Posted in Railways on Saturday 3rd January 2009 at 9:52pm

The first trip of the new year followed a time-worn pattern. Up early and onto the first train of the day in freezing conditions. After a very chilly change of trains in Weston, settled into a comfortable and thankfully warm first class carriage and headed for London. It seemed to stay dark for most of the journey, with a little crack of sunlight appearing somewhere around Reading. Strangely, we arrived at Paddington in perfect cold and bright weather. The plan was to cover the entire Docklands Light Railway system in it's current form, then to head west where some interesting diversions were taking place. After a short run on the Circle Line to Monument, we popped up in the heart of the City. Elected leader, I struck out along King William Street, locating the lift at Bank station installed when the DLR opened to ensure the railway was accessible, but which was now in a fairly grubby state. I'd never used this lift, despite passing it many times. Summoned the lift and waited for what seemed like an age, before it took us a surprisingly short distance underground to a landing which opened into a narrow tunnel with an Oyster reader. We touched-in and proceeded along the tunnel, arriving unexpectedly at a bank of lifts close to the ticket hall. Down again, much deeper this time, and onto the Northern Line platforms. Still leading, partly by instinct and partly due to a fervent wish not to encounter the terrifying walk down narrow stairs between banks of steep escalators I'd endured here once before. We finally came upon the DLR platforms, exiting the labyrinth at the other end of hall from the very escalators I'd been trying to avoid.

With some relief, I boarded a King George V bound DLR train, and we were soon away on the first leg of the trip, in deep tunnel at first then ascending steeply out into the open near Royal Mint Street with the currently closed Tower Gateway terminus beside us. The weather was fine and it was great to be out, blowing away the dust of the festive season and scudding high above East London landmarks. St George-in-the-East at Shadwell, St Anne's at Limehouse - a Hawksmoor driven ride east on one of Iain Sinclair's "trains with no driver". When possible, we childishly scurried to occupy the front seats for the full rollercoaster ride experience. After Poplar I was on uncharted territory. The broad, empty plains of still, shining water - once docks, now vacant sites for uncertain future development were impressive in scale, and the few cranes - either preserved or abandoned - seemed poignant in their quiet and isolation. The glint of the buildings in nearby Canary Wharf, and the stark white glare of the O2 dome made it hard to look at the scenes to the south. Once past City Airport the crowds on board thinned and by King George V we were among very few remaining passengers. Had a good look at the soon-to-be-opened tunnel under the Thames to Woolwich and then wandered out to the local shops, realising we were just a stone's throw from the abandoned line to North Woolwich, before heading back to Canning Town for the next leg. The service from here to Beckton was operating as a shuttle as Tower Gateway (its usual origin) was closed, and we made the short trip along the long straight section of track sunk into the median of the A1020 before curving back on ourselves and reaching the end of the line on a former rail alignment at Beckton. Struck again by the quiet and almost eerie order of these recently developed suburbs.

Via another change at Canning Town and a fruitless attempt to convince a tourist that this wasn't 'Camden Town' at all, we found our way back to Westferry as catching a Lewisham bound service here meant covering a curve we would otherwise miss. Something of a fight with the Oyster reader here which in hindsight appears to relate to the use of the obviously rogue one we encountered mysteriously lurking in the passage at Bank, which despite validating correctly seems to have been erased from my account completely. We then plunged under the Thames for the twisting tunnel ride, soon arriving in Lewisham. Time for much needed comfort breaks and a strong coffee before setting off for Stratford and the last leg of our DLR excursion via the former rail alignment through Bow, curving alongside the Great Eastern line before arriving at the strangely colourful terminus at Stratford.

A very short stay here as we battled valiantly with another Oyster reader before scurrying aboard a waiting North London Line service to head for Willesden Junction. The diversions in West London had led to some unusual routings and bits of track being covered, and this was our next target. The line was as busy as ever, and we didn't manage a seat at all before arriving at the High Level station at Willesden for the short wait for a shuttle service to Kensington Olympia which was operating in the absence of the usual services to Clapham Junction. The replacement train was surprisingly well loaded, and was soon despatched to make the short trip to Olympia, arriving in it's usual platform, from where it soon set off back to Willesden.

313113 awaits it's wrong-line departure for Willesden Junction
313113 awaits it's wrong-line departure for Willesden Junction

66092 passes Kensington Olympia
66092 passes Kensington Olympia

We had a brief chance now to explore Kensington Olympia, a station more passed-through than visited for me. The remains of the former Motorail platforms are now a car park, but the ticket office retains some of its 1970s charm despite being very quiet indeed these days. The footbridge bears the remains of a huge painted BR era InterCity branding, now sadly half obliterated. Rebooked for East Croydon, noting the train was direct from West Brompton to Streatham Common - a good sign that our route was going to be very different to usual. Whilst we waited, we were surprised to see 66092 accelerating through the station, having seen it pass under Willesden on the West Coast Mainline shortly before. 377209 arrived from Watford Junction and we were soon away again, with newly published Southern & TFL Quail at the ready. We set off through West Brompton and over the river, passing through what appears to be the start of work on Imperial Wharf - a station which has appeared in timetables for years despite not existing! At Latchmere Junction we made our way under the knot of lines at the east end of Clapham Junction before curving up and passing under more lines, before regaining more familiar passenger lines at Factory Junction. We then passed through Wandsworth Road on the Atlantic Lines until reaching Shepherds Lane Junction, where we crossed to the Chatham Lines, passing through Brixton, Herne Hill and Tulse Hill before regaining the trains usual route and stopping pattern as to East Croydon. Diversion duly followed, we decided to head homeward via Croydon Tramlink to Wimbledon and the District Line instead of waiting for the unit to work back. Coincidentally we arrived on the District at West Brompton just at the same time as the unit we'd used was heading back. Back to Paddington, suitably pleased with our various hauls of new and interesting track and diversions.

Today provided a busy and interesting start to the year with lots of London seen in fine winter weather, which is somehow just the way it should be seen. By no means high mileage or pioneering stuff, but plenty of variety in scenery, modes of transit and locations. Lets hope for more of these days during 2009.

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I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.

I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.

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