Sunday, 1 April 2012

Trainspotting:Thameslink from West Hampstead to Blackfriars for Bankside and Tate Modern

Update: 6/6/2012
Being more mobile, I am now allowed to sit down on the London Overground and so made a trip to Richmond using this line from West Hampstead Overground station. 

Going through the ticket gates, turn left for Richmond, Clapham Junction and Willesden Junction.  Turn right for Stratford and for other connections to Barking via Gospel Oak or the West Croydon and East London lines changing at Canonbury. In both cases there are two sets of steps, 14 and 15, to negotiate. 

The thin platforms have tactile markings roughly half the width and there are obstacles such as benches (with passengers’ outstretched legs, though they have always been considerate and pulled them in when I have approached!) and assorted railway platform fittings. 

Stratford bound train approaching West Hampstead Overground - stand back!

There is quite a gap between the platform and the carriages and some nifty cane work is required. 

Platform 2 West Hamsptead Overground station with train - mind the gap!

If unfamiliar with a station you should ask for assistance. This is often offered if you are spotted by the staff and the train conductor will answer any questions. I noticed that they give stations and the running status of the connecting Underground services.  Announcements in train are audible and clear and the platform announcements have been much improved.

*** end of update

Update: 20/5/2012

Some pictures were taken on Sunday 13th May, 2012 which show the stations in West Hampstead.  On that afternoon there was a big football match and the area around West End Lane was relatively quiet.  The pictures were taken of the station areas including some of the platforms on the underground and the layout of the Thameslink station showing recent developments. 

For the sake of railway enthusiasts, I arranged for a picture to be taken of the Thameslink / Midland lines going towards St Pancras with a view of the London Overground crossing the railway bridge.  The new wall with its shade of green tiles can be seen and indeed touched. 

There is also a shot of me handling a touch screen on one of the ticket machines outside West Hampstead Thamseslink station.  On the day in question, the two ticket offices were closed.

*** end of update

My reduced mobility due to my left hip problem has meant that I have had to avoid certain travel routes which I had carefully learned over the years. Visually impaired people often have preferred ways of getting about, not obvious to the sighted community.  We develop favourite crossing points, favourite exits from train stations and usually pay more attention to our surroundings using sound. 

Currently I can manage to climb the odd stair but descending stairs with a crutch and cane is frightening as well as hazardous.  Walking too far also is painful, so when Stephen offered to take me to Tate Modern I thought we would have to pick up a minicab from Southwark Underground station on the Jubilee line.

Stephen and I made arrangements to meet and get to Tate Modern.  On the day of the visit (22nd March 2012) I learned, through Twitter (@ThamesClippers), that  there had been a problem on the Jubilee Line, so I arranged with Stephen to meet at West Hampstead Underground and we would try out the new West Hampstead Thameslink station and the new exits at Blackfriars Bridge on the South Bank.

West Hampstead has three stations. Going in a northerly direction up West End Lane one comes across West Hampstead Underground which is on the Jubilee line, though trainspotters will know that the Metropolitan Line passes through non-stop.  What is not well known is that the Chiltern Line from Marylebone to Aylesbury and Birmingham also passes through the station.

West Hampstead underground station from footbridge showing Metropolitan and Chiltern lines
©Prof Whitestick

Further up on West End Lane's left side is West Hampstead Overground station.  The Overground has connections to Clapham, Richmond, Watford, Stratford and South London via the East London Line connecting at Canonbury or Highbury & Islington. (I prefer Canonbury)
Entrance to West Hampstead Underground Station
©Prof Whitestick
West Hampstead Overground station
©Prof Whitestick

There is now a significant amount of transfer between the 2 stations at West Hampstead.  The pavements (sidewalks) on both sides of the road have clutter though I tend to cross at a controlled pedestrian crossing outside the Overground Station. If it is not working then other passengers usually assist.  Staying on the left side of West End Lane it is possible to cross over Iverson Road at a Costa Coffee placed on the corner and the new West Hampstead Thameslink station can be noted.
West Hampstead Thameslink Iverson Rd tiled wall -green shades
©Prof Whitestick

The new wall on Iverson Road in NW6 from West End Lane to the station is made of ceramic tiles placed at corners to prevent fly posting.  The shade of green ranges from the shades and tones which we had described to us at the Royal Academy and in the Corot Landscape at the National Gallery.  The station was opened recently and I had already had a preview of the new facilities. 

Visually impaired person using touch screen
©Prof Whitestick
This offers a new footbridge with lift (elevator) access to the platforms.  The new footbridge is covered though open to the elements.  Although the walk surface is of the cheese grater non slip type, being exposed it could be prone to icing. The lifts have waist height controls and with only two options are easy to use. (I had a guided and escorted tour on request.)

Midland Railway northbound and showing new West Hampstead Thameslink footbridge and station
©Prof Whitestick

Midland Railway towards St Pancras
©Prof Whitestick

We got on a southbound train at Platform 1 and got off at Blackfriars. Blackfriars station is really a bridge over the Thames and platforms have been extended to provide a new exit and station on the South Bank convenient for Bankside.  If you continue along the platform there is a lift to take you down to the walkway level on the South Bank. 

There is a lot of construction work.  Turning to the left and walking along the River Thames brings you to Bankside and the two entrances to Tate Modern. Either down a ramp into the Turbine Hall or directly into the gallery areas on level 2. 

On the return we noted that the lift only gave access to the southbound tracks. An elevator is under construction/repair on the northbound side. On going northbound we had to climb the stairs.

Some of the Thameslink train formations are only 4 coaches and many of the trains approach the 2 tracks through Central London with short notice time changes.  If you are travelling with a sighted passenger, ask them to notice how many coaches are mentioned for your destination.  As we were returning to West Hampstead a fellow passenger told us that the next stopping train for West Hampstead had only four coaches and that we would have to walk along the platform. 

From experience I would get on any train and change at City Thameslink where there is a staffed information point on the platform. If  you are on your own the staff are helpful, though if you are with a sighted friend it may be an idea to listen for information about coach formation.

West Hampstead is served with Buses numbers C11, 139 and 328. There was a grand plan to realign all the rail tracks and build a single station with even a Heathrow Airport link.  West Hampstead is served with links to Gatwick and Luton Airports from the Thameslink station.