20 June, 2007

Victoria Line: Walthamstow Central - Finsbury Park

Pertinent Truths about the Victoria Line:

- its trains don't have drivers - it is the only Underground line never to emerge above ground - it is the line with the highest proportion of interchanges (all stations bar one are connecting with something or other) - it was originally going to be called the Walvic Line - it is ridiculously, relentlessly, hot

This last point is the most obvious to the seasoned traveller and one-off visitor alike. During the summer a journey on a Victoria Line train, whether crowded or empty, is like stepping inside a mobile stove. Air quality is appalling. Air conditioning is non-existent. It's downright horrible at times. But even in winter the temperature is unseasonably high. In fact, I have never not left a Victoria Line train, regardless of the time of year, sweating and desperate for air.

The trains haven't been replaced since the line opened in 1968. Given their age the carriages' infrastructure is holding up well, but the decor is woefully uncomfortable. If you choose one of the inward facing pews, as opposed to the segmented seats, you invariably end up bouncing around like you're sitting on a trampoline, especially when your train hits top speed.

Which will happen often, given the line was designed to rush passengers as quickly as possible from the outskirts to the centre of the city. Hence the way it only takes six stations to get from one side of Zone 1 to the other.

All of these gripes might very well disappear when the 43 1967 vintage trains are replaced with a new fleet in 2009. In its day, however, the Victoria Line was a marvel: the first automatic (i.e. non-driven) railway in the world and much needed relief for the Piccadilly Line in carrying people from NE to SW London.

Top of the line is Walthamstow Central.

It all looks very impressive on the outside, as befits an entrance done up in 2006; inside, however, it seems bits of the station haven't been, well, finished. At all. The platform ceilings are still unpainted from when the place opened to the public on 1st September 1968. Worse is the fact there is no standby escalator to cope when the other two break down (a symptom all too common in Victoria Line stations north of King's Cross).

It's quite a cavernous place, though, as befits a terminus, and as usual there's the exciting dilemma facing the passenger of choosing the right platform from which a southbound train will leave first. Chances are you'll climb on one, then sit motionless for 10 minutes.

The top four northern-most Victoria Line stations all opened for business simultaneously. Blackhorse Road is blessed with a less than spectacular entrance:

but a rather striking visualisation of, well, its name:

Tottenham Hale mainline station was renamed from simply Tottenham when the Underground interchange arrived. I like the giant blue box.

Seven Sisters, meanwhile, was named after a septet of elms reportedly planted in the 1300s, and has the most ethnically diverse postcode in the European Union.

The ensuing section of the line is the longest between sequential stations in deep level tunnels on the whole network. The frazzled passenger ultimately emerges blinking into the grim lights of...

Finsbury Park. This station is a menace. Aside from the sensible alignment of Victoria and Piccadilly Line services (you change from one to the other by simply walking onto an adjacent platform), everything else about Finsbury Park is designed to hinder rather than help the traveller.

There are no escalators or lifts to reach the platforms; instead there's an endless, pitiless winding tunnel, along which punters ebb and flow, being buffeted, barged, jostled and, more often than not, robbed. It's very easy to get carried along with the tide of people and miss the turning onto your platform completely.

Moreover there are no ticket barriers at the station whatsoever. People surge in and out of Finsbury Park with no attempt at regulation or authorisation. Then there are the bolted-on exits to the mainline station, which itself is a conundrum of platforms, by virtue of having passed through numerous conflicting owners since opening in 1861. Finally there's not one but two sprawling bus stations outside.

It's not a place you'd want to linger long, but woe betide if you happen to get caught in a mob of people surging one way or the other. If you don't have your wits about you, you'll never end up where you want to go.


Mike said...

The Waterloo & City line also fails to emerge above ground.

Ian Jones said...

That is true. Given it's essentially just a tunnel between two stations, I suppose I'd forgotten about it.

Eddie said...

the train in fact, do have drivers, they're in charge of closing and opening door, thus control the departure and arrival of the train, other than that it's all Automatic Train Operation, and not surprisingly, the dullest train ride for the driver because there weren't much to do.

Eddie said...

sorry, another piece of information

the train were actually going to be replaced, but it was the 1980 stock that only have a leaf door (same design as the District Line Upminister train that's all silver which is currently being refurbs now), while there were a disadvantage on the District Line one, the deep levels one was too small and cramped during rush hours, hence why the tube stock is still the original one when the line opened (also another reason why the Bakerloo Line still have the '72 stock which is essentially a modified '67 one, like the Victoria Line one).

to use the 1996 stock (e.g. jubliee line and northern line) is out of the question because of the obvious reason - it doesn't have a ATO (automatic train operation, not driver operation as i previously mentioned, my mistake).

another hint - the Northern Line will have an ATO by 2011 and the Jubliee in 2009.

If you want to find out some simple history or fact, let me know, I've studies the Underground history extensively just for pleasure, I even have some books that I think would be of great help.

keep it up mate

Ian Jones said...

Cheers Eddie. Thanks for all that info, especially about ATO. Didn't realise that my "local", the Northern Line, is ultimately planned to go driver-less (as it were). This fills me with not a little trepidation - the line struggles enough as it is *with* drivers!

The G said...

The horse outside Blackhorse Road is a bit of red herring as the road on which the station stands was originally Black House Road [named after a black house funnily enough]. Black horse is a name corruption.

Also there were originally Seven Sisters after whom the trees were named [the trees are replanted periodically by another set of seven sisters].

Terrific blog by the way.

mjw4849 said...

Completely agree with you in the first few paragraphs - it's always roasting hot, the air is vile and it just screams 'get lost' from every tunnel and train. When I tried to get to Euston from Victoria the other week at 8.30am, it was one of the worst experiences of my live. Never again. Ever. I'd sooner walk!