17 July, 2007

Jubilee Line: Stanmore - Willesden Green

Here's a confession: I really like the Jubilee Line.

I like the way its trains make a sleek, gentle revving sound when they leave the platform, and a weirdly becalming sighing noise when they pull to a stop. I like the fact the carriages look and feel really new, because they are (dating from 1996), unlike the Northern Line carriages which look and feel really rank, despite also dating from 1996.

I like the line's colour: silver. I like the name, because it refers to an event rather than a place. And I like its implausible route, being shaped by expediency and happenstance and illogic, which leads to it binding together the most disparate of places: genteel suburbs, hectic interchanges, unbecoming backwaters, forgotten tourist attractions and above all loads and loads of stations that used to belong to someone else.

The line kicks off with a whole slew of these which, even more appealingly, are all above ground. After the dungeon-esque horrors of the Victoria Line, this was a real relief.

Indeed, this entire first leg of my journey was in the open air - and entirely through stations that were once the property of not one, but two different owners.

The whole of the Jubilee Line north of Baker Street was once part of the Bakerloo Line, up until 1979 when the Jubilee was officially "born". But before the Bakerloo took up residency from 1939, it was the run as part of the Metropolitan Line. Hence when you travel south from Stanmore, you're running along tracks that have masqueraded under more different names than anywhere else on the Underground network.

It starts off as a very pleasant excursion through pure suburbia. Until you get to Wembley Park there's no real urban sprawl in sight. Stanmore itself was built as a terminus and has stayed that way ever since, replete with the eccentricity of having a ticket office downstairs at platform level and the booking hall upstairs at street level, where you can find a bank of old fashioned public telephones that nobody uses.

They're in the process of adding a third platform to the station. As it is, it's a sprawling, spacious terminus with that slightly giddy feeling of being on the edge of nowhere. It's very well kept, though, as is its neighbour, Canons Park.

This opened like its predecessor in 1932, but under the rather fussy name of Canons Park (Edgware).

At least this title did have some local resonance; the next one down the line, Queensbury, wasn't named after anything at all, conceived merely as complement its own neighbouring station, Kingsbury. It does, however, boast this rather wonderful construction just outside its main entrance:

What it's there for I've no idea, but it does look ace. Here's a long line of people, all of whom watched me take the above photo before finding themselves the stars of this one:

Queensbury was clearly an add-on to the existing line, opening two years later than all the stations north of Wembley Park. Indeed, Kingsbury feels a far more established and logical presence, sitting on a main road yet with platforms cleverly sunk below large verges covered in woodland.

Only when you get to Wembley Park does the Jubilee Line start to feel suitably regal. For here, surely, is one of the greatest stations on the entire network. Wembley Park is magnificent: a cavernous, palatial-esque playground with extraordinary flights of steps to rival any cathedral.

To arrive here ahead of a crucial football match must be one of the most thrilling feelings in the world. There's a stunning view upon exiting of the new Wembley Stadium arch. It really is the perfect introduction to a couple of hours in the company of several hundred thousand people watching a national team forget how to win.

The station dates back to 1893, but its current incarnation only opened last year, in a ceremony blessed by the presence of Ken Livingstone (naturally) and David Seaman (er...). Even more excitingly, mainline London to Aylesbury trains run *underneath* its platforms.

After all that, Neasden can only be an anti-climax. Which it is.

Opened in 1880, it was first called Kingsbury and Neasden, then - presumably due to local politics - Neasden and Kingsbury, then finally just plain Neasden in 1932. Immortalised, not to say bowdlerised, by a spoof Private Eye 7" single in 1962, it was given equally portentous canonisation by John Betjeman during his televised travels through Metro-Land, more of which another time. Today the place is sadly lacking in pomp or swagger; it's tatty, dirty and trite. Albeit with locals willing to stare straight into a camera lens.

On the day I was making this journey the next station, Dollis Hill, was closed for repairs. Or "planned engineering work", to use the official euphemism. Hence all I have to show here is this non-descript photo:

The station, singularly absent from this scene, hails from 1909.

And so to Willesden Green, another grand building but of an entirely different vintage to Wembley Park.

Opened in 1879, it was completely redesigned and rebuilt in 1925 by CW Clark, the Metropolitan Railway's chief architect. Much of his work remains, thankfully, intact, and quite rightly became a Grade 2 Listed Building in 2006.

Willesden Green I will forever associate with the one thing I don't like about the Jubilee Line: its tinny-voiced, strangulated-sounding in-carriage recorded announcer person, an elderly woman who mis-emphasises all her words and all in the poshest accent imaginable. "This train," she will cry, "terminates at WilllLLLLLLLEESSSSSDDDen Greeeeeeeeen". And so does this blog.

05 July, 2007

Victoria Line: Green Park - Brixton

South of Green Park lies the commuter chicken run that is Victoria. Perhaps the best place to view Victoria is from as far away as possible, which conveniently enough is where this picture was taken, from a balcony on the fifth floor of the building where I work.

Any closer and you're likely to get caught up in the tide of 80 million travellers that rolls to and from the place every year. It's been an interchange with the Victoria Line since March 1969, and was the terminus until the Brixton section was fully completed in 1971.

Despite the grand entrance and commanding atmosphere, it's not a nice place, especially during the rush hour when various parts invariably get temporarily closed and great mobs of people are held by staff halfway down some steps or alongside the barriers or, worse of all, on the concourse of the mainline station.

This is ostensibly to prevent overcrowding, but can't help but contribute to the problem by swelling still further the already dense clusters of pugilistic punters. And sometimes the hold-ups can go on for a couple of hours. Electronic hooters and foghorns sound a siren whenever these kinds of operation are in progress, which fuels the hysteria even more.

Something is being done about this. Or rather, people are thinking about doing something about this to ensure an entirely new station is up and running by 2014. It's also the hottest stop on the Victoria Line by far: no mean feat when you consider the competition from its almost equally suffocating rivals. There's a big notice up by the escalators vowing that cooling systems are being 'tested'. The notice has been there for as long as I can remember.

Pimlico, by contrast, is about as timid as they come. It wasn't even part of the original Victoria Line, opening a year after everywhere else, as if the builders decided it wouldn't be missed and they'd come back to deal with it later. Moreover it's the only stop on the line which isn't an interchange. I like its unassuming nature. It sits in an office block that was entirely occupied, up to 2006, by the Office for National Statistics. Pimlico is the only station on the Underground without any letters of the word 'badger'.

It's quicker to walk to Vauxhall, the next station on the line, but then you'd miss out on the treat that greets passengers passing through the ticket hall: unashamed, unadultered classical music, pumped out at full volume through the tannoys. The audacity of this decision is its greatest asset.

I felt even more self-conscious than usual, however, taking this photo. There are security cameras all over the place, both inside and outside, for despite there being no above ground station at Vauxhall, it's right next door to MI6, itself surely one of the most self-conscious "secret" bases in the world.

By this point on the journey, the heat inside the train gets more bearable thanks to it being almost empty; few commuters seem to stray south of Vauxhall, and after you've been through Stockwell - which I've already visited - you're usually alone in your carriage.

Brixton, the terminus, was closed for a while last year while asbestos was removed. It's got a great exterior, comprising chiefly of a massive Underground logo, which is really what you want.

There's talk of extending the track further to Herne Hill, adding a new station as well as a proper loop so trains don't have to reverse before heading back up the line. It'd make sense, because then there'd be an southern interchange with Thameslink services to complement the northern one at King's Cross. Even were this to become the case, however, and even were all the rickety carriages replaced at the same time, I wouldn't be able to find it in my heart to like the Victoria Line until the day someone figured out how to turn the thermostat a degree or so below scalding.