29 November, 2008

District Line: Kensington (Olympia) - Edgware Road

I confess I found this leg of the journey to feel more like a tidying-up exercise than anything more profound.

The District Line doesn't unfurl through west London in a particularly logical fashion. Although Earl's Court looks like an efficient and convenient interchange on the map, in reality it is neither. The five branches do not all share trains. You cannot, for instance, get to Kensington (Olympia) from anywhere else on the District Line without changing at Earl's Court onto a special 'one-stop' service. Unless you're coming from High Street Kensington, that is. You can only travel from High Street Kensington, via Earl's Court, to Kensington (Olympia). But you can travel to High Street Kensington, via Earl's Court, from EITHER Kensington (Olympia) or West Brompton.


Best to treat Earl's Court as a bit of an eccentricity; a textbook British fudge and a 'make do' kind of place. There's no use grumbling about the place. You could be grumbling for 20 minutes or so, waiting for your destination to be lit up on this laser display board:

These have undoubted novelty value, but they don't have any charm - unlike their predecessors, which were only recently replaced, and for no reason whatsoever.

At least these had a bit of personality and hence could keep you entertained while you waited, tentatively, anxiously, and in utter bewilderment, for the announcement of your connection. The new versions are soulless and exhaust all interest after 10 seconds.

The tracks to Olympia were opened in 1872. The line from Earl's Court up to Edgware dates from 1868 (to Paddington) and 1863 (to Edgware).

For a long time Kensington (Olympia) was associated in my mind with a dotted line. It was one of those stations on the Underground map reached only by a 'limited service'. As such it had an air of mystique and remoteness. The reality is a bit of a let down. There's no booking hall of any kind. You can only buy tickets from machines. You walk straight from the street onto the platform:

The one feature of interest is this half-removed British Rail signage:

It might not have much traffic from the Underground, but Olympia is still the route by which mainline services sneak round the centre of London, and is also on the Overground line between Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction. Older maps show the station as Addison Road; the name change came ahead of the 1948 Olympics.

Wikipedia has a few interesting observations. Before the Eurostar moved to St Pancras, its trains trundled through Olympia on their way from Waterloo International to the North Pole depot. If Waterloo had ever been closed in an emergency, Eurostar services would have terminated here; immigration facilities were installed for just such a purpose. Further back, Motorail services operated by British Rail used to terminate here, enabling folk to 'convey' their cars between London and many parts of the country. Why don't these futuristic car-trains exist anymore?

Still further back in time, the link to the Great Western mainline (at North Pole Junction, three miles to the north) meant that the station was designated an important role in the Cold War should nuclear attack appear imminent. The station would have been a mustering point for dozens of civil servants on their way to the giant underground bunker at Hawthorn, Wiltshire.

None of this answers the question: why does the District Line service to Olympia exist at all? The Overground services now run fairly frequently, harking back to the days when the line first opened as part of an 'Outer Circle'. The Underground service is an anachronism, albeit a delightful one.

The Metropolitan Railway built the tracks that the District uses between Earl's Court and Edgware Road, save for the stretch that connects it with the Circle Line. This was opened by the Metropolitan District Railway in 1871. Again, it doesn't appear immediately obvious why this bit of the present-day District Line exists. It duplicates the Circle Line...although you could argue the Circle Line is one massive duplication of the District and Metropolitan lines. Which it is.

Anyway, it does mean you can get onto the Circle Line without having to double back on yourself, i.e. travel eastwards to Gloucester Road, then westwards back round to High Street Kensington:

It's an impressive entrance, but nowadays the station itself is relegated to a supporting role in a rubbish shopping centre. I took this photo almost exactly one year ago, hence the Christmas decorations:

The District Line platforms at Notting Hill Gate...

...have the ambience of a police mortuary. Or what I'd imagine a police mortuary to be like. A forensic stillness coupled with an unspoken sadness.

Bayswater I always associate with George Smiley.

The station has been variously named Bayswater (Queen's Road) & Westbourne Grove, Bayswater (Queen's Road) and Bayswater (Queensway). Queensway itself, on the Central Line, seems two stations and one change away on the map. It is in fact a walk of two minutes.

Paddington is where you join, briefly, the oldest tracks on the entire Underground.

If you're travelling up on the District Line you arrive at what was originally called Praed Street, so named to distinguish it from Bishop's Road from where the first Underground trains set off for Farringdon in 1863. Now, of course, it's all part of one giant Paddingtorium, with street level entrances and exits all over the shop and a slightly crazed air about the place. Which is not helped by one of the interchanges, with the Hammersmith and City Line, being the entire other side of the mainline station.

Finally the District Line heaves itself into Edgware Road, where I've been before...

...and whereupon you can wait for up to 20 minutes for an onward connection on the Circle Line. *sigh*


Mr Thant said...

The "new" Earl's Court displays are temporary while the old ones were being refurbished. The old ones have since returned.

You seem to have missed the former Motorail building at Kensington Olympia, which has a ticket office and [closed] lounges for motorists.

Ian Jones said...

That must have been quick - I was only there a week ago and those modern ones were still in use!

mjw4849 said...

The old boards were briefly put back up and now seem to be out of service again. Apparently they've been 'restored' (where restored, read butchered) - with a horrible font used that makes them look terrible.

More info on District Dave's site here

With everything going on at Earl's Court, including the never-ending roof repairs, it's been a horrible station to visit for over a year now - at least when the roof was there (you know what I mean), it wasn't so dark and dingy as it is now. This pretty much goes for all stations on this 'section' of the line, with the exception of High St Ken and Notting Hill Gate are comparatively quite nice, especially NHG with the roof. Olympia and Edgware Road on the other hand, are absolute dumps - and as an added bonus are always 2 stations you have to wait ages at. I was at Edgware Road the other day and the poor staff just didn't have a clue where the next train was coming from/to - and that was during 'good' service! Not a well looked-after section of the tube...

You can't have much more left to cover now :(

yessir! said...

How far of a walk is it from Kensington Olympia to Earl's Court?