London Termini – London Bridge

London Bridge is the oldest of the Termini in London, and one of the combined termini where terminating platforms are alongside through services. Often derided in the past as gloomy and difficult to navigate, a 21st Century makeover was completed in 2018. It is now a sleek modern building, its angled lines smoothed out with a curvy façade on one side. London’s tallest building, The Shard, towers above it, literally pinpointing the stations position.

A brief history

In 1831 a railway was proposed between Greenwich and Tooley Street. Because it would run through very congested streets, it was agreed that the best course of action was to build a viaduct. This would become a huge 878 arch bridge, made from 60 million bricks which were made in Sittingbourne, Kent. Initially the viaduct had a walkway which people could use for the sum of 1 pence, enabling elevated views of the city. However this was closed during the expansion of 1840.

Partly opened in 1836 as far as Spar Road, the full line to London Bridge was opened in December 1836. The station at this time was very basic, steps or ramps up to the platforms which were totally open to the elements having no sheltering roof or trainshed whatsoever.

Expansion came very quickly, with the London and Croydon Railway Company and The South Eastern Railway company taking routes North and South respectively between 1839 and 1842. The increased traffic gave the station a new building in 1844, the first of many rebuilds London Bridge would have.

The most significant of these was in 1850, where the station was divided in two, the South Eastern taking control of the North side, and the newly formed London, Brighton and South Coast railway company the South side. A huge wall was erected, with both sides having differing rules and regulations, causing services such as horse drawn taxis to pay differing charges as they traversed the station.

This remined in place until 1923, when all the southern rail companies were amalgamated into the Southern Railway Company. A footbridge was built to link the two stations in 1928.

The arches under the station were used in the Second World War as air raid shelters, although conditions were very grim. Inspections declared they were unfit for use and demanded improvements to make them both safer and hygienic. Unfortunately, before any real improvements were made, a bomb hit London Bridge in February 1941, killing 68 and injuring a further 175.

A Major rebuild of the infrastructure and station occurred in the 1970’s. This included new signalling and rerouting of the lines in and out of London Bridge. The building was given a modern design, but people would still complain that it was cramped and uninviting.

It wasn’t until the early 2000’s that another rebuild would take place. The most radical and expensive so far, this time they seem to have got it right , as I shall explain in the rest of the blog.

A quick view of the current station

Although I label this as a quick view, the station is so vast that being quick here is not something i’d recommend if you wish to appreciate this new station.

Entering from the underground station, after going up the escalators you enter a passageway which is Joiner Street. Move into Joiner Street and you should soon see on your left the entrance to the Western Arches.

The Western Arches

Moving into here, the old pillars that are holding up the railway above you, go down this corridor in a pleasant symmetrical fashion. Shops are placed at the side, and the feel of this section is fantastic.

At the end of the passageway is another intersection, this time with Stanier street. Of note here is the plaques along the wall detailing the history of the station layout, well worth a look if you have the time.

Plaque in Stanier Street

Moving back to the end of the Western arches, and head of you is the main concourse – a sleeper in on one of the walls just as you are about to enter the concourse is dedicated to the opening in 2018.

Dedication plaque

Turning right here will take you down past more shops on your right, and the main ticket office on your left. Carry on down to the exit and you will see on your left a memorial to the railway workers who died in the first world war. This exit would take you into St Thomas’ street, next to St Thomas’ hospital, should you go through it.

First World War Memorial

Turning back into the main concourse, head all the way back to the Western Arches and carry on. You will see various gateline entrances to your right, as well as a big escalator and stairs in the middle which will take you up to the upper concourse and the bus station. Lets go up and take a quick look.

Up the escalator ahead of you is the glass frontage of what used to be known as the main entrance to the station. If you were to exit there, the Shard would be immediately to your right, with the bus station immediately in from of you. It is worth going out here just to marvel not only at the Shard, but the impressive all glass frontage to the station here (see the opening picture of this blog post).

Moving around the upper concourse the sense of natural light and space is very evident. Moving to the left you will find gatelines for Platforms 10-15. If you gain access to these platforms, try to take a moment to stand at the end of the terminating platforms, and you will be greeted by a very pleasant sight as the canopy structure over the platforms snakes away from you, yet another good photo opportunity.

A view down platforms 14 and 15

Lets go back downstairs to the main concourse, and turn right towards the exit for Tooley Street. Various gatelines will be on your right, as well as an information centre. Exiting into Tooly Street will give you a look at the new sweeping façade at this entrance. This mixes well with the original arches, which can be seen meandering away towards Greenwich. The view as you enter the station again is below.

View after entering via Tooley Street, note the huge escalators towering above you.

Moving into the station, we go through a gateline into the inner concourse. Impressive concrete pillars, looking like huge egg timers, are dotted around, with seating around their circumfrence. The space here is very welcoming due to the high ceiling. Various lifts are in the centre too, and ahead of you are the huge escalators which take you to platforms 1-15.

A view across the concourse post gateline, with the lift shafts, pillars and high roof.

Departure boards are placed around the lifts and on the side walls, really the wealth of information about arriving and departing train services is comprehensive.

I visited during rush hour, and yes it was busy, but the station layout as it is now didn’t seem to have any major congestion points. The station and surrounding structure is still being worked on, but all the major components are open, and it seems that at last London Bridge is able to cope with the passenger numbers it receives.

The video below shows London Bridge platforms at evening rush hour.


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London Termini – St Pancras International

A gateway to Europe, the finest of stations, but nearly demolished in the 1960’s. An amazing station, with plenty of history, a huge trainshed and a 5 star Hotel attached. The story of St Pancras is long and full of near disaster moments, but now it stands proud as the main Termini of Eurostar, and with it the first station many overseas travellers will see.

A Brief History

The Midland Railway was desperate to get away from sharing Kings Cross with the Great Northern Railway. So when a bill was passed in 1863 for a railway between London and Bedford, they jumped at the chance to construct a new station between Kings Cross and Euston. It would be known as St Pancras, after the local Parish.

William Barlow designed a radical trainshed for the station, 245ft wide, 689ft long and 100ft high, it was the biggest single span roof in the world for a time.

The void left by excavation works was used to store beer and other goods, and was known as ‘the vaults’. This is now a superb shopping arcade linking the station down its spine underneath the trainshed.

The hotel was built to rival the one next door at Kings Cross, and was a highly flamboyant affair, the architecture lending itself to Italian and Belgian influences. It is often seen as the face of St Pancras. However it never seemed to make a profit and was closed in 1935, only to later be used as crew sleeping quarters and offices for British Rail Catering Division.

A concerted effort by many historians and railway enthusiasts (including Sir John Betjeman) stopped the bulldozers destroying the station in the late 1960’s. This however didn’t stop the station from falling into dis-repair.

Amazingly though, a major lifeline was given when in 1994 the government approved St Pancras as the Terminus for the new Eurostar service. A major renovation project started in 2001, and by 2007 after restoration and modernisation (including a modern extension to the trainshed, if not in keeping with the original), St Pancras re opened fully.


A quick view of the current station

As you enter via Pancras Road, through a huge glass façade, the concourse opens out in front of you. To the left, escalators take you down to the underground station, while a lift to your right either takes you down also, but will take you up to the SouthEastern High Speed platforms.

Moving forward slightly, turning right past a coffee shop, ahead is a new pub restaurant and also 3 sets of escalators. Two sets take you up to the HighSpeed platforms, the middle set taking you down to the Underground.

Turning past the pub, moving forward past a retail outlet on your right and food to your left, another retail unit is in front of you. Turning right here will take you to lost property, toilets and the station office. Turning left and carrying down the corridor you will come back to the main concourse, where a departure and arrival board sits above other retail outlets.

Now turn right and go down towards another exit, this is the Midland Road entrance. To your right as you walk down is a ticketing centre, and at the end on your right, access to the Thameslink platforms, seen below.

Thameslink underground platforms, labelled platform A and B

Back up from Thameslink, go straight on into the old Vaults, which is now a great arcade full of mainly high end retailers, with a few pianos in the centre aisles for the public to use! This area also gives you the first real glimpse of the original trainshed, a glance upwards reveals its vast nature. A quarter of the way down on the left is the entrance to the Eurostar terminal.

A view down into the arcade from the Grand Terrace

Going up a set of stairs brings you to the Grand Terrace, and a statue of Sir John Betjeman. He is looking up, almost encouraging you to do so. The massive trainshed extends out from here and is a superb sight. Looking towards the back, the Hotel can be seen, as well as a clock and an art installation by Tracey Emin. This is part of a series of artworks commissioned by The Royal Academy.

Moving toward the Hotel, another statue is very prominent. This is called “The Meeting Place” and stands at 30ft high. Along its base are castings of various railway events.

Turn 180 degrees and the Eurostar platforms and trainshed are before you.

If you go to the other end of the trainshed on this level, you will come to the platforms for East Midland Trains. Going back downstairs, head back to the back of the arcade and through into the Underground station. Here you will find information, ticketing and entrance to the Circle, Hammersmith and City and Metropolitan lines.

Carry on down this corridor and on your right, you will see a dedication to the Kings Cross fire in 1987.

Following this corridor to the left will take you down to the entrances for the Victoria, Northern and Piccadilly lines. There is also a piano here, if you feel so inclined!

Carry on down the corridor and you will have come full circle if you take the escalators up to the main concourse.

A great station, made better by design, yet old charm can be found if you look for it. Speaking of which, as a little challenge to those who don’t know, try to find this gem in the Underground Stations network of entrances and exits!


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395 “Javelin” High Speed Unit

The advent of High Speed 1 to link London with the Channel Tunnel would not only mean faster services for the Eurostar, but also could enable the population of Kent to enjoy a new faster way of travel.  As early as 2003, formal approval was given to allow domestic High Speed services on High Speed 1.  The award in 2006 of the 2012 Olympics to London further enhanced the need for such a service to exist.

Hitachi won the right to supply the new High Speed stock to SouthEastern Railway, their first rail contract in Britain.  In total 29 were built.  The service to be provided meant that the trains had to be “duel electric”, to accommodate both 750 DC third rail and 25 kV AC overhead lines.  The third rail extends from Ashford to Folkestone, then onwards through the Medway Towns and finally Ebbsfleet International, where the 3rd Rail shoe is retracted and the Pantograph raised (or visa-versa).

The train is based on the 400 series “Mini Shinkansen”, and comprises of 6 carriages, which can be driven from either end. The front nose of the train can be retracted to allow automatic coupling to another 6 car unit. Power is through the middle four cars, powered by pantographs/shoes on the outer two cars. Each 6 car train has 340 seats and two toilets, one of which is disabled accessible.

Additional training had to be given to train crews, to enable them to understand the TVM 430 signalling display system which was in use on the High Speed portion of the line.  This is a lot different from the UK rail signalling, mostly as it is “In Cab”.

Services started fully in December 2009. During the 2012 Olympic Games, many services were run in 12 car formations, and a regular shuttle service was established from Ebbsfleet International to Stratford International, the home of the Olympic Park.  In 2015, a circular route from St Pancras to St Pancras was introduced.

The trains are designed to travel at 140 mph on the High Speed section, but are limited to 70-90 mph on the old mainline from Ashford through Margate, Medway then to Ebbsfleet.  They are exceptionally comfortable, and have benefitted from being fitted with dampers to reduce the effect of excessive wobble in the High Speed tunnel sections.

The train was given the designation of class 395, but due to the Olympics quickly gathered the nickname of Javelin, which was then established across the fleet.  Initially, 11 of the Javelins were named after British Olympic medalists by public vote.  This increased to 23 after the 2012 Olympics, with some named after Paralympians.  Other noted named Javelins were 395014 “The Victoria Cross” (later 015) and 395016 “Somme 100”.

In 2018 to commemorate the 100 anniversary of the end of World War One, 395018 had special vinyl’s applied.  These can be seen below on 11/11/18, a day after a special railtour had taken place through the south and east of the UK.

As of 2018, they continue to be the flagship of the SouthEastern railway network, and are very heavily used, even if they have a small premium applied to the ticket price.


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Medway Stations 4 – Cuxton

Continuing my look at stations in the Medway area, this time I shall look at a small station on the Medway Valley line – Cuxton.

Cuxton Station was opened in 1856, and from the outset had two lines.  Two platforms served by an level crossing at the south end of the station allowed passengers to travel to Maidstone to the south, and Strood to the North.  In 1862, a signal box was erected adjacent to this level crossing, and is still there today (2018)

In 1931 a small siding was opened to the south of the station, trailing off the “down” line, which served a national business (Besto Co.) making fruit baskets. This was followed in 1939 with a goods loop installed to the north of the station.  Unfortunately, none of these sidings survive today, both having been removed by the end of 1990.

A footbridge was installed at the south end of the station in 1961, adjacent to the level crossing and the Signal box.  A note about the level crossing, as it is still manually closed  by the signalman at the time of this Blog (2018).  A really rare sight, and (unfortunately) I will assume this will become automated at some time in the future.

Two views from Cuxton in 2016 follow.  The first shows a light engine class 66, travelling on the “down” line towards Maidstone.  This view is to the north, and the bridges across the M2 can be seen, the nearest one being the HS1 line.

cuxton a

The second view is to the south, showing the signal box, overbridge and level crossing, as well as a stone train travelling on the “up” towards Strood.

cuxton b

Currently at Cuxton, there is only a PERTIS (permit to travel) machine installed here, the majority of the station buildings being disused for many years.  The station is served at this time by Southeastern, with 2 trains per hour (northbound “up” to Strood, southbound “down” to Maidstone (1 Tph continues to Paddock Wood, the other to Tonbridge). (correct as of June 2018)

A few freight trains run though the day, to or via Hoo Junction (to the north) or to the south, some of which come from or go to ARC sidings just outside Allington in Maidstone.  Freight is mainly hauled by class 66 locomotives, although some class 70’s have also been seen on the line.


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Stations Near Me – 1 – Sittingbourne

As a companion to my ongoing series of potted station histories in the Medway area, this blog subsection will concentrate on other stations near to where I live in Rainham (Kent). The first is Sittingbourne.

Sittingbourne station opened on the 25th January 1858, as part of the East Kent Railway (later to be merged with the South Eastern railway to form the South East and Chatham Railway). At this time, trains would terminate at Chatham and a horse and cart would transfer passengers to Strood, where they would join passengers on the South Eastern Railway.

The large and impressive station building is situated on the “up” line, with 2 platforms, the “down” side connected by a subway. Goods sidings at this time were adjacent to the “up” line, to the east of the main station building. In 1860, services to Sheerness-on-Sea commenced via a new line next to the existing down platform, making this platform an island type.

In 1899, a new footbridge linked the two platforms, complementing the existing subway. It was around this time that the station was also re-named “Sittingbourne & Milton Regis”, a name it was to retain until changed back to “Sittingbourne” in 1970.

The Southern Railway took over in 1923, The goods sidings on the “up” line were removed around this time. In its place, a small goods yard was installed to the side of the “down” platform. Serving primarily the paper mills, it also provided stabling for chemical trains going to Sheerness Steel in the late 20th Century.

Electrification at Sittingbourne came quite late in 1958 (the lines further west through Gillingham had been electrified since the late 1930’s). With electrification, the old semaphore signals were removed, with full electric light signals put in their place.

In recent history, a new bridge to the east of the station building was opened in April 2012. This included a lift for passengers. This was a great improvement on the situation before that, which required passengers who needed assistance to be taken across the tracks via a walkway with a member of station staff. A full refurbishment to the toilets and station building was also undertaken at this time, as well as new platform shelters. The subway was blocked in the early 2000s.

The station building is the oldest piece of railway architecture surviving in the area.

Incidents:

Three major incidents have occurred either in or near the station:

1861 : A derailment just outside the station causing 1 death.

1878 : A collision within the station as a passenger train ran into static goods vans. The fault for this was attributed to the goods shunter. 5 People died.

1966 : 18 vans of a freight train de-railed just past western junction on the “Down” approach to the station. This caused extensive damage to the infrastructure and closure of the entire line for two days. Thankfully there were no casualties.


Some information contained is this blog was obtained from the KentRail Sittingbourne Page .

Photographs (c) David Glasspool and Stacey Harris


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Medway Stations 2 – Gillingham

Continuing the potted series on my local stations, the next one on the ‘up’ line from Rainham is Gillingham.

The station was originally opened as ‘New Brompton’ in January 1858, the main station building being situated on the ‘Down’ platform, being similar in structure to the one at Rainham.  This was demolished in 1973 and replaced by prefabricated buildings, housing staff accommodation.

A goods yard was provided on the ‘down’ side, to the east of the station. This had two eastward-facing sidings, one which ended behind the ‘Down’ platform. The second passed through a 45ft long goods shed.  In 1877, after an act of parliament the previous year, a branch line to the north was provided to gain access to Chatham Dockyard.  This passed through a cutting and over a bridge, terminating at the Dockyard.  It was around this time that a substantial goods shed with 3 lines was placed adjacent to the ‘up’ line to the east of the station.

In 1912, the name changed to “Gillingham”, and a year later the first of many re-models started.  Firstly the addition of a third set of rails next to the “up” platform, creating the now familiar island configuration of the ‘up’ platform.  The “A” signal box was next to the up platform.  This remained in operation until the early 1970’s.

The Gillingham “B” signal box is next to the level crossing, and also at this time the footbridge beside the level crossing was built.  The spur to Chatham Dockyard was situated to the west of the crossing, branching off of the ‘down’ line.

An extension to the electric section of railway, from the already electrified section as far as Swanley, was agreed in 1935.  This would bring third rail operations as far as Gillingham, and the works were completed in 1939.  As previously talked about in the Rainham section, it would be almost 25 years until the rest of the south and south-eastern network would be electrified.  An EMU (Electric Multiple Unit) depot to the east of the level crossing was established, and EMU stabling commenced shortly after, something it continues to do today.

The 2nd station building, situated on the bridge over the railway, remained until a major reconstruction in 2011, when a new glass façade was built.

In the early 1990s, a scheme centered around the “Networker” program meant a new building was built to the west of the level crossing signal box on the ‘Up’ side.  This building was meant to contain a new signalling centre, however after its completion in 1994, the building remained empty, only to house a railtrack archive centre.  Eventually though, due to the start of the ‘East Kent Re-Signalling Scheme’ in 2012, the building was fitted out with equipment.  It is now the main signalling hub for the North Kent area, with only a few signal boxes on the fringes of the area operational (including Folkestone and Minster).  It is known as the ‘North Kent Operations Centre’.

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Medway Stations 1 – Rainham

A small potted history of the Railway stations in my home area, Medway, Kent.  I will start with my “Home” Station, Rainham.

The station was opened on 25th January 1858, as “Rainham & Newington”.  It formed part of the London to Dover route of the “East Kent Railway”.  The Station comprised of two platforms and two sidings adjacent to the “up” line platform (for those new to railway terminology, the “up” line is towards London, and the “down” away from London).  The station was re-named “Rainham” in1862 when Newington station was built to the east.  A further 400 yard siding was introduced beside the “down” platform in 1897, and a signal box was also added at this time, enabling the removal of the manual point system.

Ownership by the Southern Railway commenced in 1923.  This was to bring a few cosmetic changes to the station furniture, as well as a footbridge next to the level crossing to the east.

The next major change would not come about until 1957. The “Kent Electrification Scheme” was initiated in the area throughout what was now known as the “Chatham Main Line”. This comprised on a 750V third rail system, with line speeds up to 75mph initially, although this was raised to 90mph around 1962.The advent of British Rail meant changes for Rainham, many not very good.  The major change was the demolition of the original station building, which was replaced by a one story prefab.

New automated level crossing gates were  installed in December 1972.  At sometime in the early 1980’s the remaining siding was removed from behind the “down” platform.

When “Network South East” took over in 1986, the station was revamped in the familiar red and white chevrons, and in 1990 a new station building was opened.  This one was a modern brick structure with a glazed arched roof, and was a vast improvement on the 1970’s prefab.

As part of the 2014-2017 “East Kent Re-Signalling Project”, it was decided that Rainham would have a bay platform added adjacent to platform one on the “up” side.  This involved lengthening platform one considerably to accommodate 12 car trains in this new bay, which was given a designation of “Platform 0”.  New pointwork to the west of the station was installed to service the platform, and new SPAD (Signal Passed At Danger) signal was placed at the eastern end of platform 1.  The new platform arrangements are seen below, facing to the west with the new platform 0 to the left of the picture :

Rainham_Bay_Platform_1

The future of Rainham Station is bright.  Since 2009, “Javelin” 395 units have stopped here, giving access to high speed services to St Pancras International.  In 2018 a Thameslink service started from the bay platform to Luton via Abbey Wood and St Pancras.  This will enable passengers to access the new Crossrail “Elizabeth Line” via Abbey Wood.

A video I have taken of  37 800 travelling through Rainham Station can be found on my YouTube channel, just click the link below :

37 800 passes through Rainham Station

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High Speed 1 – Phase 2 10th anniversary

The 2nd phase of the HS1 line was completed 10 years ago today (14th November), so here is a small history of this section, which I personally benefit from.

The 1st phase of HS1 was completed on 28th September 2003, and connected the Channel Tunnel to Fawkham Junction, located just past Gravesend.  This junction acted as a way to get Eurostar trains on and off the existing rail network, and these trains would then terminate at Waterloo.  However planning had always been in place for a further section of high speed rail which would terminate at St Pancras.  The award of the Olympic games to London hastened the need for the completion of this further section.

Connecting with the existing High Speed line, a new station, Ebbsfleet International was constructed.  This was in preference to a new station adjacent to the M2 between Chatham and Rochester, which was thrown out on environmental grounds.  Further up the line, via two tunnels, a new station at Stratford was built.  This would serve the Olympic park.  Also it would serve as a connection between the high speed line and an extensive national rail and underground service at the existing Stratford Station, which is a 10 minute walk away.

The line then goes through another tunnel, eventually terminating at one of 3 new platforms at St Pancras International – next to the platforms for Eurostar services.  Although these are adjacent, you are not able to gain access to Eurostar from these platforms.

This second section of line was opened on 14th November 2007, and marked the completion of HS1.  However only Eurostar services used the line to begin with, but plans were in place to enable the residents of Kent to benefit from the new line.  A fleet of high speed trains were built by Hitachi in Japan.

The design of these was based on Hitachi’s 400 series “Mini-Shinkansen” and “A-Train”, and were given the designation of a class 395 unit in the United Kingdom.  However the more common “Javelin” name is used for the units, which was given to them because of their affinity with the London Olympics.  The trains were built in japan and shipped to Southampton for final fitting.  In all there are currently 29, 6 car sets currently running on the Southeastern / CTRL HS1 network.

The trains are 6 car, with 340 seats per train.  A quick coupling system allows running of two sets at once, and this was used for almost all of the shuttle trains between Ebbsfleet International and Stratford International during the Olympics.  This configuration is also expected to be used more widely in the future, as all domestic stations on the route have been changed to accommodate 12 car trains.  This includes the new station at Rochester, and the new platforms at both Rainham and Strood.

The new “Javelin” began full service on December 13th 2009, and although initial take-up was slow, it is now a very busy service, both on the Ashford and Kent coast Via Medway routes.  A “Roundabout” service which officially runs as “St Pancras Intl to St Pancras Intl” runs from London, through Medway to Ramsgate and Folkestone, then up through Ashford and up to London.  To Avoid confusion, the route is however split up into sections on route boards at stations.

The Journey times between Kent at London have been cut by up to 45 minutes between Ashford and London, and the convenience of connections to the north of the country at Kings cross and St Pancras has made the line very popular.  Trains from the Kent coast via Faversham and Strood connect to the line at Springhead Junction, where the trains move from third rail to pantograph operation.

Stratford International station has been criticised for being something of a white elephant, as only the Southeastern services stop there.  Plans have been talked about for some while to bring the German ICE trains to use the route, which would stop at Stratford International.  There is however no agreement still on when, or even if, these services will start (although in March 2017, Deutsche Bahn announced they would like it to start in 2020).  The station is still well used however, and the regeneration of the Olympic Park and Westfield shopping centre enable it to still be a viable station on the network.

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