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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

Central Line
view of Central line 1992 Tube Stock train. . inside a Central line 1992 Tube Stock train.
The Central line uses 1992 Tube Stock, seen here (above left) from the road to Sainsbury's supermarket
which also passes by the Newbury Park station car park.

Central line trains use a GoA 2 (Grade of Automation level 2) semi-automatic train control system (STO) whereby the trains travel automatically from station to station but a human train driver is always present at the front of the train, with duties that include door closing and initiating station departure. To ensure that train drivers retain their train driving licences they sometimes still have to drive the trains manually (especially on Sundays).

Below / Above Ground

In twin single bore tunnels through Central London (just outside White City - just outside Leyton) and to the east of London between (just outside) Leytonstone and (just outside) Newbury Park via Redbridge. There is also a short twin-track tunnel between Chigwell and Grange Hill stations.

In open air at Stratford (only for the station), Leyton - Epping / Newbury Park via Woodford and White City to Ealing Broadway / West Ruislip.

Click map to see larger version in a new window! .

. Central line Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map modified by me, original source & license:
Karldupart / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
General Information

Photographic viewpoints which I've used include:
* Depot Road which is just a little to the north of White City station,
* Wood Lane just north of the junction with the Westway (to the north of White City station)
* Victoria Road (and Chase Road) which are either side of North Acton station,
* a footbridge over the tracks near to Park Royal Piccadilly line station,
* a footbridge over the tracks close to the Sainsbury's supermarket car park near to Newbury Park station,
* the footpath outside Newbury Park station,
* Station Way road bridge over the tracks near to Roding Valley station.

West London: White City station is one of several on the Underground which has 3 tracks and 4 platforms - normally the centre track is used for trains which terminate here. White City is also one of the few stations on the London Underground where trains pass on the right. One of the crossovers between right and left hand running is underground, so is not visible, but the other one is in open air and located partway between White City and East Acton stations.

Much of the route from where the line passes below the elevated urban motorway a little to the north of White City to North Acton is alongside a former Great Western Railway (GWR) goods line which closed in 1964. Some of the closed line has become overgrown (with trees), other sections have been built over, but where the line crosses over roads the disused railway bridges still exist.

Additional information: This section of Central line was built by the Ealing & Shepherd's Bush Railway (E&SBR) for the GWR as a branch which linked Ealing Broadway station to what nowadays is known as the West London Line. The E&SBR line opened in 1917 and in 1920 the electric tube trains were extended along it as far Ealing Broadway. In 1938 the goods trains were given brand new dedicated tracks as far as North Acton station, this made it possible for them to stop 'track sharing' with the tube trains. As this was a GWR railway line it built the new stations - East Acton and West Acton, plus platforms at Ealing Broadway. North Acton station already existed but it was resited.

grade separated Central line crossover. . Central line trains travel on the right!
The crossover where trains switch between left and right side running - the westbound track passes over the eastbound track.
This was filmed from a footbridge between Bentwood Road and Du Cane Road - I walked here from White City station.
. Looking down on the railway from the junction of Wood Lane and the Westway - where trains travel on the right - note that the train on the left is displaying white (front) lights and that the green signal is on the far track.

In both views above the buildings which are located alongside the railway occupy the former trackbed of a British Railways goods (freight) line.

East Acton station - wooden platform shelter outside. East Acton station - wooden platform shelter inside. East Acton station - both bridges over roadway.
East Acton station has simple wooden platform shelters, such as might be expected at a quiet halt type of station.
From the street it is possible to see that there are actually two railway bridge over the road - the bridge nearer the station is used by Central line trains, the bridge nearer where I took this photograph was part of the GWR / British Railways goods line and is now disused.

The Central line splits after North Acton, with one branch going towards Ealing Broadway. The approach to Ealing Broadway station is alongside the Great Western Main Line and often longer distance trains from Paddington station can often be seen. This includes Great Western Railway InterCity Express trains heading towards Bristol, Cardiff, Swansea and Penzance, other Great Western trains heading to outer suburban / regional destinations plus TFL Rail and Heathrow Express trains travelling to Heathrow Airport.

West Action station frontage. . West Acton station platform.
West Acton station is a Grade 2 listed building. The original 1920 station was rebuilt by the GWR for the (then) London Transport Passenger Board as part of the LPTB's 1935-40 New Works Programme. It was designed by GWR's chief architect, Brian Lewis and was completed in late 1940.

This station is typical of many of the 1930s Art Deco stations where the ticket hall is a reinforced concrete frame brick clad 'box' with full-height window with concrete mullions on both the front and rear elevations.
Other distinctive features also include open-sided concrete staircases with bronze handrails linking the ticket hall with the platforms, which have flat-roofed, open-sided concrete shelters, a distinctive bull-nosed glazed end and crook-shaped polished hardwood benches that follow the curve of the shelter.

As this station is listed by Historic England more information about its architectural merits can be found at this link on their website:
https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1400997 .

The section of the Central line between North Acton and West Ruislip was built by the GWR and when it opened (in the late 1940's) the electric tube trains replaced the GWR's steam trains. West Ruislip was built as a through station, because the original plans were for the Central line to extend a few stations further - to Denham. Alongside the Central line is the New North Main Line (NNML), which was once a busy mainline railway route with trains to Birmingham, Birkenhead (near Liverpool / Merseyside) and other destinations. Nowadays only the section between South Ruislip and West Ruislip is regularly used by passenger trains (Chiltern Railways, from London Marylebone station) and some of these trains still go to Birmingham. [Plus there is a special non-stop passenger train from South Ruislip to West Ealing southbound and then West Ealing - High Wycombe northbound].

Some Chiltern Railways trains from Marylebone also call at South or West Ruislip stations (not usually them both!) and One-day Travelcards / Oyster / Contactless PAYG can be used on these trains too. (If using a Travelcard remember to ensure that it is valid in Zone 5 for South Ruislip or Zone 6 for West Ruislip). The Chiltern trains are not frequent - check the timetable if you wish to use them. Between Ruislip Gardens and West Ruislip there is a large Central line depot which also has a non-passenger link with the Metropolitan / Piccadilly line Uxbridge branch. (This link is not visible from passenger trains).

Especially between Hanger Lane and Greenford the railway is also close to the A40 Western Avenue, and by looking out the window to the left it is possible to see the traffic. Because of the distance between stations (and the low road speed limit which is enforced by speed cameras) the trains often travel faster than the road traffic! The railway is elevated here and you will also see many houses and other buildings.

At Greenford the (half hourly, not Sundays) shuttle train from the bay platform at West Ealing terminates in a third track between the Underground trains. Note that although there are platforms on both sides the shuttle trains only use one of them. This is the last station in Zone 4.

stairs, escalator, lift lower landing Greenford station. . part way along stairs, escalator, incline lift Greenford station.
Greenford was the first London UndergrounD station to have up escalators from the ticket hall to the trains, and has now become the first station in London to have the down escalator replaced with a glass wall inclined lift alongside the fixed stairs and up escalator. The inclined lift was installed to make the station platforms fully accessible.

click me for video Trains at Greenford station feature in one of my 'youtube' videos - using footage from the 1980's, 1990's, 2009 and 2010 the film shows a wide variety of rolling stock, including some older types of train which have now been replaced.
This can be seen by clicking either the projector icon or this link:- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gr8aoyMBAw .

Alas, the film does not show the inclined lift - this is because it was made several years before the lift was installed.

Great Western Central line cross platform interchange Greenford station. . Central line train alongside New North Main Line
Four platforms at Greenford station. When it was built this station was specially designed with 'cross platform' interchange between the Great Western Railway's and Central line's trains. Unfortunately nowadays the Great Western trains only open their doors on one side. This change of policy seems to date from the introduction of the modern trains which have sliding doors that the railway staff control (the previous trains had hand-operated doors which passengers opened and closed).
Why? it can only be surmised that the railway sees what benefits passengers as being less important than what is easy for its staff.
Looking down on the Central line where the West Ruislip branch runs alongside the 1903 'New North Main Line' (NNML) which nowadays is little used - but it is proposed will 'one day' become part of HS2, the high speed railway which (if built) will link London with northern England.

This was seen from a bridge over the railway which is near to Park Royal Piccadilly line station (accessed via the underpass below the A40 Western Avenue roadway) and a short walk from Hanger Lane Central line station.

Central London: Several stations show evidence of the platform lengthening works from 1938/9. Look for a widening of the station tunnel diameter partway along the platform. Holland Park (eastbound) is a good example of this. Because the section of line in Central London was originally built to follow the streets above them some stations (eg: St Pauls, Chancery Lane) have platforms separated vertically (one above the other) rather located side-by-side. In addition, the St Pauls - Bank - Liverpool Street section includes many sharp curves, as the line mirrors the historic street pattern of that very old part of London. This explains the sharply curved station platforms at Bank, as seen below.

Central Line platforms at Shepherds Bush. . Holland Park station.
Looking along the platforms from the eastern end of Shepherds Bush station. . Holland Park is one of the Central line stations which in 1938/9 was lengthened to accept 8-car trains. The platform extensions were built in a way which also provides a larger safety clearance between the train and the tunnel wall, which explains the tunnel diameter changes.
Sharply curved platform Bank Station Central line inside curve. . Sharply curved platform at Bank Station Central line outside curve.
Sharply curved platforms at Bank station. This is a good station to hear the famous "mind the gap" announcement.
Curved platforms pose a special problem as they have to allow for the ends of the carriage to "overhang" and depending on the sharpness of the curve this can result in large gaps between the train and the platform.
On inside curves (above left) the gap will be at the carriage ends whilst on outside curves (above right) the gap will be the centre of the carriage.
St Pauls station subway entrances. . St Pauls station escalators.
Station entrances at St. Paul's, which is very close to the Cathedral.
In British English the word subway (on the sign on the metal railings) refers to a subterranean passageway (such as is used to cross a road) and not a train service. These two entrances lead to the main station building on the other side of the road.
. St Paul's is one of several London deep-level tube stations where the platforms are stacked one above the other, instead of side by side.
Usually stations were built like this because it meant the platforms were wholly below the roads.

East London: The east London section (east of Liverpool Street station) includes both 'new build' tube tunnels that were built prior to WW2 but only started being used by trains after the war and sections of railway which were built many years earlier in the steam locomotive era.

This combination of new and old represents a wealth of architectural styles spanning over 100 years of railway operations. stan with hainailt mixture

Bethnal Green station platform decoration. . Stratford station train with doors open on both sides.
The platform wall tiling at Bethnal Green is typical of the subterranean stations built under the 1935 'New Works' plan and which opened in the late 1930's and the 1940's. The colour band varied from station to station. The concealed lighting over the station name frieze is a newer addition. . At Stratford westbound Central line trains open their doors on both sides - platform 3 is shared with TfL Rail (and other) trains to London Liverpool Street station whilst platform 3a leads to the newer parts of the station which are served by the DLR and Jubilee lines.

The section from Leyton to Epping and round the northern side of the loop to Newbury Park is a former steam railway which only became part of the Underground in the 1940's. Many of these stations had goods yards which closed in the 1960's and have now become car parks. The last British Railways diesel train to Epping ran in 1970 and the connection (by Leyton station) has been removed. The line between Leytonstone and Newbury Park is underground, it was built in the 1930s and during the 1939-1945 war was used as a munitions factory with a narrow gauge railway in the tunnels. Leytonstone station has three platforms, westbound trains use an island platform and it is possible for two westbound trains to arrive simultaneously (one each from Snaresbrook and Wanstead stations).

Many stations on the Epping route are a distance apart and the trains travel more quickly than in central London. Plus there are nice views of suburban London and the countryside. Between South Woodford and Woodford the railway crosses over a busy roadway which is 5 lanes wide in each direction. This is where the M11 motorway meets the A406 North Circular Road. When it opened the road had a 70mph / 120km/h speed limit, but since the anti-car politicians came to power the speed limit was reduced by 30% (to 50mph / 80km/h) and nowadays there are digital speed cameras as well :-(

The section of railway between Buckhurst Hill and Epping is outside of London - in the adjacent county of Essex. Buckhurst Hill, Theydon Bois and Epping are traditional 'older' stations - Buckhurst Hill opened in 1856, although the present buildings date from 1892. A few photographs showing some heritage features at Buckhurst Hill station in the 1990's can be found at this link... http://citytransport.info/BuckhurstHill.htm . Unfortunately since I took these photographs the lovely frosted windows with the writing have been replaced with plain glass. Epping is a small town some miles outside of London - it is even outside the M25 orbital motorway. The journey here is through open countryside. The railway used to continue beyond Epping to Ongar, however that section closed in the 1980's. More recently however it was reopened as a private museum railway which uses steam and diesel trains. Timetable and fares information for the Epping Ongar Railway can be found at this link: http://eorailway.co.uk/ .

Loughton was rebuilt in the late 1930's and is pehaps the most significant Art Deco station at the eastern end of the Central line. It has 3 tracks and 4 platforms. For many years after the Central line had taken over the normal passenger services special British Railways excursion trains (powered by steam or diesel locomotives) would travel from Loughton taking passengers to seaside destinations - often travelling via the East London line and on to the south coast.

There is a large depot between Hainault and Grange Hill. Part of this can be seen from the platforms at Hainault station - or by travelling between these two stations.

No.17 Hitchcock Mosaics Leytonstone station.
A scene from No.17.
Rear Window Hitchcock Mosaics Leytonstone.
Alfred Hitchcock with Marlene Dietrich and a scene from Rear Window.
The building in the Rear Window is the Green Man pub
which is located at the north end of Leytonstone High Road.
Psycho Hitchcock Mosaics Leytonstone station.
A scene from Psycho.

Leytonstone station was significantly rebuilt in the 1930s. It has two entrances (one each side of the tracks) which lead to a ticket hall directly below the tracks at the western end of the station. There are three platforms - a side platform for eastbound trains and an island platform for westbound trains. Especially at busy times it is usual to see two westbound trains arriving at the same time - one each from Snaresbrook and Wanstead stations.

Also at Leytonstone are two bus interchange stations - one on each side of the tracks.

A distinctive feature at this station are the 17 mosaic murals which adorn the entrace passageways. These murals depict scenes from films made by the famous film director Alfred Hitchcock, who was born in Leytonstone.

More information about and photographs of these murals can be found at this link: http://www.thejoyofshards.co.uk/london/hitch/ .

Two Central line trains side by side. . Time Terminus artwork Leytonstone bus station.
Westbound trains waiting to enter Leytonstone station.
The train on the left has come from Snaresbrook station whilst the train on the right has come from Wanstead station.
. This brick artwork is called Time Terminus and it is by Lodewyk Pretor, who lives nearby.
This artwork is in the bus station next to the eastbound platform.
Central line platforms at Redbridge. . Moscow style waiting area at Gants Hill London Underground station.
Redbridge is one of the few subterranean stations served by the small profile 'tube' lines that was built using the 'cut and cover' method. This was because it is very close to the surface. It also explains why the station has straight rather than curved (arch-shaped) walls. . Arched roof of the escalator lower landing and waiting area at Gants Hill station which is themed upon some stations on the metro in Moscow, Russia.

The entire Hainault loop is in zone 4. Barkingside and Fairlop are good examples of Victorian / Edwardian era stations and have a frequent train service. Near to Fairlop station is a low bridge under the railway which tall road vehicles often hit. If you want to see how a station that has had its platform canopies cut in half (as a cheaper alternative to costly repairs) then Chigwell may be an excellent example, but note that trains between Hainault and Woodford operate at 20 minutes intervals and the service ends early in the evenings. Between Roding Valley and Chigwell a farm can be seen out the window (look to the north, away from London). This is easiest to see in the winter, when the trees do not have any leaves. Nearby the railway crosses over the M11 Motorway.

A short walk from Roding Valley station along Station Way is a bridge over the railway which I've often used. The bridge is actually over the main Epping line but in the distance (looking south) it is possible to see where the Hainault loop joins the Epping route. A link to a Google map showing this location can be found below
https://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ll=51.616504,0.042325&spn=0.002905,0.006899&t=m&z=17 .

For many years the section of track between Hainault and Woodford was used to test the automation system which was later used on the Victoria line. Every one of the Victoria line's 1967 Tube Stock trains was tested here, alongside the small fleet of 1960 Tube Stock trains which provided the main service. The only through trains to central London were the rush-hour journeys from the Hainault depot which ran in passenger service from Grange Hill. When returning to the depot at the end of the rush hours they showed a destination of Grange Hill via Woodford.

Gants Hill is famed for having a large arched waiting area between the platforms which is similar to some stations on the Moscow metro. The station is in the middle of a large roundabout and the entrance is part of the pedestrian walkway system under the roads. Newbury Park is famed for the large arched bus shelter just outside the station which was designed by Oliver Hill in 1937 and built after WW2, opening in 1949. This shelter features a copper-covered barrel-vaulted roof. It is a Grade ll listed building and in 1951 won a Festival Of Britain architectural award. A plaque celebrating this award can be seen on the left side of the arch - and is also shown in the image below right. Note however that just because a structure is award-winning for being visually significant does not mean that it is also practical. Whilst this shelter helps keep a person dry in inclement weather, personal experience is that is of minimal benefit on cold windy winter days. It is possible to look down upon Newbury Park station from the A12 Eastern Avenue outside the station.

Tunnel Mouths near Newbury Park. . Award winning bus shelter Newbury Park.
A northbound train travelling towards Hainault exits the tunnel mouths very close to Newbury Park station, as seen from the footpath alongside the A12 Eastern Avenue. The former mainline railway route to Ilford which was in the gap between the tracks is now closed. This was filmed in December 2014, looking south. Looking in the opposite direction it is possible to look over a wall and see (and photograph) Newbury Park station. . The award-winning barrel-vaulted concrete bus shelter outside Newbury Park railway station, plus (inset) the plaque celebrating it being awarded a Festival Of Britain architectural award.

Also visible is a sign (which is illuminated at night) advertising the presence of this railway station. This is placed where approaching traffic can easily see it (at the left edge of the photograph).
Barkingside railway station . Central line Hainault loop diagrammatic map
The very grand station building with a cupola at Barkingside.
This station was opened in 1903 by the Great Eastern Railway.
Electric tube trains replaced steam trains in 1948
and the goods depot (freight yard) closed in 1965.
. A map seen at Bank station showing the Hainault - Woodford
shuttle plus that sometimes there are also a few through trains.
See below for additional information.

Eastbound Loop Destination Routing

For many years most trains serving stations between Hainault and Woodford (via Chigwell) ran as a shuttle, with some additional rush hour trains between central London and Grange Hill via Woodford. This changed when the present 1992 tube stock trains were introduced, with through services running all day between Woodford and central London via Hainault and Newbury Park.

To reduce the number of trains in service - so that the entire fleet can be modified to comply with new laws to create space for passengers who use wheelchairs (and other works) most through trains were withdrawn in January 2020. The service frequency remains the same (every 20 minutes) but for most of the time passengers must change trains at either Hainault or Woodford.

Passengers who want to go to Grange Hill, Chigwell and Roding Valley will usually find that it is better to catch a train to Epping / Debden / Loughton and change trains at Woodford.

Trains Terminating at Leytonstone

Sometimes trains also end their journeys at Leytonstone. Usually this is in a platform that is normally used by westbound trains, so to avoid having to walk to one end of the platform and then using two stairways to reach the eastbound platform, passengers will usually find it more convenient to wait for the next eastbound train at Leyton.

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This page last updated 1st February 2022
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