December 26, 2002

In which I proceed to Clapham Junction – some reflections upon the peculiar nature of that station – on to Egham

Brian Micklethwait | Brians Odyssey | Rail Miscellany

You may recall that on Friday December 20th I had embarked upon a journey to see my beloved mother, and when I broke off my narrative I had reached that triumphant moment when I had finally succeeded in obtaining the necessary tickets for my journey.

The next phase of my journey took me from Victoria to Clapham Junction. An employee of one of the many railway companies our country now possesses kindly told me which train would most speedily take me to that destination, and I duly boarded the train he had recommended. The only oddity to relate about the journey was that we paused for a few minutes just before arriving at Clapham Junction. Pauses like these are worrying, especially when no explanation of them is forthcoming over the train's loudspeaker system as was the case on that day. I had arranged to arrive at my mother's house at 3 pm. Would I be severely delayed? But soon the train made its way to the station.

And what a station it is! - similar in scale to the largest London terminus, and, I should surmise, one of very largest railway stations (measured by number of platforms - nearly twenty I think) not of a terminal nature to be found anywhere in the world.

Why so big? The explanation is to be found in the peculiar disposition of London's two big railway termini serving the southern regions of England, Victoria and Waterloo. All the other London termini – Paddington, Euston, Kings Cross, Liverpool Street and the rest of them – are in exactly those parts of central London, just on the borders of the very centre of London itself, that one would expect them to be, given the regions of England that they serve. Paddington serves the west of England and is to the west of the centre of London. Liverpool Street which serves East Anglia is to the east. Euston, which serves the north west, is in a northwesterly position compared to London's centre, and so on.

But Victoria and Waterloo are different. Victoria, which serves the south east, is to the west of Waterloo, which serves the south west. Thus it is that the two great clutches of lines that emerge from these two mighty terminal stations after a short distance cross one another. And they cross at Clapham.

To look at a scale map of London is to be confronted by a great confusion of lines going in every imaginable direction. But look at the two schematic maps, of London's suburban rail services and of Britain's national rail network (of the sort I have in my Filofax), on the back of the even more famous schematic map of the London Underground system. Look there, and you will see the matter clearly revealed. The lines on both maps emerge from Victoria and from Waterloo and they immediately cross each other. In theory, it would be possible, using points, to travel by train from either of these stations to any part of the local or national Southern rail network. But as we can all appreciate, trains must follow fixed paths through the infinity of possible paths that the tracks might offer, or disasters will regularly ensue. So, the trains mostly cross over.

The one great exception to this rule now are the trains which now go from Waterloo to the Channel Tunnel and beyond, until such time as the High Speed Channel Tunnel line is completed.

All the other trains - the normal trains - which emerge from Waterloo proceed beside all those offices on the south bank of the Thames opposite Parliament, towards Putney, Twickenham, Richmond and places west. The trains that emanate from Victoria at once leap over the Thames and then leap also over the Waterloo trains before proceeding to their destinations in places like Croydon, Gatwick Airport, Dover or Brighton.

But as soon as they have crossed, these two great aggregations of railways bend into line with one another, and both pass through Clapham Junction, with the suburban services stopping there and the services to more distant places careering through on lines often unattached to any platform. That's a lot of traffic, and that is why Clapham Junction is such a big station.

But although Clapham Junction seems like a big station, this appearance is deceptive. Clapham Junction is really two quite large but definitely not enormous suburban stations placed side by side. It looks big, and in scale it is. But in its nature, it is not big. It merely covers a lot of ground.

I live near Victoria, yet my destination was Egham, which is served by Waterloo trains but not by Victoria trains, so I needed to change at Clapham Junction. And if, like me, you often stop at Clapham Junction, you discover something strange. There are few railway staff in attendance at Clapham Junction, and those who do work there are often disturbingly haphazard and amateurish in the atmosphere that they radiate. They seem like good people, but they don't always seem as if they fully understand all their duties.

So it is that if you do arrive at Clapham Junction, you often have the odd feeling, normally only to be experienced at far smaller railway stations, of being on your own, dependent only upon your fellow travellers for enlightenment as to how to proceed. On December 20th, for example, when I arrived at the platform for the Egham trains, I found no railway staff and I also found that the signs which might have told me when the next train would come and where it would stop were not functioning either. I asked fellow travellers, but they could offer only hope and good wishes, rather than solid information.

But no sooner had I plunged thus into a state of gloom as to my immediate travel prospects than a train arrived, and the loudspeaker sprang to life and told us that it would go to Egham. True, it would be going to Egham via Brentford and Hounslow rather than by the more direct route through Richmond. But that didn't matter. I climbed aboard, confident that I would arrive soon in Egham.

I was not to be disappointed.

Trackbacks

Comments

Pauses. This could be for almost anything. It doesn't take much to delay a train and once it has been delayed there are all sorts of knock-on effects to other trains.

Why is it that we are so concerned about receiving an explanation? Does it really make any difference whether you are late due to leaves on the line, failed points or the train in front being late?

For a schematic map see http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/info/maps/connections.pdf

Actually, as I understand it even when after the completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, some Eurostars will still terminate at Waterloo.

Why is it that some staff are so bad? It's not the case everywhere. GNER and Chilern staff seem reasonably switched on. I think it's to do with the attitude of the companies involved. GNER and Chiltern are rarities in that they want to grown their businesses. They see themselves as proper railway companies in charge of their bit of the network. Many of the rest see themselves as only temporary guardians (which, strictly speaking, is what they are) and act accordingly - not thinking long term, not trying to develop a culture, constantly trying to reduce staff numbers and costs.

Posted by Patrick Crozier on December 28, 2002

On the matter of pauses, the scary thing about them is not knowing how long they are going to last, until they end. If someone comes on the intercom and at least makes some kind of guess as to when progress will be resumed (and to make taht convincing, it helps to have some kind of explanation of what is causing the delay), you are spared the nightmare of fearing a long delay. For a person trying to keep an appointment, such fear is a real source of grief.

If, for example, the train ahead has suffered a very slight delay caused by - I don't know - lots of people having to get off at Twickenham to watch a rugby game, then being told that, as well as being told that this will only mean a temporary halt, is reassuring. Far more reassuring than silence.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on December 28, 2002

Clapham Junction ... for a junction, there's not much in the way of trains crossing in front of other trains, or people changing trains. I went there early one morning and watched and took pictures. It gave the impression of the Chicago Transit Authority on steroids, but the track arrangements took a bit of getting used to (looked like one each up and down line per platform -- remember to me "platform" = two of what you call platforms.) As far as locating trains, in May 1995 there were still some convenient track assignment timetables provided in the upstairs walkway, wasn't too hard to find the Raynes Park trains.

Posted by Stephen Hopkins Karlson on December 28, 2002

PAUSES...?

It's called a signal, when the train must be stopped in order that another train may pass or cross over the line in front.

It happens lots of times before you arrive at a station like Clapham Junction precisely because of the congestion.

Remember this lot was devised in the days of Rail Nationalisation - surprise, surprise.

Other countries have more lines - here we have undercapacity on the existing lines.

Posted by Jonathan Scott on January 3, 2003

Or do I mean overcapacity? Whatever the technical term, there's too many trains on too few lines.

Posted by Jonathan Scott on January 3, 2003

I live one station from Clapham Junction, and at leats half of the trains I am on pause before reaching the platform.

By the way, there are currently 17 platforms at Clapham Junction. Also, not all trains go to Victoria or Waterloo. Some go up towards Watfors Junction, and then onto Rugby!

Posted by Matthew Cooper on November 7, 2004

Permalink
 
 IN BRIEF

November 23, 2004

'Captain commuter' wins Sydney a free day on the trains ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Darling's saver ticket for slow-train Britain - he's going to do everything but close them ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
November 21, 2004

Tollroads Jamaican style - worth it if only for the pic of the toll plaza ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
November 20, 2004

Postive externalities come to DC - sort of ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Railways safer than ever - says Christian Wolmar ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Is graffiti art? - LFTTR think the question misses the point. FWIW I think many artists clearly have a lot of talent and it's a shame they don't have an appropriate, nay, legal outlet. ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Book review - Subterranean Railway by Christian Wolmar ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

One airline, 4 crashes, 8 dead: the real price of sugar snap peas in November ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
November 17, 2004

British Transport Films Collection DVD Volume One - Surely a must for any transport afficionado. It will be released just in time for Christmas. ...link
MH | Comments (0)
November 15, 2004

Crossrail website ...link
MH | Comments (0)
November 11, 2004

Brake fault forces Virgin to cut speed on flagship tilting trains - you know, just for once it sounds as if the HSE could be right ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
November 08, 2004

TV Alert "When trains crash", 1930 Channel 5 tonight. Talk about timing ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)
November 07, 2004

Ufton Nervet crash - 6 now confirmed dead ...link
PCCC | Comments (4)
November 06, 2004

One person dead as train derails ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
November 04, 2004

FirstGroup wants to add the tracks to its trains - that's brave ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
November 02, 2004

Car charge to rise to £6 ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 30, 2004

Psst wanna buy a railway station? ...link
MH | Comments (0)
October 26, 2004

'Kart Vader' - He tears around Quebec City at 100mph. In a go kart. At night. Wearing black. And he films it. Spotted by Jay Jardine. ...link
MH | Comments (0)
October 24, 2004

The downside of auto-mobile bans - drivers text instead ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Councils ban shrines to road crash victims - a story that neatly combines both transport and the issue of the day: mawkish sentimentality ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 20, 2004

The air hostess, the long hair and the sun roof - one of the more imaginative ways of staying awake at the wheel. ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Wheelchair-using MP travelled in 'cattle truck' - so, that's just the same as the rest of us then ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)

23 escape from burning train ...link
PCCC | Comments (3)

Wikipedia accuracy under fire - so, it's back on with the Glossary? ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 19, 2004

Rail chief quits after four months - walking away from £130,000. Golly ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 14, 2004

New comment on old posting - Tim Hall explains the story of the Highland Railway, its new locos and its soon-to-be-ex-Chief Mechanical engineer ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Out now: DVD version of leaves on the line ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 13, 2004

New link - Transport Watch UK. Lots of facts, lot of comparisons. Doesn't look good for rail ...link
PCCC | Comments (4)
October 11, 2004

Take the car and save the planet - walking kills, apparently ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Hybrids better than the real thing - golly ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Don't invest in mega-projects - says Peter Gordon ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 05, 2004

Prescott backs plan to reopen branch rail lines - well, he says he does ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)
October 04, 2004

New Glossary Entry - the Advanced Passenger Train ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 03, 2004

People are building their own speed cameras - One fellow is even selling fully functioning ones ...link
MH | Comments (0)

Pendolinos and Voyagers may prove to be one of privatisation's disasters - says Christian Wolmar ...link
PCCC | Comments (11)

Omedetō gozaimasu! - Tech Central Station on the 40th anniversary of the Shinkansen ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 02, 2004

Compulsory purchase to go - in US? Johnathan Pearce has some musings ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
October 01, 2004

Indian railway runs out of wheels - because it refuses to import ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

All for sprawl - Tyler Cowen links to a couple of articles including one from the NY Times magazine which is attracting a lot of attention ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)

Underground maps as art - according to Brian ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 30, 2004

Recent comment - Uncle Roger on the difficulty in working out accurate subsidy figures ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Europe by train - Tim Hall on Stephen Karlson's adventures ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Carpool lanes = communist gulags - Tim Hall is beginning to get it, possibly ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 29, 2004

P&O axes 1,200 jobs as ferry travel sails into past ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)
September 27, 2004

Hurtling towards a £7.6bn bill at full tilt - Alistair Osborne on the WCRM fiasco. Actually, I thought £7.6bn was on the low side ...link
PCCC | Comments (2)
September 26, 2004

A double-decked shame - RJ3 laments the passing of the Routemaster. It's those EU bastards, I tell you ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Tilting trains are rubbish - according to Ross Clark. Now he tells us ...link
PCCC | Comments (2)

Delays plummet by 28% - says Network Rail ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 25, 2004

New glossary item - the Health and Safety Executive - in which I demonstrate my almost complete ignorance of this institution ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Scant improvement in train times - according to latest figures ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 22, 2004

EU plan will hit safe women drivers - and it's all in the name of sex equality ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Unions gang up to demand railway renationalisation - they mean it isn't already? ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)
September 21, 2004

Top car makers support road-jam charging - Ford, GM, Honda, Daimler ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Journey times cut as 125mph tilting train sets record - after £8bn and the odd bankruptcy tilting trains that actually tilt are finally here ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 18, 2004

ABD calls for environmental audit of public transport - all those particulates ...link
PCCC | Comments (2)

Camera Partnerships must come clean on real causes of accidents - says ABD ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 16, 2004

The Green Quadratic - ASI paper on planning from 1988. Now available on-line ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 14, 2004

Up with conductors - they're really good, you know ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)

Speeding Britons fined in car race to Spain - "Among the cars were Ferraris, Porsches and Rolls-Royces." ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

MPs to lose free airport parking - oh, how my heart bleeds ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

The case against driving licences - Paul Clark in Lew Rockwell ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 10, 2004

Drivers trade privacy for insurance discounts ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 08, 2004

Free mints infuriate delayed commuters - some even threw them away, ingrates ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)

Privatize the roads! Liberate the streets! All we have to lose are our parking tickets! - Anthony Gregory in Lew Rockwell ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

M6 Toll hits 10m journey mark - er, about a month ago ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 07, 2004

California high-speed rail plan - all sorts of claims being made but Peter Gordon doesn't like the precedents ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 06, 2004

Swedish farmer fined 1,211 kronor for illegally parking a snowmobile in Warwick - Krister Nylander lives 205 north of Stockholm and has never been to Warwick. "They can wait till Hell freezes over and I can get to Britain on my snowmobile to pay the fine.” ...link
MH | Comments (0)
September 05, 2004

"Obsession is not too strong a word to describe how railway enthusiasts feel about railways" - Matthew Parris goes to Peru and meets some trainspotters ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 03, 2004

Hidden costs do not justify the level of tax on petrol in Britain - says Graham Seargeant ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Shovelling cash - utilities to pay for digging up roads ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Alistair Morton, builder of the Channel Tunnel, is dead ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Government 'willed' Railtrack to fail - says Corbett ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Cyclists saddled with seafront speed trap - in Bournemouth ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)

Historic Amsterdam tram photos Aaaah. Where's amg going to pitch up next? ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Why so little US electrification? - Tim Hall ponders the answer ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 02, 2004

London Underground Map - as it really is. ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Electric v steam - in 1923. But who won ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Freight or passenger in the US? - they're in conflict. Stephen Karlson considers the options ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
September 01, 2004

Fares and charge up in London - says Livingstone ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

'Fair fines' planned for speeding drivers ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Railtrack is cleared over Hatfield crash ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
August 31, 2004

Thousands 'ready to quit Aslef' - where would we be without brotherly love ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
August 30, 2004

Rural watchdog attacks road sign blight - See it's not just me who can't abide the avalanche of street furniture. ...link
MH | Comments (0)

What the traffic will bear - Bob Poole discusses the merits of tolling ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Prague trams - photos. Aaah ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
August 24, 2004

What if you can't drive? - Catallarchy's Sean Lynch considers the options ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

97% of accidents within speed limit - according to the ABD ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)
August 22, 2004

Prosecute motorway lane hogs - says RAC ...link
PCCC | Comments (3)
August 20, 2004

Radio tags for congestion charge? ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

World's longest road opens - in Russia ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Sprawl is cheap - says Iain Murray ...link
PCCC | Comments (1)
August 19, 2004

Strike threat to BA and Eurostar ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Toll roads are safer - at least according to my reading of this Marginal Revolution post ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Peking metro to hit 1000km mark - I'm not sure even London's is that long ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
August 15, 2004

Squander Two calmly talks about speed cameras ...link
MH | Comments (1)

Parking anarchy in St Albans - Police withdraw traffic wardens, Herts council won't have any until October, it's bedlam! ...link
MH | Comments (0)

The future of transport - as seen from the past ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Trains less efficient than cars - yes, I know, it's old news ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)

Ferry solution, please - Eamonn Butler wonders how you could introduce competition to a subsidised ferry service in the Western Isles ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)
August 14, 2004

Drink less, speed less, save on insurance - Marginal Revolution has the story ...link
PCCC | Comments (0)