August 25th, 2005

3/274 Chesham (on time)

Dawn rises softly across London. It takes 4 minutes to pass from Upminster to Amersham; a journey that it makes every day without fail, to schedule, and about 22 times faster than TfL are willing to promise.

As it passes over the metropolis it sees little out of the ordinary until, just before it reaches it's destination, it passes over a train departing Chesham Underground station. Usually a sleepy suburb spur, Chesham platform is usually adorned by a couple of hard-working commuters at this time in the morning, but today there were briefly about 4 score intruders; a motley band of adventurers on the unusual mission to visit 274 tube stations during the course of one working day.

Chesham is their third station; they started at Amersham at 5:28am and traveled here via Chalfont and Latimer. They had been standing on the station for almost 10 minutes now and have just reboard the train to resume their journey towards Central London.

</a></b></a>emperor and I are part of this mad venture. I'll be blogging our progress at irregular intervals whilst we are above ground.

If it wasn't for the fact that it's horribly early in the morning and we aren't awake yet, Chesham would probably be the most irritating station on the map; as it is I place Shoreditch and Mill Hill East ahead of it, and Kensington (Olympia) just behind. The line-section between Chalfont and Latimer and Chesham takes 8 minutes to travel, making it the longest such segment on the map; and we have to travel it in both ways. Fortunately early trains tend to run to schedule, so we don't have to wait 20 minutes for a train up here.

We started with last minute directions from Geoff, and a group photo, then all piled on to the first tube of the morning for a four minute stretch to C&L, where we were probably the most exciting thing all morning! Chesham was predictably boring.
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11/274 Before North Harrow (On Time)

We interrupt our journey from Watford at North Harrow and walk to West Harrow, as this is a lot faster than turning around at Harrow-On-The-Hill or (much later) Rayner's Lane and then turning around again to carry on in our original direction.

One group of people is expected to stay on the train here and will actually do the turning around at Harrow-On-The-Hill thing, but they plan to carry on and head into town via the Piccadilly Line. It's an interesting approach.

If we walk fairly briskly then we might get to West Harrow in time for the train before the one that I've planned, which will give us a 7 minute leeway we can use up later on.

We've made BBC News!

The 06:21 was 5 minutes late out of Moor Park, which meant we left there 5 mins ahead of schedule, and got asked to be quiet whilst we were on the platform, despite Moor Park being in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately we lost the extra time as the southbound train left just as we arrived at Watford.
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    cheerful cheerful
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16/274 Northwick Park (On time)

Barely have we boarded a train at West Harrow than we're getting off it again at Preston Road. We double back here so that we can walk from Northwick Park to Kenton. It's also possible to walk from Preston Road to South Kenton, but the other is shorter which has to be a good thing.

We then proceed North one stop, and turn around at Harrow & Wealdstone, joining our fourth train of slightly surprised commuters of the day, heading into London. It'll be over thirty minutes before I expect any of us to alight this train, so we get a bit of a rest for a while. I expect most people to change at Padington (for the Hammersmith and City), Baker Street (for any number of possibilities) or south of the river (for the Jubilee or Northern lines), but just to be awkward we are going to alight at Regent's Park.

Regent's Park is 4-5 minutes brisk walk from Great Portland Street, and one minute closer to Baker Street than GPS, thus it takes 5-x minutes more to go this way than to change at Baker Street, where x is the length of time taken to change there. Now, Baker Street at 8:20am is likely to be rather busy, also we want either a Circle or Metropolitan Eastbound train, which leave from different platforms and it's very easy to miss one if you look the wrong way first. Since the service frequency long this section of line is about one train every other minute I don't expect to miss more than one train by doing this, possibly none.

In addition we then have Regent's Park under our belt, which will be very usefil if we go to plan B later on in the day. (Plan A unfortunately has us passing through it again later).

West Harrow was "Organised Chaos" in the words of the driver!
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    busy busy
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45/274 Shoreditch (12 mins late)

This is one of the busiest bits of the route. Shoreditch station is only open during the morning peak and (slightly longer during) the evening peak. Also, we have to pick off Stepney Green here as well (it's fairly traditional to get Aldgate East as part of doing this end of the Circle anyway). So, we've pulled into Aldgate (on the Metropolitan Line train we caught at Great Portland Street), and then done the rush from there to Aldgate East (which sane people never have to do).

Barely have we sat down on our train than we're jumping up again to change onto the East London Line to collect Shoreditch. Fortunately Shoreditch is one of three termini with only one platform so we can sit on the train whilst the driver has a fag and walks to the other end of the train to head south (driving trains on the ELL must be one of the most boring jobs ever), then we pull back into Whitechapel again about 7 minutes after we left and hoist ourselves back up to the SSL platforms for another brief jaunt towards Upminster only to get of the train again at Stepney Green, turn around and head back into town. What a lot of faff.

We had to wait 5 mins for any train at Great Portland Street, and that one wasn't going to Barking, so we ended up 10 mins late at Aldgate, and 12 now.

62/274 Hammersmith (H&C) (16 mins late)

Having traveled across the whole of the southern part of the Circle, we arrive at Earl's Court for the first time of the day, we'll be back here twice again. This time we're trying to get to Kensington (Olympia). Now, I thought ELL drivers were likely to get bored, well the Olympia drivers have an even worse time – two trains shuttle back and forth between High Street Kensington and Olympia, providing four services to Olympia every hour. Inconveniently they aren't spaced out at 15 minute intervals (for reasons relating to other train movements at Earl's Court) and to make things worse if there are a shortage of District Line drivers when the Morning Peak ends (at about 10am) then they take one of the trains off this route. For this reason we're getting here early, and the Plan says that there should be a train here about 3 minutes after we arrive.

After we've got to Olympia we will walk to Hammersmith – probably the longest walk we'll do all day. Hammersmith, like Edgware Road, Paddington and Shepherd's Bush, has two seperate stations on different lines, and they're all on this next segment which ends at Edgware Road.

Being 9 minutes late at Westminter, we popped out for the toilets, getting to Earl's Court in time for the subsequent Olympia train. We were lucky enough to get a bus from Olympia to Hammersmith, but we're still 16 mins late leaving Hammersmith.
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69/274 Paddington (H&C) (16 mins late)

We're now approaching Edgware Road. Described by Geoff as "the 'Bermuda Triangle' of the tube system", the naïve user of the tube system would expect Edgware Road to be quite simple. At first glance it consists of two island platforms serving four tracks – the two outside tracks forming part of the Circle and Hammersmith and City routes and the inside tracks forming part of the District.

If this was actually true then the biggest problem would be determining which District train was leaving next, but unfortunately operational realities tend to intervene and trains occasionally get put whereever there is space. We're scheduled to arrive just after the Morning Peak, so some degree of chaos is likely. To add to the confusion, all three lines here use C-stock trains (the highly-recognisable D-stock as used elsewhere on the District isn't permitted north of High Street Kensington) so there is no easy visual identification of the trains.

From personal experience it's far too easy to decide that the train you want is on the other platform, just miss it, run back to your starting platform and almost miss the train on that side too. Lets hope we avoid that.

This is going to be the only leg of our journey where we take a train from one terminus to another – along the "Wimbleware" branch of the District line.
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    okay okay
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81/274 Wimbledon (20 minutes late)

Yay, back into the open spaces again! Well, not really. Wimbledon is a rather menacing looking station to which my usual exposure is trains from Leatherhead to Vauxhall, and where I look at the District Line passengers and think "I'm going to be passing through Victoria long before they are!". Unfortunately I'm gettining my come-uppances now, as I'm the District Line passenger.

The other unfortunate feature of this branch of the District Line is that it floods during wet weather, which causes knock-on delays across the entire SSL network.

On the plus side, Wimbledon is also a terminus for Croydon Tramlink which is how we're going to get to Morden. After Morden we vanish underground for upwards of 90 minutes, so you won't hear anything else from us for a while.
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107/274 New Cross (On Time!)

Having completed the mess that are the southern tube lines, we change at the nice new Canada Water station back on the the ELL, of which we got Shoreditch and Whitechapel earlier. Assuming everything goes to plan we have about 10 minutes to walk between New Cross Gate and New Cross at the bottom end of the line, and should just about have enough time to turn around at Shadwell between trains (if we miss the southbound train then we have a timetabled 6 minute wait, but I don't trust this line that much). Then we return to Canada Water through the Brunel tunnel and carry on up the Jubilee Line.

The tunnel was constructed originally as a foot tunnel by (among other people) Marc and Isembard Kingdom Brunel, however access was only via spiral staircases. Some years later a railway was constructed through the tunnel, which eventually became the East London Line. Plans are currently underway to extend the ELL to the North and South and eventually as part of those plans it will be returned to mainline rail operation and we won't have to worry about it when trying to do the Tube Challenge.

We've picked up all of our mising time on the northern, victoria, bakerloo and jubilee lines and are now back on course!
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    happy happy
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133/274 Epping (On Time)

So, we've done the Hainhault loop, gone up to Epping, and turned around. We're now ahead of schedule, thanks to delays west of Stratfordd in our favour, but we'll end up back on the schedule 'cos we've had to wait at Epping.

Returning along the central line we have a problem to consider. My route says that the next place we go is Walthamstow Central (gateway to the Victoria Line), the problem is getting there.

There are bus services from Leyton and Leytonstone, but neither of them are frequent enough that I'd want to rely on them, which leaves train services. As you can see from the inset Walthamstow is on two mainline services.

The cyan service runs from Liverpool Street to Chingford every 15 minutes, but Liverpool Street is quite a long way out of our way.

The gold service, OTOH, runs from Barking to Gospel Oak via Leytonstone High Road, but there's a 500m walk at either end and it only runs every 30 minutes.

As the timing works out, we probably want to get the gold service if we can definitely catch it, but not wait more than about 5 minutes at Leytonstone High Road station, otherwise we want to try and get the Liverpool Street service.
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    on time
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135/274 Outside Walthamstow Central (a couple of minutes late)

Shortly we'll vanish into the underground at Walthamstow Central. The Victoria line is unusual in two ways; firstly it's entirely underground (the Waterloo and City is also entirely underground, but it doesn't really count -- also it has external access by means of a hole in the ground and cranes at the Waterloo end), and secondly every station except one (Pimlico) is an interchange with existing tube or rail services.

We've already taken advantage of this at Walthamstow, but we're also going to do so at Highbury and Islington where we'll take a short-cut through to Old Street via WAGN's Moorgate service. This was originally a short rail service from Finsbury Park to Moorgate. It became part of the Northern Line (despite sharing no track with it) on rail nationalisation and was an integral part of the Northern Heights plan. In the 1970s it was handed over to British Rail, and now commuter trains run from Hartford North and Letchfield through to Moorgate along it.

Critically as far as we're concerned there is one train every 10 minutes during the day, with a "cross platform" connection at Highbury and Islington. At Old Street we'll change to the Northern Line and head towards Edgware (Plan A) or Mill Hill East (Plan B).
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156/274 Stanmore (16 minutes late)

We lost 30 minutes on the way to Walthamstow, thanks to an evacuated signalbox at Liverpool Street and just missing a train, but we picked 14 of them back up again getting a bus from Edgware to Canon's Park. The bus stalled just outside the station, and only let us out just as our northbound train passed overhead. Fortunately emperor ran up the stairs and held the doors open for me.
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    determined determined
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185/274 Mill Hill East (15-25 mins late?)

The second-most irritating station of the day, Mill Hill East is a strange spur caused by the collapse of the Northern Heights development plan during the post-war years. If that plan had been completed then this spur would in fact be the main route along this branch, connecting with the other branch at Edgware and continuing beyond. As it is the High Barnet spur is now the major destination for this branch.

In practice this means that to be able to tick Mill Hill East off our list we have to wait for one of the every 10 minutes trains, and then wait on a dreary one-platform station until the train returns to Finchley Central again (whereupon we can get on a High Barnet train to complete the Northern Line).

We had a 12 minute wait for the train at Finchley Central, but did run into another team who are more like 100 mins late. Did give us the chance for a toilet break at FC though.
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    tired tired
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204/274 Earl's Court (20 mins late)

We had a very good bus connection from High Barnet to Cockfosters, but we lost time gain at Arnos Grove, so we are now planning on missing the 9 stations of the Heathrow-spur.

Heathrow is supposed to look like this on the map. But at the moment T4 is closed so they can build the track for T5, so this becomes another of those "in-and-out" termini for us.

This is what Heathrow is going to look like on the map (it will still be a one-way loop, even though that's not shown on this section), and it's going to present a new challenge when it happens – I guess we'll have to wait to see if anyone comes up with a an imaginative route around the stations.
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    irritated irritated
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