more could be done with a little imagination and will.

The other thing that struck me as we meandered across north London was how incredibly slowly the train moved. These Class 172 diesel units can shift when they want to and I wondered why. A quick check reveals that there are some incredibly low speed limits on the line. Much of it is restricted to 30mph (and all of it on my bit of the journey). This is quite unbelievably slow: surely we can do a bit better than that (like 40mph)?

It is wonderful to see this previously moribund line with life in it at last, but with London Overground traffic rising it is perfectly obvious that a 15-minute service with non-wholly-suitable 2-coach trains is not enough. Most platforms could without all that much effort be adjusted to take 3-coaches (though South Tottenham was exactly 2-coaches long). Alternatively, or as well, the service during the peaks needs improving to at least a 12-minute interval (though I think 10 minute intervals might just be possible). The freight operators might cavil at this but during the half hour I was on the line I saw no freight train and suspect they are prohibited at the height of the peak because the North London Line (itself with a capacity problem) cannot take them.

It looks like 6 trains are needed to provide a 15 minute service, though a train could be saved if something was done to improve journey times (higher speeds and faster boarding – I imagine the slow speeds are caused by track condition). To provide a 12-minute service would require 8 trains and a 10-minute service would, I think, need 9.

Of course, electrification is mooted (one day). However that has no bearing on the speed restrictions that are imposed or the fact the existing trains could be longer, or more frequent, and have handrails in the right place. I observe on other occasions the heavy interchange between the North London Line trains and Barking Line trains at Gospel Oak (I remember the days when one or two people might creep across the divide, but it is a horde now). What scope, if electrification happens, for at least some through trains?

Perhaps when the trains are sorted out, we could have a look at the stations? I notice money has been spent on accessibility measures, and signage, but actually the meagre and nasty brick shelters at Upper Holloway couldn’t possibly have contained even a quarter of the prospective boarders on a wet day, with no other under cover areas at all, and that was more sheltering than at some other stations.

So, well done so far, but there is more to be done!

UPDATE 30 October

It is now known that Gospel Oak – Barking electrification is on ice owing to the high cost involved for the benefits achievable; the line has a number of viaducts and cuttings which make electrification disproportionately expensive and Network Rail are now seeking to identify a cheaper approach. As is hinted above, about the low speeds achievable for passenger trains, the main beneficiary of Barking line electrification would be freight services where the number of freights that could be electrically hauled throughout would be increased, reducing costs. The Gospel Oak-Barking money was therefore reallocated to a pool that will electrify the rejuvenated Oxford-Bletchley line and trial a.c. electrification of the Southampton-Winchester route that carries a lot of freight and where existing power supplies are life expired.



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About machorne

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is http://www.metadyne.co.uk
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One Response to Gospel Oak – Barking experiences

  1. Doug Rose says:

    I am pleased to see someone voicing these opinions. As someone who often uses Holloway Road station on journeys to and from Southend, I was pleased to see the dismal trains of Silverlink supplanted. It was always a depressing experience.

    The new trains are far superior, though suffering from the design shortcomings you note. When I last travelled on the line it was between the peaks but still notably busier than a few years ago. (It was a pity that more passengers had their shoes planted on the seats than on the floor.)

    However, the most noticeable shortcoming is the depressing rate of progress from one station in need of an upgrade to the next. If this line is to be taken seriously then two things have to be achieved: shorter journey times and more pleasant station environments.

    The new orange Line identity was in place very quickly, but a better brand can only fulfill so much in passengers' expectations. Though forced onto the inappropriately named Tube Map, it is hardly a turn-up-and-go facility.

    Like

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