Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Discovering the West London Line

When my partner and I were deciding where to live, one of the attractions of this part of West London was the aptly named West London Line. It's one of those bits of infrastructure that hardly anyone outside the area seems to know about, and yet it provides a brilliantly useful service: it means I can get from Earl's Court to Clapham in about 8 minutes, or Willesden in less than ten.

Running from Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction, there are stations at Kensington Olympia and West Brompton, both of which connect with the London Underground. Trains runs half-hourly as part of the new 'London Overground' service from Clapham Junction to Willesden Junction, and hourly from Watford Junction to Clapham Junction and - depending on the time of day, either terminate here or continue to East Croydon, Gatwick Airport and Brighton. It's incredibly helpful - if the connections are timed right - to change at Watford when coming south from, say, Liverpool, and not have to go via Euston and the Underground.

There's an active West London Line users' group which campaigns for improvements in services, and indeed some are planned: a new station is being built at Shepherd's Bush, and another one (Imperial Wharf) is planned to serve the new developments at Chelsea Harbour. New trains and more frequent services are also planned, but some downsides may also be in the offing: the service south of Clapham may be terminated either there, or run via the slow lines to East Croydon, which will be a lot less good for those travelling further south. (Clapham Junction is one of the worst places to change trains at the best of times, especially if you are infirm or disabled, but the platforms the West London trains use - 2 and 17 - have particularly bad access via narrow stair-ways.)

A recent improvement is the ability to use the London Transport Oyster card on London Overground journeys, which speeds up things a lot. But they still haven't addressed the problems of purchasing tickets at West Brompton, where the machines only sell a limited range of tickets to destinations outside London, and don't have the facility to offer railcard discounts. If the ticket office is shut - which it often seems to be when I'm travelling - your choice is to re-book at Clapham Junction or hope you can find a guard to sell you a ticket on the train.

Still, it is a big improvement on having to travel via Victoria all the time, and I always suggest that friends visiting us consider using it for the same reason. In my book, the more that it is used, the better the service may yet become!

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