The Anonymous Widower

What Might Have Been At Walthamstow And Woodford

The World Class Engineering And Penny-Pinching Architecture Of The Victoria Line

The Victoria Line is to reverse one of my favourite phrases, an all knickers and no fur coat Underground line.

Underground and remember, it is a totally below the surface except for the depot at Tottenham Hale, it is superb, with some world class engineering.

1. The original 1967 Stock lasted until 2011 and was a real tribute to its designers and builders.

2. The trains run automatically and the line was the world’s first to do this. I remember reading a document about how it worked in 1969 or so and because of the date the automation was largely controlled by thermionic valves and relays.

3. There was quite a bit of innovative design in the layout of the lines, which included the hump-backed stations, summed up here from Wikipedia.

The line has hump-backed stations to allow trains to store gravitational potential energy as they slow down and release it when they leave a station, providing an energy saving of 5% and making the trains run 9% faster

4. The overall concept has proved to be sound, as the line has a very good safety record.

But they certainly didn’t spend a large amount of time, effort and money on the stations. Again from Wikipedia.

When the Victoria line was built, budget restrictions meant that station infrastructure standards were lower than on older lines and on later extension projects. Examples include narrower than usual platforms and undecorated ceilings at Walthamstow Central, Blackhorse Road and Tottenham Hale, adversely affecting lighting levels. At most stations there is still a concrete staircase between the up and down escalators, where an additional escalator could be installed.

Walthamstow Central, Seven Sisters and Highbury and Islington are still truly dreadful stations.

The Bad Stations Can Only Get Better

Hopefully :-

1. The takeover of the Chingford Line by London Overground and the developments in Walthamstow town centre, will result in substantial improvements to Walthamstow Central.

2. Crossrail 2 and the Overground takeover coupled with development could also improve Seven Sisters.

3. Much needed better disabled access, enhancements to the Northern City line and increased passenger numbers will drive a need for the rebuilding of Highbury and Islington.

4. Other stations like Brixton, Euston and Blackhorse Road will have improvements driven by other new and upgraded lines.

Finally fifty years on, the sins of the 1960s are being eradicated.

The Victoria Line Extension To South Woodford or Woodford

But there are no plans to extend the line to Woodford or South Woodford stations on the Central Line which was part of the original proposals. Again from History on Wikipedia.

It had been intended to build the line beyond Walthamstow Central to Wood Street (Walthamstow), where it would have surfaced to terminate next to the British Rail station. Proposals were also made to extend the line as far north as South Woodford or Woodford, to provide interchange with the Central line. However, in a late decision in 1961 the line was cut back to Walthamstow (Hoe Street) station, renamed Walthamstow Central in 1968.

Let’s take a look at the Underground lines in the area. This map from Walthamstow Central to Woodford station is from Google Earth.


Walthamstow Lines

Walthamstow Lines

The red line at the right is the Central Line with South Woodford and Snaresbrook stations shown, in addition to Woodford station to the north of the A406.

The orange and light blue at the left being the Gospel Oak to Barking and Victoria Lines, with the two Walthamstow stations; Central and Queens Road.

The Victoria Line was originally planned to surface at Wood Street station, which can be seen to the north of Whipps Cross Hospital and then presumably cut across the southern part of Epping Forest to the Central Line.

I can’t find an article specifically stating why the extension to Woodford was dropped, but I did find this general article on London Reconnections, entitled Why We Do (And Don’t) Extend Tube Lines. This is two paragraphs.

One lesson quickly learnt by the early entrepreneurs who built early tube lines (and by this, as for the duration of the article, we mean the deep level lines) was that the longer the line and the bigger the network, the more profitable it was. To some extent this may seem obvious – a tube line between only two stations is of limited use (although exceptionally the Waterloo and City line manages to perform this role).

As usage tends to tail off at the extremities, it made sense to have the ends only being a small portion of the line. It also made sense to maximise use of resources. Trains sitting in terminal platforms were not in revenue earning service and a lot of the infrastructure – such as power supply – had large initial costs but the add-on cost for these items when extending the line was not that great.

So it’s generally all about economics and probably in the case of the Victoria Line; government money.

Walthamstow is a large catchment are and it has two routes into Central London and one to the west, two of which will be upgraded in the next few years, so I doubt the Victoria Line will be extended in the near future. This Google Earth image from Wood Street to South Woodford stations, shows the mass of development in between the two lines.

Wood Street To South Woodford

Wood Street To South Woodford

Wood Street station is just visible at the bottom left and South Woodford is at the far right towards the top.

There is also the small matter of putting the line through the green lung that is Epping Forest.

So any extension from Walthamstow Central to the Central Line would probably be in an expensive tunnel.

But there are some other reasons why any extension will not be built as planned in the 1950s.

1. There now appears from this Google Earth image to be little space around Wood Street station.

Around Wood Street Station

Around Wood Street Station

Although it does look like that some of the buildings around the station were built in recent decades.

This would appear to further rule out a surface route.

2. Walthamstow now has an impressive new bus station, that was built 2005 and is the third busiest in London with twenty-four hour operation.

Buses go all over north east London from the bus station, to places like Wood Green, East Ham, Barnet and Ilford, but there is also a comprehensive local network that covers the area to Chingford and Woodford. This spider map shows all the routes from Walthamstow Central.

3. Crossrail will also have an effect when it opens. How will passengers between Walthamstow and Woodford, get on Crossrail? They have several choices.

What Should Be Done

In my view it would be better to spend money on the following.

1. Adding new routes and extra capacity to the buses in the area, so the in-between passengers will have a choice to go east or west.

2. After May 2015, improving the stations on the Chingford Branch from Hackney Downs to Chingford, with step-free access and better information systems and interchange with the buses in the area.

3. Increasing the frequency of Overground trains to Chingford and possibly running some through to Stratford via the reinstated Hall Farm Curve and the new Lea Bridge station.

4. New trains have been promised and I suspect they’ll arrive in the next few years. However, giving the Class 317 trains a good scrub, some new seat covers and a bit of TLC and they will hold the line in the meantime. On the Chingford branch more services are more important than flash new trains.

5. In the Future Developments section of the Wikipedia entry for the Chingford Branch, it is said that there may be a station at both Forest Road and Chingford Hatch, either side of Highams Park station. This map shows the area.

Around Highams Park

Around Highams Park

The red arrow indicates Chingford Hatch, with the two stations shown being Highams Park in the middle and Wood Street at the bottom.

The Effect Of An Expanded Stansted Airport

However, there is one factor that has been ignored, which would change everything.

And that is if Stansted Airport is expanded.

Plans for this sometimes show another rail link direct to London, which is an extension of the Chingford Branch line from Chingford.

Can Any Conclusions Be Drawn?

I can’t see any reason why the Victoria Line would be extended to join the Central Line, unless a second line is built to Stansted Airport or a similar large project was developed in the area, that required a major sort out of lines.

But the major conclusion is that because of developments that are already in place and others that could easily be implemented there are masses of ways to improve public transport in the Walthamstow area, which are proven and a lot more affordable.

I think that in perhaps ten years time, the following will have been done.

1. The Chingford Branch Line will have upgraded stations and a proper interchange to buses and the Victoria Line at Walthamstow Central.

2. The Chingford Branch Line will be running possibly as many as six trains an hour and a proportion will go to Stratford, rather than Liverpool Street.

3. There will be at least two new stations on the Chingford Branch Line.

4. The bus services based on Walthamstow Central bus station will be expanded.

5. New or refurbished trains will be running the service on the Chingford Branch.

I’m not speculating, just applying logic to see what is possible and history from the East and North London Lines after they were taken over by London Overground.

I shall be very surprised if the Victoria Line is extended to Woodford.

I will not be surprised to see house prices in the area rise astronomically, as they have done here in Dalston.

Good railway connections really seem to bring the best or worst out of house prices.



January 12, 2015 - Posted by | Transport | , , , ,


  1. […] But this is only correcting one of the faults of a line that was built to an inadequate specification in the 1960s, which resulted in some crap inaccessible stations and a foreshortened line compared to what it should have been. […]

    Pingback by Call For Crossrail 2 « The Anonymous Widower | July 18, 2015 | Reply

  2. […] London to Tottenham Hale and Walthamstow. The line was built on the cheap in the 1960s and I have dreamed of what might have been. This August the line is closed to rectify one of its shortcomings, which will increase the […]

    Pingback by Could The Gospel Oak to Barking Line Transform East London? « The Anonymous Widower | August 14, 2015 | Reply

  3. […] have pulled this post out of What Might Have Been At Walthamstow And Woodford, as I want to have a series of linked posts that described the various ways that the Chingford […]

    Pingback by New Stations On The Chingford Branch Line « The Anonymous Widower | September 7, 2016 | Reply

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