In recent weeks and months I have been exploring the area around the big old East London docks, beyond the Docklands Towers, the ones that feature in the opening credits of Eastenders, and the ones which have London City Airport in the middle of them.
Here is the relevant bit of google maps. Zoom in a couple of times in the middle of that, and you will see the area I’m talking about. You will see it even better if you click on “satellite”, which I have only recently learned to do. Do that and you can see actual railway lines and actual airplanes.
My most recent wanderings around there saw me trying to find a path beside the river, starting at the north end of the Woolwich Ferry, going west. I didn’t get very far. I soon came upon industrial estates and jetties sticking out, places where actual work was being done, and actual transport, on the river. (A surprising amount of freight still seems to move up and down the river these days, in among all the more eye catching and frequent pleasure boats.) In the industrial estates pedestrians are not encouraged, although I did venture into one of them, until I got to a wall and had to turn around and go back. As for the jetties, random pedestrians can’t get anywhere near the river near them. Basically the Thames footpath stops.
On an earlier expedition, I had started at the same point, north end of Woolwich Ferry, and travelled East. For a while, fine, there was a rather nice park right next to the river. But then it again stopped. There does seem to be an aspiration to have a continuous Thames Path in that part of London, on the north of the river as well as the south (which already has such a path), just as there is everywhere else. But it is taking a very long to time to join up in that particular part of London. At present the path there exists only in rather forlorn and run-down little fragments.
So, anyway, on this most recent trip going west along the river, frustrated by industry, I turned right, northwards, back towards the docks and the airplanes. And I bumped into Crossrail.
It’s pretty hard working out where all the various railways in that part of London go, just as footpaths are also hard to identify. Maps are not always helpful, often showing stations but not the lines between them, especially if they are in tunnels. (Although, as I have only just now discovered, if you click on “Public transport” in Google Maps, then things like underground railways become a lot clearer. (No, scrub that. It doesn’t become clearer, because the blue line calling itself the Docklands Light Railway does not appear where the DLR physically is. It merely connects the stations, like a crow flying between them. There are separate graphics, sometimes but not always, for where the railway actually is. Very confusing.))
Basically, there are two branches of the Docklands Light Railway, one going north of the docks, and one to the south of them and then under the river to the Woolwich Arsenal. Plus, there is also a defunct regular railway line, that starts off on the north side of the docks, but then goes under them, and then goes along the middle of a long straight boulevard called variously (depending which side of the boulevard you are on), Connaught Road, Factory Road and Albert Road, between the docks and the river, just south of the southern branch of the DLR, and then it too disappears into a defunct tunnel that goes under the river to the south.
However this defunct railway and its defunct tunnel will soon both be funct again, because Crossrail will be making use of it. At present, the line is a charming rural wilderness trail, fenced off, and dividing the Connaught Factory Albert boulevard down the middle. So make up your mind good and early which side of the Connaught Factory Albert bourlevard you need to be on.
But although this means that although Crossrail will be going within a couple of hundred yards of the City Airport, which is right in among the docks to the north of where Crossrail will be, there are not now any plans for the trains to stop at this spot. It will stop at the top left of the docks, as it were, at a station called Customs House, nearly half a mile’s walk to the airport, and it will stop on the other side of the river, but, so far as I can work out from the www, not near to City Airport.
There already is a Docklands Light Railway stop at City Airport, on the southern bit of it. However, the DLR is, for users of City Airport, very slow and frustrating. It takes an age to trundle its toy train way, stopping at every little stop on the way, from real London out to these docklands, which are beyond even the regular Docklands that people mean when they say that. I imagine most users of City Airport arrive by car, typically driven by someone else.
The relationship between City Airport and Crossrail seems to have been quite acrimonious (sorry I read this on the www recently but I forget where). The impression I get is that Crossrail is perceived by City Airport almost as a bug rather than a feature, which seems a bit strange. It’s as if Crossrail is threatening to flood City Airport with Ryanair plebs, rather than the genteel taxi-delivered suits it now caters to.
Or, maybe all this Crossrail activity is driving up local land prices and threatening to complicate various expansion plans that City Airport has. City Airport is certainly very busy. Airplanes land or take off there pretty much continuously. So I guess they figure that getting yet more people to their airport is not their problem. Their problem is making their airport shift more people to and from the air.
I have lots of photos of this part of London that I have taken on my various trips. I hope to post some of these at my personal blog in the nearish future, but promise nothing. If any such snaps do materialise, I will put a link to them here.
The IET’s Engineering and Technology magazine this month has an article about a proposed light rail system called Nowait in Sweden. The track forms a loop and so does the train. In the station carriages turn sideways and go slowly enough to let people on, then they turn lengthways and speed up to 40km/h. There are a couple of animations on the company’s site if you click the “how it works” link.
It looks cool, but I have reservations. All the carriages are linked together, so if there is a problem the whole system would need to be stopped, leaving people stranded between stations. The system can’t adapt to busy and quiet periods. And I wonder how long you will have to wait to pass through each station. But if it gets built I will go and try it out.
“It’s not much of a quid pro quo for having lived through the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward...”
The other night Michael Jennings, Brian Micklethwait and myself sat down with the intention of recording a podcast about South East Asian Metros, Michael being pretty clued up on the subject.
We started well. We managed to keep to the subject for a good five minutes before veering off onto topics as far apart as colonial architecture and the evils of communism1 the Metropolitan Railway’s Club carriages, the importance of passenger information, maps and timetables (or lack of them), international fare system convergence and commuter escalators.
And our tendency for all talking at once continues unabated. Oh well.
1. As evidenced by Michael’s quote at the top.
Update 11/01/08 Michael tells me that that “South” bit in the title is inaccurate.
The Sunday Times travel section has an article about the splendour of the stations on the Moscow subway.
Komsomolskaya station, to the northeast of the city centre, was opened as part of the first wave in 1935. Its atrium is one of the most beautiful: luxuriously decorated with heavy chandeliers, arches made from three types of marble, and granite floors.
On the ceiling and walls are depictions of Russian leaders and civilians, the former heroically leading forces into battle on horseback, the latter with sleeves rolled and backs breaking in honest toil.
All this reminded me of some photos I’d seen of the Pyongyang Metro. That website is run by someone who thinks Pyongyang’s metro has military uses, but it seems that communist transport infrastructure has propaganda uses, too. Sometimes that’s the only use, as in the case of a ten lane highway with hardly any traffic.
Seems Barcelona’s commuter trains are not as good as they could be:
The other thing everyone’s talking about is the awful Barcelona commuter train system; there was another massive delay yesterday on two of the suburban train lines. That makes about twelve major screwups on the Renfe commuter trains this year so far. This time a bunch of passengers got pissed off and blocked the train tracks at Martorell, thereby holding things up even more, of course. That’s what happens when the government runs the trains or any other industry that should be in private hands.
The FGC at Plaça de Catalunya
Commuter action is not unknown. In the 1970s, unhappy commuters smashed up a station in Tokyo. A few years later the company was privatised.