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Underground News

December 12th, 2008 (12:16 am)

Most variations of my temporary commute from west London into central London involve a change at Earl's Court. Earl's Court is the last deep level tube station on the Piccadilly Line in inner London, and the Piccadilly platforms are straightforward; more of Piccadilly Line commuters, perhaps, later.

The District Line is another matter. Earl's Court is an interchange for several distinct services bearing the District Line name and indeed driven by District Line drivers, though one of them, the so-called 'Wimbleware' service from Wimbledon to Edgware Road, shares trains with the Circle and Hammersmith and City lines rather than the usual District stock. The District Line platforms don't have the two-line electronic train destination and arrival time indicators common to most Underground stations in central London, but instead signs which list destinations alongside arrows which are illuminated depending on where the next train is heading. I suspect that, given the erratic nature of the District's signalling, particularly approaching Earl's Court, having a display which stated anticipated arrival times might be tempting fate too much.

Earlier this year the veteran illuminated signs, which listed station names in non-standard font and which I suspect might even pre-date the beginning of the Olympia service in 1947, were decommissioned and modern signs were mounted near them, listing destinations in one column rather than in two. I'd assumed that when the old signs began to be dismantled they would disappear, but no; this week they have returned to service, refurbished, with their lighting upgraded and the enamel nameplates replaced, now resplendent in corporate Johnston. There remain blank spaces for lost westbound destinations, one of which I presume was Hounslow West (last served by the District in the early 1960s).

The system still puzzles visitors. I've met travellers who have needed help to know how to get to Paddington - 'High St. Kensington and Edgware Road' eastbound is what they want. On Sunday night a man with a suitcase found it counter-intuitive that Olympia trains departed from the westbound platforms; a woman was confused about how to get to Parsons Green, which is listed as a train destination as well as Wimbledon - she might have had a long wait if she had been hesitant about getting on a Wimbledon train.

Today I had a late start, and travelled in from Barons Court - not very far at all from where I'm staying, though not as close as West Kensington station - on the Piccadilly. This seems less prone to breakdown than the District, though getting off at Holborn leads to a slightly dispiriting climb up two escalators, once the odd passages of the Piccadilly Line station have been negotiated (entirely the fault of the disused Aldwych branch, glimpsed briefly, I think, on this week's Spooks). I greatly prefer the District, though, as it allows a longer and more varied walk to work, from Temple or Blackfriars northward, past various inns of court and the sites of redundant inns of lost branches of the profession, or buildings like Arundel House which have at least two resonances for me. Chancery Lane has changed since I was a graduate student and was a fairly regular visitor to the old Public Record Office and the National Register of Archives (the latter just off it on Quality Court), largely through its colonization by the coffee chains. One Victorian office building there is being converted into flats - I've not looked for the price.


Posted by: Gramarye (gramarye1971)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 03:18 am (UTC)

Some of the other District Line stations near Earl's Court had the old signs as well -- Gloucester Road certainly did, if it doesn't any longer.

I have a very soft spot for Temple. It's the closest station to the LSE and much less of a madhouse than Holborn; it was only in 2005 or so that the station stayed open on Sundays as well as the rest of the week. I have fond memories of the greasy little transport cafe right outside the station, too -- I lost count of how many times I popped in there to pick up an omelette and chips to eat on a nearby bench, while flipping through an issue of Private Eye. ^_^

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 07:53 am (UTC)

The caff - or at least, a caff - is still there!

Temple being my current station...

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 08:15 am (UTC)

I must look out for the caff - I don't know how I've missed it or just taken it for granted...

Posted by: Susan (lil_shepherd)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 09:01 am (UTC)

Tiny sweetshop one side of the station entrance, small caff the other.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)

I'm sure I'd have noticed it if I started as many journeys there as I finish!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 08:14 am (UTC)

My reputation as an observer is exploded if I confess that I've never noticed the cafe - for me, the landmark is the newsstand, and the non-Beck 1930s Underground map on the station's outer wall.

I think that there is still an old-style destination indicator at Gloucester Road, but it's a while since I changed there.

Posted by: wellinghall (wellinghall)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 10:18 am (UTC)

non-Beck 1930s Underground map

That sounds interesting.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)

I'll have to take a picture when I am next through. I took a different route tonight.

Posted by: Virgers! How are we doing with those explosives? (tree_and_leaf)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 10:20 am (UTC)

The destination indicators sound rather confusing!

Posted by: hack (overconvergent)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 12:00 pm (UTC)

It's also annoying to be standing at Earl's Court waiting ... and waiting ... and waiting ... for a District line train on your branch as four or five on the other branch go by.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 07:20 pm (UTC)

There are those bursts of Wimbledon-mania, when every train that goes through, from either line, is for Wimbledon... and, then, that once in Wimbledon the trains want to stay there, given their lack of enthusiasm for proceeding back to Earl's Court and to Edgware Road via useful places like Notting Hill Gate or Paddington.

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 07:17 pm (UTC)

Photos to follow, probably in a separate post, when I am back in Woodstock...

Posted by: Amanda (neohippie)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 03:35 pm (UTC)

I'm so glad I made that trip to London last year so I have some idea what you're talking about. Took me a while to figure out the trains, since we don't have public transport in the rather small city I live in, but I think by the end of my vacation I had the thing figured out pretty well.

Except I'm glad I was on vacation and there was nowhere I had be on time to! Well, except the airport, and I almost missed my plane!

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: December 12th, 2008 07:24 pm (UTC)

I think that each system has its idiosyncracies. London is very different to New York, where lines and services are very different things, for example.

Which London airport were you flying from? Heathrow has its fast (from Paddington) and slow (via Piccadilly Line) services; Gatwick is further out and has a fast service and a variety of slow and semi-fast ones. The Piccadilly Line service to Heathrow can be a patience-trier, as one stops at all the outer London suburban stations before going underground again for the airport.