Transport Watch – May 2011

by John Beeston - outgoing chair


Crossrail cannot be expected to fund all the improvements needed to stations along its route, said the Minister, Theresa Villiers in the House on Thursday last. De-scoping of stations and less ambitious plans are being drafted she told MPs. But Crossrail will be instructed to work with local councils and they will have to be prepared to use local funds to improve stations to the standard that they require. Ms Villiers did not mention specific stations or councils but all five stations in the Borough will need extensive improvements once the new 10 coach trains operated by Crossrail come into service.


At Ealing Broadway, one of the busiest stations in the UK there was a guarantee that better access especially for disabled and for pushchair users and those with heavy baggage would be provided. But now some of this long overdue work could be under threat. The provision of lift access to all platforms is now under review and would-be users of the station are requested to write urgently to their councillors and MPs citing their objections to the planned changes, (and as always, to copy EPTUG at 3 Gordon Road, W5 2AD).


Ealing Council’s transport planners and EPTUG have always been keen to see a footbridge at the eastern end of the station across all platforms in order to ease the chaos that will inevitably arise when increased numbers of Crossrail passengers transfer to and from the Underground lines. Ealing Central &Acton MP, Angie Bray, is very anxious to ensure that this obvious safety measure is retained in the rebuild plan and she too welcomes letters of support.


Elsewhere on the Crossrail route the increased number of buses needed to serve Southall Station will bring the town’s only North-South route to a complete halt if an off-road stopping place cannot be provided. Also in jeopardy is the provision of a lift at Hanwell. Clearly the council must start taking action now and residents need to kick-start their involvement.


Also in the debate, Philip Hammond, the Transport minister confirmed that there would be no relaxation of the requirement for all train operators to reduce overcrowding by 2014, to a standard set by the previous government. However no mention was made about the provision of extra rolling stock to First Great Western and it would seem that none of our local MPs took the opportunity to question him on this even though FGW trains into Paddington are the most overcrowded in the Capital whilst trains between Southall and Ealing Broadway are even more overloaded but fail to feature in official statistics.


"There is no business case for stopping Piccadilly Line trains at Turnham Green outside the existing ends of the day times". The matter has been investigated many times say London Underground and, in any case, their spokesman added, in the morning eastbound trains are already full when they reach Acton Town so there would be no point stopping at Turnham Green.


The failed PPP concept is now being blamed for the failure to upgrade destination boards at Ealing North and many other stations on the system. The upgrade was part of the PPP but the collapse of Tube Lines has meant a complete re-think about the system to be employed and it could be at least 10 years before the new system is adopted and installed. On the FGW stations poor co-operation between the  operator’s contractors and those of Network Rail’s contractors is believed to be one of the reasons why there is no reliable information system available to customers. However the new equipment is now beginning to appear on station platforms.


Once again EPTUG received complaints that no information was available regarding bus routes passing through Southall during the recent Vasakhi celebrations. Following complaints at last year’s event promises to improve arrangements and publicising changes were made but it seems once again it has slipped the TfL memory.


The break in the Circle Line with “Circle” trains terminating at Edgware Road and then returning via Victoria to Hammersmith may be seen by LUL as a success but to visitors and others not familiar with the arrangement it remains confusing. Now we read of plans to change the District Line operations in 2012. Under the plan trains from Ealing and from Richmond will all terminate at Tower Hill leaving Wimbledon line trains to cover the line to Upminster. Also the half-hourly shuttle service that runs from High Street Kensington to Olympia will no longer run during peak periods. It is better served using the West London Overground service from West Brompton.


Passengers on the District and the Hammersmith Lines might also have to endure more disruption to services at weekends and bank holidays for a long overdue contract to install new signalling has been awarded. However, once complete, the new signalling will increase capacity on the  Hammersmith and Circle Lines by 65% and on the District Line by 24%. The system already in use in Madrid and Shenzen as well as 11 other metro systems is designed to support driverless trains, although this option is not being considered at the present time.


Bus Users (UK), who closely monitor bus services outside London say that cuts in subsidies and council spending is already having a dramatic effect on bus services especially in rural areas but so far London has remained pretty secure from these cuts. This may in part be due to the unusual way Transport for London operates. TfL awards contracts for a 5 or 7 year period and can therefore only make a major change when the contract falls due for renewal, (as several do each month). Elsewhere, an official survey has reported that competition between bus operators has not benefited passengers, something London discovered before 1933.


The new roof over platforms 9 to 12 at Paddington could be opened up to view by the end of this month say Network Rail much later than originally intended because serious corrosion problems came to light when engineers gained access. The span, known as Span 4 sits alongside Brunel’s impressive arch and was given Grade 1 listed status in 1990 thwarting plans to demolish it.


Why should improvements to the railway line between Felixstowe and Nuneaton be of interest to those who travel on the London Overground between South Acton and Gospel Oak? Answer, because now trains carrying the new larger containers in use throughout the world can now use this line instead of following the North London Line to reach the West Coast Main Line thus easing the pressure on the tracks shared by the Overground. Until early April the North London Line was the only route to the North West which could take the industry standard 9ft 6 boxes.


Hopefully when you are reading this column you will basking in Summer sunshine but already train operators are planning ahead for the winter weather that we could expect later in the year. Chiltern have been amongst the first to reveal plans. These include running trains through the night to minimise the risk of diesel freezing and hitting the early morning commuter services. Whilst this may seem an obvious step to take, fuel prices rising faster than train fares and the increased wages bill all add to the company’s financial worries. They must also bear in mind that much maintenance work on both track and train has to be carried out overnight.      


BAA, owners of Heathrow Airport, have dropped plans to build Airtrack, a “Heathrow Express” type service using the existing lines through Putney to Waterloo. But this now leaves the BAA with two unused platforms at Terminal 5 and it is known that they favour better links to Slough and Reading so perhaps their attention will be turned in that direction.