26 August, 2007

Jubilee Line: London Bridge - Stratford

Just as with previous legs, this last section of the Jubilee Line boasts its unique class of passengers.

There are two discernable groups: the suits, who once upon a time would have been called yuppies, who work either at London Bridge or on the Isle of Dogs; and the locals who live around West Ham and Stratford. There are no tourists on this part of the Jubilee. You don't venture this far down the line if you're sightseeing, for there are no sights to see. Indeed, the only ostensible tourist attraction closed to regular visitors at the end of 2000: the Millennium Dome, for which North Greenwich station was exclusively built.

So you're faced with a sequence of stations serving people coming to and from work and then, beyond Canary Wharf, to and from home. Nobody hangs around this part of the Jubilee Line. Its stations are the newest on the whole network, but the least dwelt in. You use this stretch of the line to get somewhere else; the stations themselves sit in desolate areas of land largely devoid of anything whatsoever bar roads leading to other places far away.

Conversely, you also get some of the most extravagantly-designed buildings of the whole Underground, and in the shape of Canary Wharf the most specatular of them all. It seems this was always the intention, to bedeck the Jubilee Line extension with the finest efforts of Britain's finest contemporary architects. Pity nobody gets to see them other than those in a hurry to get somewhere else.

After the sprawling interchange of London Bridge you come to the compact and, it has to be said, rather pointless Bermondsey. Built seemingly for the sake of it to break the journey between London Bridge and Canada Water, it was apparently meant to have a multi-storey office block on top, but looks perfectly fine without.

Opened on 17th September 1999 it shares an endearing trait with most of its Extension brothers in letting natural light spiral right down almost to the platform. There are also traces of Westminster-esque futuristic caverns and big blocks of concrete sitting around to represent, well, big blocks of concrete sitting around.

Canada Water is a far more swaggering affair. Opened the same day as Bermondsey, it's basically a giant glass cylinder stuck in the ground, around which trail staircases and elevators spiralling you down and down to the trains below. At the bottom the space allotted to the platforms is so big it could fit one of the Canary Wharf skyscrapes on its side.

This endless size and splendour is all very well, but I have to admit it does make the actual business of getting to the precise place where you can board a train really really convoluted. No chance of anyone dashing for a last minute connection here; it must take at least five minutes to go from entrance to platform. There's an interchange here with the East London Line, due to close by Christmas.

Memo: must do East London Line before the end of the year.

The cathedral-like Canary Wharf was opened by by Ken Livingstone setting an escalator in motion on 17th September 1999. Norman Foster is the man responsible for what is unarguably the mightiest Underground station of them all. I think it's the size of at least one football pitch.

Squatting right between the tallest tower blocks in the land, the descent to the station floor is breathtaking in itself: a majestic escalator ride that opens up the entire edifice before your eyes.

Once again it takes ages to actually get to the platform. But again, such is the trade off between design brilliance and passenger convenience. Its biggest defect is its claim to be an interchange. In fact it takes ages to schlep all the way to the "connecting" Docklands Light Railway - ironic given Canary Wharf was the sole reason the Jubilee Line extension ended up unfurling the way it did. At one point investors demanded the entire Underground Map be changed to put Canary Wharf at the centre. Yup, you read that right.

North Greenwich, as already mentioned, was built solely for the Dome. When the Dome closed, the station had no point. Nowadays it has a bit of traffic but only when something is happening at the re-named O2 Arena. The evening I was there The Rolling Stones were playing and the place was thronging with middle age men looking discomfited in denim jackets and ill-fitting T-shirts. It's yet another massive construction, obviously conceived when it was thought millions would be streaming to and from the Dome, but yet again gets away with it by virtue of an imaginative design, decked out in blue tiles and loads of columns.

By now you've lost all traces of business travellers and local residents take over. There's been some kind of station on the site of Canning Town since 1846, but the Jubilee Line arrived on 14th May 1999, forming an intersection with the Docklands Light Railway and the overground North London Line. It's a brutal construction slap bang in the middle of a messy interchange of roads and bus routes. There's no reason whatsoever to linger here, and precious little compulsion either.

West Ham station, meanwhile, was completely done up as part of the Jubilee Line extension; it's a somehow a much more welcoming interchange than its predecessor, maybe because it's actually close to something of obvious relevance (a residential house or two) and doesn't involve walking miles to reach a platform.

But for all its capacity, West Ham is still utterly dwarfed by Stratford, the end of the Jubilee Line and a titanic meeting of all sorts of different services and connections. I'll talk more about its origins and its glittering future when I'm travelling the Central Line.

For the time being, Stratford's elephantine (I'm running out of different adjectives to describe "big") building gobbles up bits of platform and brickwork dating back to 1839, and is a fittingly bombastic conclusion to a voyage along one of the most ostentatious portions of Underground to be found.

08 August, 2007

Jubilee Line: Baker Street - London Bridge

The Jubilee Line must hold a record for taking the longest span of years to complete. It's taken over a century to reach its current state, and to travel along it from one end to the other is to pass through both some of the oldest and newest stations on the entire network.

South of Baker Street is where you leap forward several decades, and where the line becomes far more functional. Between here and London Bridge it's interchanges all the way, apart from Southwark, a station invented purely to serve Waterloo East mainline station and which isn't in Southwark at all.

You get a different kind of passenger on this stretch of the line: no-nonsense, hurried and often weighed down by numerous tourist-esque accoutrements. There's no quicker way of getting from the north west of London to the south east, but it's usually a grim, crowded and hassled experience.

The tunnels south of Baker Street were built in the mid-1970s as part of an extension to what was to have been called the Fleet Line. The plan was to have dug all the way to Charing Cross and then on along Fleet Street to stations at Aldwych, Ludgate Circus, Cannon Street, Fenchurch Street, St Katharine Docks, Wapping and then under the River Thames to New Cross, terminating at Lewisham.

Inevitably the money ran out. The extension was only built up to Charing Cross, which is where the now-renamed Jubilee Line terminated upon opening officially on 1st May 1979.

An alternative plan was then drawn up to extend it parallel with the River Thames, on from Wapping to Thamesmead via Surrey Docks North, Canary Wharf, North Greenwich, Custom House, Silvertown, Woolwich Arsenal and ultimately to Thamesmead. This too, however, was binned and for ages it looked like the Jubilee would run up to Charing Cross and no further.

Of course, the new Charing Cross interchange was itself something of a mess, constituting bits of the old Trafalgar Square and Strand stations (on the Bakerloo and Northern lines respectively), a reconfiguration that had also involved renaming the existing Charing Cross station on the District and Circle lines as Embankment.

All that convoluted and costly revamping, however, got junked completely in the 1990s when the extension finally got underway - not along Fleet Street, but, at the behest of big business in Docklands, south via Waterloo and London Bridge then east to Canary Wharf. More on that later.

What happens today is that the Jubilee Line (renamed from Fleet in 1977) travels to Bond Street and Green Park as before, then swerves away from its original course to hit Westminster. In fact if you watch from the carriage window you can clearly see the point at which the old, now-disused tunnel peels off to Charing Cross.

Bond Street is a grim place above ground, lurking underneath an unremarkable shopping centre at one of the busiest points on Oxford Street.

Virtually no elements of the original 1900 Central Line station survive. Its Jubilee Line platforms, though, have a brusque, tidy air about them; not qualities you can apply to Green Park, which seems to have been designed to induce people to want to exit its premises as soon as possible:

Both of these Jubilee interchanges were opened on 1st May 1979, as was the original terminus, which then closed on November 19th 1999.

I remember well scores of newspaper headlines bemoaning the cost of and delay in the Jubilee Line extension. There was a particular palaver surrounding the new Westminster interchange, no doubt inspired by it being in parliament's back yard and the fact it was the last of the new stations to open to the public (22nd December 1999).

But it was worth the wait, for Westminster station turned out to be an absolutely awe-inspiring creation. It is without doubt one of the best stations on the entire network. Every time I enter it my breath is taken away. The scale, the design, the sheer ambition: it's incredible.

Its construction was a feat of marvel itself. Each of the new stations on the extension was meant to be an architectural wonder, and was contracted out to different designers. Those responsible for Westminster, Michael Hopkins & Partners, began by digging a giant 39-metre hole underneath the existing station to house all the escalators, lifts and platforms - the deepest-ever excavation in central London.

Then they faced the difficulty of constructing the station around the Circle and District line tracks, which had to be kept in operation throughout. To fit in with the design, these tracks had to be lowered by 300 millimetres - something achieved a handful of millimetres at a time during the few hours each night that the Underground was closed.

At the same time, the towering Portcullis House directly above the station was being built. For a few years that patch of ground by Westminster Bridge and opposite the Palace of Westminster was a shocking eyesore - but, again, it was all worth it.

The station's design won a 2001 Royal Institute of British Architects award, and anyone with unblinkered eyes will realise why. Massive concrete beams and columns criss-cross the interior, rising up and below stainless steel walkways, staircases and elevators. It feels like you're walking on the set of a futuristic TV show, but one made in the 1960s; in other words, an idealisation of the 21st century from a 20th century viewpoint. Utter genius.

From here on things can only be something of an anti-climax. The interchange at Waterloo, which opened on 24th September 24 1999, is notable only for its rather neat moving walkway helping to shorten the massive distance between the Jubilee and Bakerloo/Northern line platforms. Otherwise the gleaming silver-panelling and metallic walkways are kind of overshadowed by the sprawling, confusing layout. There's no trace of any of this, ironically, above ground:

You get a complete change from classical to modern when you reach Southwark, which opened on 20th November 1999, and which is currently the newest station on the whole network.

As mentioned above, it suffers from not really having a point to its existence, but makes up for it by virtue of its compact yet striking layout. Designed by Richard MacCormac of MacCormac Jamieson Prichard, it's a maze-like structure weaving in and out of the Victorian railway viaduct carrying trains from Waterloo East and Charing Cross railway station across the Thames.

As such Southwark station boasts not one but two concourses at different levels. The first has the inspired touch of a glass roof allowing natural light to penetrate right down into its heart. There's also a superfluous yet stunning glass wall 40 metres long, consisting of 660 specially cut pieces of blue glass, designed by the artist Alexander Beleschenko.

Then you have to go down escalators to reach the platform-level concourse, itself on two levels, with features like unpolished steel panels and metal beacons - apparently, according to MacCormac, inspired by the designs of the 19th century Prussian architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel.

Suffice to say during rush hour there's barely time to notice let alone appreciate any of this.

Finally, on this leg, to London Bridge, the Jubilee Line part of which opened 7th October 1999.

Once again, major reconstruction work was needed to incorporate the new line and, once again, much congestion of the surrounding streets was the result. The volume of passengers now using the Jubilee as a means of leaving this part of London, however, makes you wonder what conditions were like before the line passed this way.

Oh, and apparently during excavations to create the new booking hall, numerous Roman remains were found. Some of these are supposed to be on display somewhere in the station. I've never seen them. Perhaps that's because I'm always too distracted by all those food stalls offering fresh salads and pastries. The commuters' menace, I tells you!

01 August, 2007

Jubilee Line: Willesden Green - Baker Street

South of Willesden Green there are still a few stations above ground before the Jubilee Line dives into darkness, and all of them - like Dollis Hill, Neasden and Wembley Park before - have twin sets of tracks running through.

On the outside, not served by platforms, are those used by battered, dirty Metropolitan Line trains operating what is dubiously described as a "fast" service to Finchley Road.

On the inside scuttle the smaller Jubilee Line trains with their purring engines and well-scrubbed carriages. All the stations are pretty close together, though, especially West Hampstead and Finchley Road. On the day I did this part of the journey it was actually quicker to walk between both stations given how, for some reason, the frequency of trains had suddenly slowed to one every 10 minutes.

Anyway, all the way down to Baker Street you're passing along the route, if not necessarily the same tracks, as that first etched by the Metropolitan Line in the 1870s, which then became the Bakerloo in 1939, and which ended up the Jubilee in 1979.

There's little to see of this pensionable heritage nowadays, thanks both to refurbishment and expediency. Kilburn, for instance, got completely rebuilt after the Second World War, in the process having its name contracted from Kilburn and Brondesbury.

It's somewhat overshadowed by the A5 passing overhead, which means that when you leave the station you kind of feel you haven't really emerged into daylight - despite having travelled in it to and from the station.

West Hampstead is a far more appealing prospect, lurking discreetly on a bridge above the line itself. As Laura pointed out in her comments on the last blog, some thoughtful renovation has been going on. Not that I'd bet most people using the station have noticed, but, like a local library or Antiques Roadshow, it's reassuring to know it's there.

Finchley Road has one of the best interchanges on the whole Underground. You can step off a Jubilee Line carriage and walk three paces - at most - to climb aboard a Metropolitan Line train. As such the station has a sort of compact, bustling feel a bit like a small ferry terminal or airport; the fact it's right on the edge of the first tunnel on the Jubilee Line compounds the air of departure and anticipation.

If you're heading south it's the last place to gasp a few breaths of fresh air before plunging underground. Equally when you're heading the north on an especially crowded and stuffy train, arriving at Finchley Road can, if you're feeling suitably emotional, feel akin to reaching the promised land. Albeit with fusty shopping arcades at the exit and a squawking dual carriageway alongside.

Finchley Road is where the Jubilee Line waves goodbye to its true Metropolitan ancestry. In the 1930s, to ease congestion on the line, a second set of tunnels were dug; but unlike the existing, just-below-the-surface ones (or 'cut and cover' tunnels to give them their official name, because they were cut into the ground then covered up), these were bored deep.

Hence the stations between here and Baker Street - Swiss Cottage and St John's Wood - lie a long way under the earth, and a long way from the original Metropolitan tracks. When the new route was opened in 1939, so were the two new stations, and the whole line all the way up to Stanmore became part of the Bakerloo.

At the same time, two old stations closed: Lord's and Marlborough Road, which I'll talk more about when covering the Metropolitan Line. Their de facto replacements have, I'd argue, two of the most evocative names on the whole network. Swiss Cottage and St John's Wood have also had much of their 1930s design restored or enhanced, notably those magical escalator uplighters which I last saw on the Morden branch of the Northern Line.

Outside Swiss Cottage there's this curious brick tower, the only element of the station that's above ground:

St John's Wood is more substantial and memorable: a sleek circular building that's retained - or recovered - much of its original elegance, despite the ugly block of flats above. I waited ages to take this photo because I wanted to get people in it; I love the way the woman appears oblivious to what looks like a deliberately exuberant pose.

The station itself was originally going to be called Acacia Road, or simply Acacia, thanks to being on the corner of the eponymous street. Granted it would have made for something even more evocative than St John's Wood, but then you wouldn't have been able to apply the latterday ubiquitous rule of the station being the only one on the Underground not to contain any letters in the word MACKEREL.

Finally to Baker Street, one of the stations on the very first underground line, indeed one of the stations on the very first underground line in the whole world, opened in 1863.

With ten different platforms it's the most sprawling station on the network. The story of its development belongs more to the story of the development of its long-forgotten parent, the Metropolitan Railway. Rising above the entrance, however, you can still see the essence of that company's breathless ambition and extraordinary imagination in the shape of Chiltern Court, designed by Charles Clark, opened by the Metropolitan in 1929, and originally consisting of half a million square feet of shops and luxury flats, some of which were home to, at one time, the likes of Arnold Bennett and HG Wells.

It's also the point at which the Jubilee Line bids farewell to the old, and plunges unblinking into the new.