Branch Line Britain - celebrating Britain's minor railways

Others - west london line review 1

When I was a boy in the 1960s there were no passenger trains along the West London Line, apart from a few summer excursions from the north to Brighton which would sometimes stop in the central road at Kensington (Olympia) (but not to set down or pick up passengers); and a totally unadvertised service from Kensington (Olympia) to Clapham Junction.    World War Two had put paid to the original West London Line services in 1940, a Southern Railway steam service from Clapham Junction to Kensington (Addison Road) - as Olympia station then was -  a L.M.S. electric service from Earl's Court to Willesden Junction and a L.P.T.B. Metropolitan Line shuttle from Addison Road to Edgware Road via the Uxbridge Road/Latimer Road spur.

The LMS trains must have looked out of place in the District Line station at Earl's Court.   After the war, a shuttle service was reinstated along the course of the old LMS route from Earl's Court to Addison Road which was then renamed Olympia in deference to the exhibition hall alongside.   But this only ran at exhibition times until the 1980s when it became a regular service, working to and from High Street Kensington.

An unadvertised passenger service running  non-stop from Clapham Junction to Kensington (Olympia) for the benefit of post office workers at Kensington was also resumed in 1946 and remained steam-worked until 1967, London's last steam local service.

The rest of the West London Line was left with its freight and excursion trains for nearly 50 years until 1994 when a d.m.u. shuttle service was very belatedly reinstated working the whole line from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction, fully advertised and acting as a replacement for the unadvertised service between Clapham Junction and Kensington.   At first this called only at Kensington (Olympia) and was soon electrified with class 313 units and will soon have new units to coincide with the completion of the East London Line extension.

At Willesdern Junction, trains share the High Level platforms with the North London Richmond to Stratford route and have to run onto a short siding to reverse.   Although there are two bay platforms in the Low Level station (one disused), local trains cannot get to this across the main line tracks into and out of Euston.    Southern trains from Watford Junction to Brighton use these tracks to get to the West London  Line, not calling at Willesden Junction, joining the local route at Mitre Bridge junction.

From Willesden Junction, the local service to Ckapham Junction crosses the main line over the site of Willesden's main line platforms closed in 1962 and now demolished.    The train then swings left onto the erstwhile freight tracks and runs through a dull and dreary landscape of factories until it joins the spur from the main line at the aforementioned Mitre Bridge.      Soon afterwards, the train crosses Mitre Bridge itself over the Grand Union Canal and the main Great Western line out of Paddington.   

On the right is the now empty Eurostar carriage depot, no longer used since the transferrence of Eurostar services from Waterloo to St. Pancras in November 2007.    These trains had to run empty all the way from here to Waterloo before taking up their services to Paris or Brussels and for which an abandoned spur in the Battersea area, closed and lifted in 1937, had to be relaid to connect the West London line to the main line tracks in the direction of Waterloo.

A short distance beyond the abandoned depot, the train comes to a halt to transfer from overhead to third rail current collection in the vicinity of the former St. Quintin Park & Wormwood Scrubs station, closed in 1940 and of which nothing now remains.     This location however is surrounded by shops and houses and a new station here, probably called North Pole Road to define the area more distinctly, ought to be considered at a later date.   

Once the train has changed its current collection, it then picks up speed as it head south, passing under the Hammersmith & City Line.    Major developments and inner motorways like the Westway have more or less obliterated the site of the junction with the freight spur that ran alongside the Central Line to North Acton while on the left, all that is left of the Latimer Road spur is a short widening of the H & C viaduct to the west of Latimer Road station.

Then the train comes to rest at the new Shepherd's Bush station which was opened on 28th September 2008, a year late.     This is on the site of the former Uxbridge Road station which closed in 1940 but was not demolished until 1967.    Again, roadworks have obliterated the road bridge on which the entrance once stood and there is now a short tunnel instead.

The new Shepherd's Busb is not much to write home about.    Totally devoid of waiting shelters, apart from at the bottom of the stairwells, it is a bleak place, hemmed in on one side by the new shopping developments.    It is also adorned with standard London Underground roundel nameboards even though it is an Overground station (although the glass entrance hall does have the proper signs!).     I think the LU style roundels may have been salvaged from the Hammersmith & City station at Shepherd's Bush, now renamed Shepherd's Bush Market, to save money.

After Shepherd's Bush, there are traces to the west of the line of the long-abandoned junction wiith the Kensington & Richmond Railway, closed in June 1916 by a widening of the cutting.    The majority of this route is still used by current day TfL District Line services to Richmond and Ealing Broadway and Piccadilly Line services to Heathrow and Uxbridge and passengers on these trains can clearly see the remains of the curved viaduct, cut into by modern office blocks, where the fromer LSWR route connected at the now no longer extant Studland Road junction.  

Then the train sweeps into Kensington (Olympia), no longer the forgotten station of West London.      The abandoned bay platforms at the north end used by the former Metropolitan service to Edgware Road have only  comparatively recently been filled in and encroached upon by housing while a new platform for southbound trains sits on the site of the former southbound through track, the original platform behind this.  On the west side of the station is the bay platform for the TfL District Line service to Earl's Court and High Street Kensington.

Resuming south, the train runs alongside the District Line spur (the ex-L.M.S. route) which descends after a short while to join the District Line proper and pass beneath the West London Line.   On the right is that line's Lillie Bridge depot and then the train arrives at West Brompton alongside the District Line's Wimbledon branch station.   Both lines opened their stations in 1869 but the West London Line closed in 1940 and for the first five years after the 1994 reopening of the line, trains passed without stopping but new platforms for the West London line opened in 1999 and the station is once again, after a gap of 59 years, a busy interchange   Indeed, the District Line station was closed at weekends for many years but now, thanks to the revived fortunes of the West London Line, is open full-time again.

South of West Brompton on the east side of the line, the District descends to pass beneath, then the train sweeps past the grass-grown abandoned platforms of Chelsea & Fulham station, closed in 1940.    I would have liked to see this rebuilt but this has been passed over in favour of a new station further south at Imperial Wharf which is currently under construction.

Beyond the site of this new station, the train passes majestically across the Thames into south London and is soon passing the site of Battersea station, closed in 1940 with no trace of its existence.     Just past here, Southern trains take the tracks that pass under all the lines into and out of Victoria and Waterloo to come up into the platforms on the extreme south-east side of Clapham Junction while the local train from Willesden Junction curves onto the now singled viaduct across the rooftops of Batterse to terminate on the north side in platform 2, platform 1 having been abandoned long ago and its track now removed.

There is no need for the train to run onto a siding here to reverse as is the case at Willesden Junction.      The line, that was for so long a backwater of the London railway scene, has risen like a phoenix to once again take its rightful place in the Capital's transport systems.

David Bosher