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.


Jon said...

Actually, tourists flood into Canary Wharf all the time, all taking exactly the same pictures of One Canada Sqaure, the Reuters clocks and for some strange reason, the West India Quay Marriott.

Greg Wesson said...

I love the picture from Canary Wharf, the three guys on the escalators, wearing what appears to be identical suits, their heads blurry, almost like they are people without identities. Awesome.

I can say that while I live here now, I did visit Canary Wharf as a tourist. But that is because I am Canadian. Olympia and York, the prime developer was a Canadian company, and we all watched with interest over in Canada at the unfolding soap opera that was the development of the docklands.