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Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Fighting with Richmond Station

Richmond Station is a bit stupid. Now don't get me wrong I love the place, but I feel that it is where all the problems of interchange stations come to the fore in a microcosm. Where at Waterloo the missing of trains, food arrangements and general the general scuffle of commuters are well spaced apart and not much of a nuisance, at Richmond the same problems are compacted within very limited area, which makes the affair somewhat of a trial.

I think I'll start with a brief history of the stations, as this sets my complaints about it in context, please use the map that I made shows when everything was built. The Richmond and West End Railway (Clapham Junction-Richmond) opened the first terminus on 27th July 1846. When the line was extended to Windsor by the Windsor, Staines and South Western Railway this company opened a new through station in August 1848. Soon after their opening both companies were taken over by their main backers, the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR). The old terminus station was used as Richmond's goods station until 1936. On the 1st January 1869 the L&SWR connected the West London Joint Railway's station at Addison Road (now Kensington Olympia) with Richmond, and to accommodate the extra trains the company built a new northern terminal station. This was how the station remained until 1937 until the Southern Railway rebuilt the main station buildings, decommissioned the 1848 through station and moved the through platforms to align with the terminal ones. Currently South West Trains operate the main line through services and Transport for London operate the District Line and London Overground services from the terminal station. Unless you want to get into the nitty gritty of the history of the station (and lets face it that is a wild prospect), I think that this is all that will be required for what follows.

The first thing about Richmond is that from any vantage point from within a train, the movements of all services can be observed. This creates a situation were making a connection between the terminus and through stations is like some weird psychological torture, a device formulated by past railway builders to spite the railway traveller. The journeys that I take through the station usually means either leaving the main line services and getting onto the trains that run out of the terminal station (all of which run to my usual destination of Kew Gardens). I also do the return journey. The former journey is always fine, I suppose, as missing a connection isn't an issue. There is usually another train to Kew within 5 minutes. It is the return journey that is the nightmare, something that makes me want to kneel down on the station concourse and beat my fists against the ticket machine. In this journey I will have to catch a particular main line train, at a particular time, usually at either 29 or 59 past the hour. So I travel along in the Overground or Underground train, winding its way through lovely Kew, passing the temple of commerce, Homebase, and I marvel at the skips and general decoration of the line side. The time is 6.21, the train takes 3 minutes, and I believe, foolishly, that my interchange will be a smooth transaction. The train trundles into the approach to Richmond and then STOPS! This is the terror of which I write, a nightmare of limitless proportions, of a clock that is my enemy. 6.24 passes, and no movement. 6.25, 6.26, 6.27, and then like a great instrument of torment the train home on the main line sweeps by on my left hand side. Plastered up against the window, like a 6 ft tree frog, I realise that I'll now be sitting in the Puccinos for half an hour, cursing some railway engineer for the torment he has inflicted. At least at Waterloo the train you miss doesn't go right past you....

So once the journey is completed, there is the second great hazard of Richmond station, a plague at rush hour that in itself is a trial of epic proportions...that includes a balancing element. I of course mean the rush to the barrier. I'm not certain how many of you know Richmond station's layout, however at the end of the terminal station, on the lower level, are the ticket barriers. Therefore getting off the train at rush hour is like those nature documentaries where you see ants going along a branch in either direction. For one thing waiting at the station are those people who are going to be getting on the train when you get off. Now most people observe the unwritten rule that you let people off the train before you get on. I say most people, because I have noticed a increasing propensity for these travel hawks to attempt to get on the train even when crowded, just as the doors open. I know what this is about; its about them desperately trying to get one of those 8 'single' seats on District Line trains. You know the ones, the ones by the window. Once off the train, you then face a fight to the barriers against commuters going one way, and slow moving people, walking in your direction, going the other. What's more this merry dance is all played out on the narrow platform of the terminal station, forcing most people, usually including me, to the edge. I walk along it at this point, looking down at it like some abyss (and the thought of electricity down't make me wild either). At the current time I have never seen anyone fall off the side, but I am sure it has happened. Some poor sod, casually going about his business, takes one wrong move and falls arse-over-tip onto the track below. Perhaps it was when a traveller lost his rag with someone trying to get on a train...and pushed him, I wouldn't put it past a rushed commuter. Once past this peril, like water through a nozzle, 200 or 300 people, are forced through 4 ticket barriers, that are wholly inadequate and always leave someone hard-done-by! There's is always one individual who feels that the person ahead pushed passed. Not once have experienced in this curfuffle a time when an evil look wasn't thrown, or a bad word wasn't said, and once or twice I have witnessed people come nearly coming to blows. At least at Waterloo there are plenty of ticket gates and you don't fall off the platform...

Lastly there is the positioning of the over-bridge. Now I like a good walk, and am a regular runner, however the positioning of the link between the through and terminal stations is in the most difficult places. Say the train, that I may or may not have missed, is coming into Platform 1, and I have to get to it from the terminal station, the only way is to go to the back of the station, through the pandemonium of the rush hour, and over the bridge. Again this is a case of visual psychological torture, with a physical element thrown in. I can see my connecting train all the way through, as I negotiate the people, some smell, some move slowly (not in itself a crime, but bloody irritating) and some think that the station is a good place to have a natter. “Excuse me” I ask as I move through the swathes. Once past the crowd for the barrier I run, like a whippet, through the station, all the while observing my chariot home on the opposite platform. Up the stairs I go, upwards and onwards, across the bridge, and then a sound so terrible as to make we weep, fills my ears. That, sadly, is the sound of a class 450 combined power handle being thrust forward, propelling the train onward. I slow to a walk down the steps, watching it gradually pull out on my left hand side, and consign myself to Puccinos...again.

Richmond Station is quite simply a badly laid out. Whose fault is this? Who is the master of my torments? Well I know I cursed engineers above, but in reality the blame should be placed on the development of the rail network. As any railway historian worth his salt will tell you, the British railway network was left to be formed without strong Government oversight or planning. Therefore many lines were built opportunistically, in an ad hoc fashion and in an adaptive manner. Richmond is the finest exemplar of how railway builders adapted stations over hundreds of years to their immediate requirements. So for example the over-bridge now is in exactly the same place as it was at the older station built in 1848, despite the through station moving. This places it at the back of the station and means it takes far longer to cross between the two stations than a closer footbridge would allow. Why couldn't there have been another footbridge at the other end of the platforms? Secondly when the northern station was to be built in 1863, Richmond town was built up. Thus the station had to be fitted into a smaller space than if where it had been built had been farmland. Thus the platforms on the northern station are too narrow for current demands. Better Government planning may have allowed for the station to be cited in a better place, or that more platforms could have been built. These are just a few of my concerns, however overall, what is true of Richmond is that it is still not one station, it is remains two, something it is still trying to come to terms with.

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