The Anonymous Widower

Reversal Stations

In Crossrail In East Docklands, I said this about Whitechapel station.

Whitechapel station will be Crossrail’s Jewel In The East and the most important interchange for the line in East London.

  • It links both eastern branches of Crossrail to the Metropolitan and District Lines.
  • It provides an interchange to London’s important but sometimes forgotten East London Line.
  • An extended Whitechapel station would provide much better access to the East of the City of London.

But perhaps more importantly, Whitechapel is the reversal station for passengers travelling between one Eastern branch of Crossrail and the other.

A reader has asked me what I mean by a reversal station.

Look at this map from, which shows the lines around and through Whitechapel.

Lines Through Whitechapel

Lines Through Whitechapel

The Crossrail tracks, which are shown in blue, come from the West and go through the two platforms at both Liverpool  Street/Moorgate and Whitechapel, before dividing into the two branches to Abbey Wood and Shenfield, a mile or so South of Stepney Green.


  • Liverpool Street and Moorgate will share a massive doubled-ended Crossrail station with an island platform, that connects to all the lines at the two stations it connects.
  • Whitechapel has a massive underground station with another island platform, where all Eastbound trains use the North side of the platform and the Westbound trains use the South.

I call Whitechapel a reversal station, as it means that any passenger arriving from the East wanting to go West on the other branch, just walks across the platform and gets an appropriate train.

As a dozen trains an hour will be using each branch, that means the maximum wait will be five minutes, but if say the trains were timed to pair up at Whitechapel, so that an Eastbound Shenfield train was always in the station with or just after a Westbound train Abbey Wood and vice-versa, the interchange time would be determined by how long it took passengers to walk across.

The interchange is totally step-free for transferring passengers and can be paired with a very wide platform to make the interchange easy for everyone.

It is a simple but absolutely brilliant concept!

The designer of the station obviously liked it so much, he did it again at Whitechapel.

Arrive at Whitechapel on an Eastbound Metropolitan or District Line train and if you need to go back West on the other line, you just walk across for the train you want. These trains don’t pair up, but then the signalling wasn’t designed to be this sophisticated in the middle of the last century.

This interchange on the Sub Surface Lines has only started recently and I wonder how often it is used by passengers.

Are there any other stations, where this passenger reversal is or could be used?

Hayes And Harlington

A similar technique could have been used at Hayes and Harlington station to link the two Western branches of Crossrail, which have the following services.

  • Four trains per hour serve the Heathrow Branch.
  • Two trains per hour serve both Reading and Maidenhead.

But using a similar layout to Whitechapel with a spacious island platform and scheduling the trains appropriately, might effectively give Reading four services an hour to Heathrow, which would involve nothing more than a step-free interchange at Hayes and Harlington.

It would certainly have been more affordable than tunneling into Heathrow from the West.

This map from shows the lines through Hayes and Harlington and the Junction for Heathrow.

Lines Through Hayes And Harlington And Heathrow Junction

Lines Through Hayes And Harlington And Heathrow Junction

It’s probably too late now to adjust all the tracks and platforms at Hayes and Harlington station and the Stocley Viaduct, but I do believe that something could be setup at the station to improve access to Heathrow from the West until the full tunnelled link is built.

I believe that good design here, could have enabled a much more affordable Western Link for Heathrow, without any need to tunnel into the Airport.

An ideal solution would incorporate.

  1. Two tracks into Heathrow.
  2. Step-free and preferably step-across interchange at Hayes and Harlington station for passengers from Reading.
  3. Connection to Great Western Railway’s local trains in the Thames Valley.
  4. Contactless ticketing using bank cards between London, Heathrow and London.
  5. All Crossrail trains from London to serve all terminals.

Point five must be possible, as I’m sure the tunnels under Heathrow have a larger capacity than is being used.

But Heathrow are holding Crossrail, London and Londoners to ransom!

But then we hold all the cards, as no Mayor and few Londoners, would ever support the expansion of Heathrow!

This Google Map shows the current Hayes and Harlington station.

Hayes And Harlington Station

Hayes And Harlington Station

This description of platform use is from Wikipedia.

The station has five platforms, four being through platforms and one being a terminus bay platform. Platforms 1-2 are used only during engineering works; platforms 3 & 4 are for stopping services to and from Heathrow Airport, Reading and Oxford; platform 5 is a bay terminus platform, which is sometimes used during peak times, amended services and during engineering works. Platform 5 is capable of holding an eight-car train; platforms 2, 3 and 4 can hold seven-car trains and platform 1 can hold a five-car trains. All lines at Hayes & Harlington are electrified. On platform 5 there is an alternative entrance leading to High Point Hayes, the entrance has Oyster Pay & Go readers, platforms 3 & 4 are connected by a bridge towards the end of the platforms.

Stations are numbered from the South.

What would need to be done is create an island platform between the two relief lines that will be used by Crossrail.

This would mean that a passenger between Heathrow and Reading, would just walk across the platform and wait for their train. As at Whitechapel, the first train would arrive a few minutes before the second left. It would be easy to arrange with Crossrail’s modern signalling and train control.

Under Crossrail in the Wikipedia entry for the station, these modifications are listed.

  1. New station building
  2. 4 new lifts to provide step-free access
  3. Platforms 1-4 extended
  4. New 200m bay platform 5 constructed (replacing existing bay)
  5. New platform canopies to platform 4 and 5
  6. Track work to widen the island platform 2/3 and to provide access to the new bay platform

Does point six mean that Platform 2 is Crossrail for Reading and Heathrow and Platform 3 is Crossrail for London?

I hope so, as that would give a step-across interchange between Reading and Heathrow.

But there is no mention of the layout of the two fast lines, which are currently served by platforms 1 and 2.

In Hayes And Harlington Station – 28th March 2016, there are several pictures of the station and the lines don’t appear to have been slewed to the South to enable the Crossrail Lines to be either side of an enlarged island platform 2/3.

It was probably just too difficult.

Old Oak Common

There are proposals to add a branch of Crossrail that would go up the West Coast Main Line to perhaps Milton Keynes. The logical place for Crossrail to join the West Coast Mail Line (WCML) is near Old Oak Common station.

I believe this could be another reversal station like Whitechapel, where the Western and WCML branches split to the West of the station.

This map shows some of the proposed track and station layout at Old Oak Common.


Rail Lines At Old Oak Common

Rail Lines At Old Oak Common

The WCML is off the North of this map.

Get this connection right and there would be step-across access between the WCML to Milton Keynes and all stations to Heathrow on Crossrail.

Willesden Junction On The North And West London Lines

The North London  and West London Lines divide to the west of Willesden Junction station.

Passengers between say Richmond and Imperial Wharf stations can use Willesden Junction station as a step-across to reverse direction. The timetable gives five or six minutes for the change, which is acceptable, but not as quick as I believe Whitechapel will be.

St. Pancras Thameslink

When the Thameslink Programme is completed, the Thameslink platforms at St. Pancras International will become a reversal station for passengers wanting to change between the Great Northern and Midland Main Line branches.

But it will not be a simple walk across a platform, but a hike over a footbridge, albeit one with step-free access.

The only Central London station on Thameslink, which will be an island platform will be London Bridge, where platforms 4 and 5 will serve Thameslink.

East Croydon

In an ideal world all Northbound Thameslink services at East Croydon station would call at the same island platform and all Southbound services would call at the opposite face of the island. I think that sixteen trains per hour will use the various Thameslink routes through East Croydon. On a dedicated platform, that is only one train every four minutes and the East London Line handles that with ease!

I think that the number of Thameslink trains through East Croydon is not very ambitious, in contrast to the number through the core of twenty-four trains per hour, which is ambitious, but not unduly so!

But I can’t find any information as to whether this will happen.

Where will passengers wanting to travel between Caterham and Tattenham Corner stations change trains?

It does strike me, that the care applied to the design of Crossrail, is lacking in the Thameslink Programme.

They obviously used ordinary envelopes, rather than special engineering ones!

Just compare the mess that is East Croydon station to the much larger, more complicated and impressive Reading station.

If Croydon is serious about being important, it needs a gateway station like Ealing Broadway, Huddersfield, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester Victoria, Northampton, Nottingham, Stratford or Reading, rather than an overcrowded badly-designed stop on the Brighton Main Line, that just makes visitors say, they’ll never return.

East Croydon also needs a proper connection to the East London Line. The current terminus of West Croydon is one of the worst designed pieces of railway infrastructure in the world. It’s equivalent to putting a main station for Liverpool in Birkenhead or one for Newcastle in Sunderland.

West Croydon station should be shut as soon as possible and East London Line services transferred to East Croydon.

Manchester Piccadilly

Whilst I’m in attack-dog mode, the two worst platforms in the country are platforms 13 and 14 at Manchester Piccadilly station.

  • These platforms were designed to get passengers as fit as possible, by locating them some distance from the main station facilities.
  • They are too small and always crowded.

The plans to remedy the overcrowding, include building two new platforms further out at great expense.

This may solve the problem, but I’d like to see answers to these questions first.

  • How many trains per hour stop at each platform? A platform like this should be able to handle sixteen trains per hour both ways, as does Canada Water on the Overground.
  • How many passengers use this island platform to reverse direction?
  • How many passengers get off one train here and get on another in a few minutes? I’ve done that myself on those platforms, a few times.
  • How would platform utilisation change with two and three-car trains changed for larger ones?
  • Could a reorganisation of services and the Ordsall Curve, increase seats on various routes, but reduce the number of trains through these platforms?
  • What difference would contactless ticketing using bank cards make to passenger throughput?
  • Is it necessary that every train stopping at Piccadilly always seems to stop at Oxford Road?

As an aside here, I could rightly claim that I’ve written more successful resource scheduling programs, than anybody else ever has!

I know it was designed in the 1960s, but I believe that by applying some modern data analysis and desjgn, that platforms 13 and 14, with more space, escalators and lifts everywhere, better facilities and perhaps a direct entry to the Metrolink station underneath, could go a long way to handling more traffic.

April 10, 2016 - Posted by | Transport/Travel | , ,


  1. Manchester Piccadilly 13&14

    These were inserted on a line through Piccadilly that was there (along with Oxford Road Station) before 1850. Blame G.W. Buck!

    In practice you get 12 trains an hour both ways, with the occasional freight train.

    Some of this is the stations, but another is the congested throat to Piccadilly with crossing movements to get to / from 13&14.

    The plan is to build two extra platforms at Piccadilly and lengthen those at Oxford Road and raise this to 16tph each way.

    Some trains skip Oxford Road (e.g. X country), but not many as a pattern of stopping on alternate platforms provides better throughput and as it happens Oxford Road is a very popular station (7M5pa – more than Waterloo East) for people on the south side of the city – there was a nice animation (not online 😦 ) in Network Rail’s presentation to TfGM a few years ago.

    There aren’t any interchange stats, however many passengers do change trains there and some change direction as 13&14 form an island.

    North-west train lengths tend to be short 😦 , but for instance TPE trains from Manchester Airport to Glasgow and Edinburgh (calling MAN & MCO) tend to be crammed when 4-car and full when 8-car on busy days.

    Comment by Mark Clayton | April 11, 2016 | Reply

  2. If you look at most of the high-capacity lines in London, they have a big advantage over 13/14 at Piccadilly.
    Most London lines seem to be running trains of a similar type and length. I’d be interested to look statistically at the traffic through 13/14. For instance, I have the feeling that when TPE goes to five-cars, this will improve throughput more than they expect, due to working practices.

    If you look at new high capacity routes, there generally is more space on the platforms than the very cramped 13/14. I also think that when platforms have been lengthened or built new in the last few years, like say Appleby Bridge in Leeds, that the design has wider platforms than 13/14.

    I would like to see some money spent on 13/14 to improve it now!

    Comment by AnonW | April 11, 2016 | Reply

  3. […] I call stations like Whitechapel reversal stations, as they allow passengers to easily reverse direction. There is more about reversal stations in Reversal Stations. […]

    Pingback by Elizabeth Line To Open On 24 May 2022 « The Anonymous Widower | May 15, 2022 | Reply

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