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Railfanning London‘s Railways

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Visitors to London who are also transport enthusiasts (‘railfans’) sometimes ask for advice as to the ‘best’ things to see on London’s railway network. This page is part of a guide which aims to answer that question.

If this is the first time you have reached these pages then it is best to go to the Opening Page which sets the scene, explains the difference between the small and the large profile trains, offers advice on the best type of ticket to buy and photography tips.

Alternatively, it is possible to view everything on one page

London Overground
The Birth Of The Overground

The initial London Overground network comprised seven* urban railway routes which for reasons that included a lack of investment and lack of passenger awareness were (mostly) seen as transport backwaters. They were joined under one high-profile name and after much investment (and new trains) achieved a level of public awareness - and patronage - similar to that of the Underground system.
(* Although there were seven routes one of them was shortened and merged with another route, losing its separate identity at the same time).

Part of the Overground ethos has been to provide a turn up and go service so that passengers do not need to consult the timetable - they will know that (on most routes) the trains come at least every 15 minutes. Such has been the success of the Overground Network that to cope with passenger numbers most of the original routes needed to have their trains extended from four to five carriages in length.

In May 2015 some more routes were added to the London Overground network. Some of these are busy urban services whilst one is a short rural branch line. These are detailed further down this page.


twin tunnel symbol Information for people who are happy to travel on trains which are above ground but experience claustrophobia when in tunnels.

A few locations on the Overground Network have single track tunnels:

* Where trains use the historic Brunel tunnels to pass below the River Thames on the East London Line section between Wapping and Rotherhithe stations. Note that this route also includes many twin track tunnels.

* On the Euston - Watford service between Euston and South Hampstead stations plus between Kensal Green and Willesden Junction stations. On days when this service is diverted to Stratford (instead of Euston) then the trains pass through single track tunnels when travelling between South Hampstead and Camden Road stations.

Train Types and Some Route Information

Five Overground routes use five carriage Class 378 electric multiple unit trains which feature a full walk-through design and full air-conditioning. These are powerful trains which were designed for 75mph (121 km/h) operation although because much of the Overground network has a top speed of just 45mph (72 km/h) they rarely demonstrate their true capabilities. Indeed, it is a characteristic of the Overground that its trains travel calmly and sedately, with slow station approaches and gentle braking of the type which makes for very smooth journeys - and longer overall journey times.

One Overground route uses four carriage Class 378 electric multiple unit trains. Originally this route used diesel trains, in 2018 it was converted to electric traction but the fleet of brand new four carriage Class 710 electric trains which are supposed to be working on this route have many problems and cannot be used.

The services added in May 2015 use a mix of Classes 315 and 317 electric multiple unit trains. In 2019/20 these will be replaced with brand new Class 710 electric trains.

London Overground 2013 Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map showing the London Overground network in 2013.
This map also shows open air and tunnelled sections of railway.
Original source & license: Cnbrb / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
. London Overground 2015 Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map showing the London Overground network after more routes were added in 2015 plus interchange stations and stations with pink Oyster Route Validators.       Original source & license:
sameboat / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0

Click maps to see larger versions in new windows! .

The 2015 map includes information on the routes which joined the London Overground network in May 2015 and lists the services as route A - route G, as per the information below.

  • A: Euston - Watford Junction
  • B: Richmond - Stratford (via the North London Line).
  • C: Clapham Junction - Willesden Junction (via the West London Line) - some of these services are extended to Stratford via the North London Line.
  • D: Gospel Oak - Barking (this route is nicknamed Goblin)
  • E: A group of four interworked services which travel via the East London Line and the historic Brunel Thames Tunnel. The core part of the route is: (Highbury & Islington - some trains only) - Dalston Junction - Surrey Quays. From here trains fan out to reach New Cross / West Croydon / Crystal Palace / Clapham Junction.
  • F: A group of three north London services which radiate from London's Liverpool Street station to Cheshunt (via Seven Sisters) / Enfield / Chingford.
  • G: A short branch line shuttle service between Romford and Upminster at the eastern edge of London.
Outer Circle Line

Although not marketed as such the combination of several London Overground services forms a Circle Line around London. However, as this operates in several segments so for some journeys passengers will need to change trains at Clapham Junction [in south London] or Canonbury / Highbury & Islington plus any station between Dalston Junction and Surrey Quays [in north and east London]. Passengers paying fares using electronic smart card ticketing in PAYG (pay as you go) mode (Oyster, contactless, etc.,) are advised NOT to try and travel around the entire circle in one journey. The PAYG system is not designed for such journeys and passengers who try to do this will find themselves being charged an expensive maximum fare. NB: this advice also applies to for passengers who have reached the fares cap for that day and passengers with Oyster Travelcard Season Tickets which do not include both Zones 1 and 2.

However passengers with paper One Day Travelcards which are valid in zones 1 and 2, All Line Rover, BritRail and Eurail passes (etc.,) can make such journeys without ticketing complications.

Routes Which Use Class 378 Electric Trains
Three carriage Class 378 train. . Inside the fully air-conditioned Class 378 train.
Six London Overground routes use airconditioned Class 378 electric trains which are of a fully walk-through design.
The example is seen here (above left) is on the North London Line service at Highbury & Islington and in its original 2010 three (3) carriage format.
  • The Euston - Watford Junction (all stations) service. This route is powered at 750V DC via a third rail.
    The tracks between Queens Park and Harrow & Wealdstone are shared with Bakerloo Line Underground trains.
    Unlike all other Overground services, trains on this route operate at 20 minute frequencies - there is a desire to improve this but when British Railways resignalled the line in the 1980's it did so in a way which will need a lot of money to be spent to make more frequent trains possible (again).

    Very occasionally the Euston - Watford trains are diverted away from Euston station and instead travel to Stratford via the former (ie: now closed) Primrose Hill station.
  • The North London Line links Stratford in the east of London with Richmond in south-west London.
    Between Stratford and Acton Central the trains are powered at 25kV AC from overhead wires, whilst between Acton Central and Richmond they are powered at 750V DC via an electrified third rail.
    The tracks between Gunnersbury and Richmond are shared with District Line Underground trains.
    Note that for 'end to end' journeys between east and west London it might be quicker to travel via Central London.

    The North London Line is also a very busy freight route, especially the sections between Stratford and Camden Road plus Gospel Oak and Willesden Junction.
Bollo Lane level crossings. . Freight train passing through Highbury & Islington.
The twin level crossings at Bollo Lane. The crossing nearer to me is used by North London Line (NLL) trains. The nearest stations to here are South Acton (NLL) and Acton Town (District & Piccadilly lines).
There is also a level crossing next to Acton Central NLL station, this being the station where the trains swap between 25Kv AC overhead wire and 750v DC third rail.
. The North London Line is also a busy freight corridor. This eastbound electrically hauled container train is travelling through platform 8 at Highbury & Islington station.

The North London Line is almost entirely above ground and represents a good way for those who do not feel adventurous to see suburban parts of London without wandering the streets and risking becoming lost. At Stratford there are good views of the Olympic Park where the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games were held. In the Hackney area the line is on a brick arch viaduct which offers many views of East London. Dating from the 1980's, when passenger services through east London were reintroduced after WW2, the stations Hackney Wick - Dalston Kingsland are all simple and low cost in design (except Hackney Central, which was rebuilt in 2018.) This is an area which some people may prefer to avoid, although it should be perfectly safe to view from passing trains. The Dalston - Camden Road section is mostly multi-tracked with part of the route shared with East London Line trains and part where there are extra tracks for freight trains. Between Camden Road and Kentish Town West the line passes near to the famous Camden Market. Near to Gospel Oak look out for the childrens' play ground and the allotments (an area of urban ground split up into small patches so that people who do not have gardens attached to their houses can grow fresh vegetables and flowers). There is a twin track tunnel near to Hampstead Heath station. The line crosses the River Thames on a bridge between Gunnersbury and Kew Gardens stations.

Highbury & Islington station. . Crowded platform at Highbury & Islington.
Highbury and Islington London Overground platforms as seen from the B515 Liverpool Road.
On the left are North London Line platforms №s 8 and 7.
On the right are East London Line platforms №s 2 and 1.
Whilst the track from platform 2 connects with the North London Line, the signalling system has been designed to not allow through trains!
. Its not yet the rush hour but already platform №8 (eastbound,
North London Line) at Highbury & Islington is very busy.
Many passengers change trains here, catching the Victoria Line to Central London.
Camden Road station building. . West Brompton platform with wire mesh fence.
Camden Road station is one of the few North London Line stations to still retain their original North London Railway station buildings.

Camden Town Northern Line station is 7 - 10 minutes walk from here. Passengers paying fares using PAYG are allowed to walk between these stations and then continue their journey at no extra cost. (Touch-out when leaving the station and touch-in when arriving at the other station). There is a generous time limit in which this journey must be completed, so people who walk slowly should not worry.
. West Brompton West London Line station is alongside the District Line station of the same name.

Passengers interchanging between southbound Overground and northbound Underground trains benefit from same-level cross-platform interchange via some gaps in the fence. Alas, passengers interchanging between northbound Overground and southbound Underground trains must use the steps / lifts - up and then down!

Most passengers paying fares using electronic smart cards (Oyster, contactless, etc.,) in PAYG mode will find their journey is cheaper if they remember to use the pink card readers. Passengers with Travelcard season tickets which do NOT include Zone 1 also need to use the pink card readers - as otherwise they risk being charged an extra fare.
  • The West London Line links Clapham Junction with Willesden Junction, changing between 25kV AC overhead wires and 750V DC third rail part way between Shepherds Bush and Willesden Junction stations.
    Some trains travel all the way from Clapham Junction to Stratford, enhancing the North London Line service frequency.
Overground train at Shepherds Bush West London Line station . Southern train at Shepherds Bush West London Line station.
Shepherds Bush station on the West London Line is next to the very large Westfield indoor shopping centre. The Central Line Underground station of the same name is also nearby. . The West London Line is also served by an hourly Southern train which travels between Milton Keynes and South Croydon.
These trains do NOT stop at Willesden Junction.
  • The East London Line is a group of four services. They are all powered at 750V DC via a third rail. Note that one of the intermediate stations (Shoreditch High Street) is in Zone 1, which makes journeys through this station more expensive to travel on (higher fares).
    Dalston Junction - West Croydon
    Dalston Junction - New Cross
    Highbury & Islington - Crystal Palace
    Highbury & Islington - Clapham Junction via the part of the route of the former South London Line (SLL).

    Extending London Overground trains from Surrey Quays to Clapham Junction resulted in the closure of the former SLL service between London Bridge and Victoria mainline stations. This ending of through SLL trains caused severe inconvenience to some former SLL passengers who must now travel longer, slower routes and change trains (at least once) and / or catch buses to complete journeys which could previously be accomplished on just the one train. To maintain the legal status (as still being a functioning railway) of the part of the SLL route which is not used by any other trains a few London Overground trains travel to Battersea Park instead of Clapham Junction - but at times of day when few passengers wish to travel!
Shadwell station. . Overground train at Whitechapel station.
An Overground train passes below a ventilation portal as it arrives at Shadwell station. Very close by is the DLR station of the same name. . Since the building of a new roof at Whitechapel station it is no longer possible to see that East London Line Overground trains pass below District and Hammersmith & City Lines Underground trains.

The section of East London Line between Highbury & Islington and 'near to' Shoreditch High Street was originally part of the North London Line, but for many years it had been closed. Between Dalston Junction and near to Whitechapel this line is on a viaduct which gives interesting views of the local buildings and the stations are all brand new.

The present-day Shoreditch High Street station is also new; it replaces the older Shoreditch station which was closed to allow for the extension of the route.

The section of East London Line between the old Shoreditch station and New Cross / New Cross Gate was operated by Metropolitan Railway / Line trains for over 100 years! This route includes the first tunnel ever to be built under the River Thames. The text below is copied from one of the Nostalgia, Heritage & Leisure pages on the citytransport.info website ..

35ft [11m] wide, 20ft [6m] high and 1,300ft (¼ mile / 396m) long, this tunnel runs between Rotherhithe and Wapping at a depth of 75ft [23m] below London's River Thames. It was built between 1825 and 1843 using Marc Isambard Brunel's newly invented tunnelling shield technology, by him and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This long time period included a seven year abandonment which was caused by financial problems. Originally the intention was that the tunnel should be used by horse-drawn carriages but ongoing financial problems meant that the access ramps could not be afforded and it remained for pedestrians only. In 1865 the tunnel was purchased by the East London Railway Company, this being a consortium of six railway companies who wanted to use the tunnel to provide a rail link for goods and passengers between Wapping (and later, Liverpool Street) and the South London Line. The tunnel opened for trains in 1869 and in 1884 the disused entrance shafts in Wapping and Rotherhithe were converted into Wapping and Rotherhithe stations respectively.

The six railway companies which owned the East London Railway Company included the Metropolitan Railway and the Metropolitan District Railway which eventually became part of London Transport and the Metropolitan Line / District Line. The other four railway companies eventually became part of British Railways. The Metropolitan Railway electrified the line in 1913 and ended up providing the 'local' passenger services - which included many through trains over the northern part of the Circle line to destinations such as Uxbridge and Hammersmith (both via Baker Street). The steam railways operated longer distance services (eg: to the south coast) and freight trains. Nowadays only Overground trains use this line, especially as the new link past the former Shoreditch station which joins the subterranean and elevated sections of line is quite steep and restricts access to only trains which are powerful enough to negotiate this incline.

Platform murals at Wapping station. . Platform murals at Wapping station.
Platform murals at Wapping station depicting how it would have been shortly after opening and what would have been a typical early 1960's scene when it was used by London Transport electric passenger trains as well as British Railways steam (later diesel) powered freight trains.

Rotherhithe Station - Railway Avenue. Plaque at Rotherhithe Station. Brunel Museum.
Left: Rotherhithe station and Railway Avenue.
Centre: A plaque on the brickwork above the stairs to the platforms at Rotherhithe station ..
Right: The Brunel Museum, as seen from Railway Avenue.

A short walk along Railway Avenue from Rotherhithe station is the Brunel Museum. This includes the Brunel Engine House which was designed by Sir Marc Isambard Brunel as part of the infrastructure of the Thames Tunnel. The museum has a website at this link:
http://www.brunel-museum.org.uk/ ..

To the south of Surrey Quays trains travelling to / from Clapham Junction travel on a section of railway which had been closed for many years but was re-opened for this service. At some stage in the future a new station will be built here.

Queens Road Peckham - Wandsworth Road is part of the former South London Line. Much of this route is elevated on brick arch viaducts.

The view from the train window between Denmark Hill and Clapham High Street will interest people who wish to see 'real' London away from the tourist areas but at the same time feel safer not walking the streets. Especially not with cameras visible for everyone to see.

Local people will perhaps disagree, but Peckham and Wandsworth are two more of the 'inner city South London' areas which some people may prefer to avoid.

. Surrey Quays station.
Surrey Quays station. Very close to here is the Surrey Quays shopping centre which has about 40 shops, restaurants, free toilets and a large Tesco superstore. This is very much a neighbourhood shopping centre that is used by local people, but of course visitors to London would be welcome as well. For more information visit this website http://www.surreyquaysshoppingcentre.co.uk/ ..

At New Cross Gate trains travelling to / from West Croydon and Crystal Palace merge with an existing four track section of railway which extends all the way to Norwood Junction. Trains travelling from Norwood Junction to West Croydon often have to wait for other trains to pass first.

This part of south London is also served by many trains from terminus stations such as London Bridge and Victoria; passengers paying their fares in PAYG mode should note that these other trains charge higher fares.

London Overground train at Crystal Palace station. . Overground and Southern trains at Honor Oak Park station.
London Overground train at Crystal Palace station. The much-loved Victorian-era station building requires at least four photographs to properly show it. Nowadays only platforms 1-6 are used, with part of the station closed to passengers. . London Overground and Southern trains pass at Honor Oak Park.
The London Overground [and Southern trains which call at this station] use the outer two tracks whilst the centre pair of tracks are used by fast Southern and Thameslink trains.
Overground and Thameslink trains at Denmark Hill station. . London Overground trains at Clapham Junction station.
London Overground and Thameslink trains at Denmark Hill station. This much-loved Victorian station was rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1980. Nowadays most of the station building is a pub called The Phoenix. Happily, there is a counter specially dedicated to railway passengers who can buy refreshments without leaving the fares paid area. . London Overground trains at Clapham Junction.
The train near to me will be travelling via Canada Water [ie: south and east London] whilst the train in the distance will be travelling via Willesden Junction [ie: west and north London].
New Livery

In 2018 the Class 378 trains started being 'refreshed' with a slightly different livery and seat fabric colour scheme. Eventually the entire fleet will be updated in this way.

Class 378 train new livery. Class 378 train TFL Roundel. Class 378 train new livery.
Class 378 trains in the refreshed livery which is designed to make the Class 378 fleet look more like the new Class 710 trains - in addition to a different livery and seating fabric palette colours the changes include the train numbers being removed the cab fronts and instead painted on the lower sides (in the area painted blue), below the Tf L Roundel symbol and on the cab roofs!

projector icon
A short film showing Overground and other trains taken a New Cross Gate in May 2013 can be seen on 'youtube' at this link: http://youtu.be/9EpfgK8Z34g .

Barking - Gospeal Oak 'Goblin' Service
London Overground Class 172 train. . London Overground Class 172 train.
The Barking - Gospel Oak service uses four carriage Class 378 trains - seen here at Gospel Oak station.
Electrification, New Electric Trains, Many Problems, Reduced Service, Partial Closure!

In 2018 this line was electrified and the plan was for some four carriage Class 710 electric trains to replace the (then) Class 172 diesel trains. BUT, the new trains are of a brand new design and there are many problems which mean that they cannot enter passenger service.

In March 2019 the last of the diesel trains was withdrawn, as they are needed on a different railway service outside of London. In an effort to maintain a passenger service 3x four-car Class 378 electric trains have been drafted in from other London Overground routes but there are not enough spare trains to operate the full Barking - Gospel Oak service. Therefore this service only operates every 30 minutes and is partially supplemented by buses.

New Extension

There is a plan to extend this line from Barking to a new residential area near to the River Thames. The new terminus station will be Barking Riverside.

The Routes Which Use Classes 315 and 317 Electric Trains
London Overground Class 315 train. . London Overground Class 315 train.
A Class 315 train in full London Overground livery arrives at Chingford station. . The grey surround around the doorway on the right identifies this as being the nearest entrance to the wheelchair space.

At present the routes which joined the London Overground network in May 2015 use a mix of Classes 315 and 317 electric trains which are powered at 25kV AC from overhead wires.

These routes are:

  • Liverpool Street station - Enfield Town
  • Liverpool Street station - Chingford
  • Liverpool Street station - Cheshunt via Seven Sisters (NOT the service via Tottenham Hale)
  • Romford - Upminster via Emerson Park

The desire is that all services from Liverpool Street will operate at least every 15 minutes but because these are busy routes which are also used by other trains and there is not always enough track capacity so sometimes trains are less frequent.

The Romford - Upminster service is a single track quiet country branch line and the one train comes every 30 minutes. There is no service in the evening after 8pm (20:00) or on Sundays.

London Overground Class 317 train. . London Overground Class 710 train.
Class 317 train in London Overground livery in sidings next to Chingford station. . One of the new London Overground Class 710 electric multiple unit trains in a siding near to Willesden Junction station.
New Trains

It is hoped that in 2019 a fleet of brand new Bombardier Aventra Class 710 four carriage electric multiple unit trains will start to replace the Classes 315 and 317 London Overground trains. But these are a brand new type of train with much new technology and there are multiple problems which are preventing them from being used. The exact details have not been made public.

There will be two types of Class 710 train depending on whether they can only operate on overhead wires or they can use both overhead wire and third rail electrification systems.

The overhead wire trains will be used on services out of London Liverpool Street station. Originally they were also going to be used on the Romford - Upminster shuttle but it is possible that either a London Overground or a TfL Rail Class 315 train will be retained for this short shuttle service.

The trains which can use both overhead wire and third rail will be used on the Barking - Gospel Oak and Euston - Watford routes. The Class 378 trains currently being used on these services will be merged with the fleet used on the North / South / East / West London lines.

Overground To Expand Throughout London?

In January 2016 it was announced that when the franchises for all other mainline railway routes in London are renewed control of the urban / suburban services will be transferred to Transport For London, (TfL) who it is expected will add them to the London Overground network.

It remains to be seen of this comes to pass, as not all passengers will welcome this - especially as experience with the London Underground Metropolitan Line suggests that TfL will change service patterns in ways which disadvantage passengers travelling from outside of London's political boundaries. (ie: make the trains call at more stations so that journeys from outside of London become slower and take longer). The issue is that many of these services are integrated into the mainline / national railway network whilst TfL's primary interest is serving people who live inside its political boundaries. In many areas there are towns which whilst just outside of London's political boundaries are still part of its socio-economic zone.

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This page last updated 23rd March 2019 (Barking - Gospel Oak route information)
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