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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

Northern Line
Northern Line 1995 Tube Stock. . inside Northern Line 1995 Tube Stock.
The Northern line uses 1995 Tube Stock, seen here (above left) using one of the extra long subterranean platforms at Highgate station.

Northern 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 drive the trains manually.

Northern Line 1995 Tube Stock.
The central area seating of one car per train includes two fixed sides - these are for the benefit of passengers who use wheelchairs.

Below / Above Ground

Entirely underground from just outside Morden to just before Golders Green / East Finchley.

The sections from East Finchley to Mill Hill East / High Barnet and Golders Green to Edgware are in the open air. There is a short tunnel between Hendon Central and Colindale.

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

. Northern Line Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map modified by me, original source & license:
Ed g2s / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
General Information

The Northern line was given this name in 1937 when expansion plans included its trains taking over three Northern Heights railway routes in north London. Before this renaming it was known as the Morden - Edgware line.

At 17 miles 528 yards (27.841km) in length, for many years the section from East Finchley to Morden via Bank formed the longest continuous passenger railway tunnel anywhere on Earth.

Central London:

Charing Cross Branch: Some trains which travel on the Charing Cross branch go to Battersea Power Station but most of them terminate at Kennington, where passengers have a ‘same level’ interchange with trains from the Bank branch. Very few Charing Cross branch trains go to Morden - instead passengers must change trains at Kennington.

Mornington Crescent station has been nicely refurbished, especially the platforms. The platforms at Charing Cross have a very distinctive wall mural based on the construction of the nearby Eleanor Cross 1000 years ago.

Vitreous enamel platform wall cladding Embankment. . Long interchange passageway at Embankment.
At Embankment all the station platforms plus some passageways are clad in white vitreous enamel.
Whilst the decorative stripes are repeated on all three sets of platforms (Northern, Bakerloo, District & Circle lines) there are subtle differences in the pattern designs and colours.
. The interchange passageway (called Lower Access Tunnel) which links the Bakerloo line platforms with the southbound Northern line platform at Embankment. Passengers interchanging to or from northbound Northern line trains must travel via two escalators (up and then down).
Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic Tottenham Court Road station. . Leicester Square platform wall mural.
Eduardo Paolozzi mosaic tile murals at Tottenham Court Road station. . The platform wall murals at Leicester Square are themed on film sprockets, this is because of the local area‘s connection with the cinema and it being where many British film premières are held.
The sprockets are coloured black the Northern line platforms
(as here) and blue on the Piccadilly line platforms.
Eleanor memorial Charing Cross station. Eleanor memorial Charing Cross station. Eleanor memorial Charing Cross station.
Side images: Part of the 330ft / 100 metre long mural which adorns the Northern line platform walls. Designed by David Gentleman the mural depicts scenes from the construction of the original Charing Cross, which was a memorial to Eleanor of Castile, the wife of former King Edward I.
Middle image: The Eleanor Memorial in the forecourt of Charing Cross station.

Bank Branch: For part of the route the trains travel on the right but because the line is deep underground this is only seen at stations (Bank, London Bridge, Borough). The Northern line‘s platforms at Bank are very congested and should be avoided in the rush hours. This is partly a result of significant growth in passenger numbers but also because passengers use these platforms as part of the main interchange route between the Central line and Monument station and that the platforms were partially narrowed to facilitate the installation of interchange passageway access stairways when the Docklands Light Railway was extended to this station. The planned solution to alleviate the overcrowding includes building a new station platform for trains travelling in one direction and converting its present-day platform tunnel into a passageway. Also note that the interchange with the Central line includes two spiral staircases (one for passengers walking in each direction).

When built the stations at Angel and Euston (Bank branch) also featured very narrow island platforms serving both tracks but nowadays the trains have separate platforms and it is possible to tell which is the original platform because it is extra wide.

J H Greathead memorial statue City & South London Railway . . Former Northern Line very narrow platform now much wider.
A memorial statue to J H Greathead (the inscription details who he was). It is located very close to Bank station in Cornhill. The statue also hides a ventilation shaft for the Underground. Opening in 1890 the City and South London Railway (C&SLR) was London's first deep level underground railway to be bored with a tunnelling shield and the first major British railway to use electric traction. . The formerly very narrow island platform at Euston station
(Bank Branch) which since the other direction's track was
filled in has become wider than normal.

South London:

The route between Stockwell and the now closed station at King William Street was London's first deep-level tube railway. Built by the City and South London Railway (C&SLR) it opened in 1890. Although it has now has more platforms much of Kennington station is still as it was built by the C&SLR. The old route to King William Street branched off the existing route between Borough and London Bridge stations.

Clapham North and Clapham Common stations still retain their very narrow island platforms between the tracks.

The stations Clapham South - Morden date from the 1920's and are of architectural merit. The street-level structures are of white Portland stone with tall double-height ticket halls, with the London Underground roundel made up in coloured glass panels in large glazed screens.

Kennington station building. . Kennington station platform.
The main station building at Kennington has changed little since its 1890 opening as part of London's first deep level electrically powered tube line. Access to the platforms is via two (modern) lifts which are located directly below the distinctive rotunda. . The platform decor at Kennington is typical of most south London Northern line stations.
South Wimbledon station building. . Northern Line very narrow platform.
The main station building at South Wimbledon has changed little since its 1926 opening as part of the Morden extension of the City & South London Railway. Access to the platforms is via escalators. . Clapham North and Clapham Common stations still retain
their very narrow island platforms between the tracks.
Clapham Common station . Clapham Common station
Distinctive station entrance and signage at Clapham Common station.

Battersea branch:

This short branch opened in September 2021 and comprises just two stations, both of which are underground.

It was built as an extension from the reversing loop used by Charing Cross branch trains which end their journeys at Kennington and therefore it can only be served by trains that travel through central London via Charing Cross.

. Route map inside train.
Part of a Northern line route map inside a train, clearly showing that trains to Battersea only travel via the Charing Cross branch.
Street view Nine Elms station. . Nine Elms station platforms.
Ultra-modern stations with double-height ceilings at Nine Elms (above) and Battersea Power Station (below).
The Nine Elms station building was designed for a tall multi-floor tower to be built above it, so the view seen here is likely to change in the future.
Battersea Power Station station building. . Battersea Power Station station platform.

North London:

Camden Town station (which opened in 1907) is very close to the famous Camden Market and on Sunday afternoons the station is so busy that to avoid overcrowding both escalators are used in the ‘up’ direction. Therefore it is restricted to interchange and exit only; passengers wanting to enter must use a different station nearby. This is also a junction station and trains from either of the two central London branches can travel to / from either of the two north London branches.

About 7 - 10 minutes walk from Camden Town Underground station is Camden Road London Overground (North London Line) station. Passengers paying fares using PAYG are allowed to leave one of these stations and walk to the other one and then continue their journey at no extra cost. I often interchange between trains here! There is a generous time limit for the walk between the two stations to be completed, so people who walk slowly should not worry, but this time limit does not allow for going shopping in the market.

Northern Line platform at Camden Town. . Next train describer at Camden Town.
Looking down on one of the four platforms at Camden Town. . A 'next train' / passenger information display (PID) at Camden Town. Very few trains travel to Morden via Charing Cross, instead passengers usually need to change trains at Kennington.
Camden Town station. . . Camden Town station.
To avoid dangerous overcrowding caused by the very many people who flock to the nearby Camden Market, on Sunday afternoons Camden Town is only open for passengers to leave the station or change trains. It is not possible to enter the station from the street.

Edgware branch: Hampstead station is the deepest on the Underground and has high speed lifts. Golders Green has 3 tracks and 5 platforms (although one is no longer used). The centre track is used by trains which terminate here. There is also a large depot here. Directly in front of the Underground station is a busy bus station which is served by many buses from the local area as well as National Express coaches from many towns and cities around the British Isles.

The Edgware branch was built in the 1920's when the area was green fields. Whilst there is nothing ‘bad’ about it, it could be said that the High Barnet branch is more interesting.

low bridge above railway. . Hendon Central station.
The Edgware branch was built for the small profile tube trains. This means that although it is mostly above ground all road bridges over the tracks were also built with tube trains in mind. . The platform at Hendon Central station.
Brent Cross station. . Brent Cross station:

Although the destination display on this train shows Edgware it is actually on a southbound journey to Kennington via Charing Cross.

The empty space between the train and the brick wall dates from the days when this station had passing loops so that non-stop trains could pass a train that had stopped here.
Golders Green station. . Three tunnel mouths near Golders Green station.
With two platforms for northbound trains Golders Green has an unusual platform layout. Trains used to open their doors on both sides but when electronic ticket gates were installed here it was decided that to save money the northbound side platform on the left (and a second station entrance in a nearby road) should no longer be used. . Three(!) tunnel mouths just south of Golders Green station.
From left to right these are for:
a siding, southbound trains, northbound trains.

High Barnet branch: Some of the oldest stations on the London Underground are on the High Barnet branch of the Northern line. Many date from 1867/72 - Underground trains only started using this line in 1940. This was as part of a wide area railway electrification scheme involving several railway routes in north London which went disastrously wrong and has left a lot of people without any railway service at all.

Some stations on this branch have platforms which are longer than usual; this is because until WW2 there were experiments (on the Edgware and Charing Cross branches) with 9 car (carriage / coach) trains and the platforms at new and rebuilt stations were designed for the longer trains. Highgate is the best station to see this. Nowadays all trains have just 7 cars.

Highgate station is in a deep cutting and there is an extra up escalator which takes arriving passengers higher up the hill. Nowadays trains only use the low level platforms - the high level platforms are in the open air above the ticket hall. It is sometimes possible to glimpse them from the street, although vegetation makes this quite difficult.

Decaying platform at Highgate (High Level) station. . Northern Line incomplete works route map.
The slowly decaying remains of the disused island station
platform at Highgate (High Level).
. The planned 1930's Northern line electrification and extensions.   Click the image to see a version which is large enough to read the text .
A Little Local History
Highgate‘s high level platforms are now closed; they were served by steam trains from Kings Cross, Moorgate [Widened Lines] and Broad Street stations going to Edgware [not the same station as the Underground used], High Barnet and Alexandra Palace [the latter station was at the top of the hill and right next to the Palace] and were meant to become part of the Northern line but fate decided otherwise.
The demise of the Mill Hill East - Edgware railway came because shortly after the war started in 1939 it was closed for conversion to double [twin] tracks and for electrification but then the ‘war effort’ saw the works being suspended until the cessation of hostilities. In 1941 the section between Finchley Central and Mill Hill East was re-opened to serve a military barracks and although the rest of the line remained extant until 1964 [for goods trains] no effort was made on completing the electrification and track doubling. Nowadays part of the closed railway between Mill Hill East and Edgware has become nature reserves, whilst elsewhere it has been built over and therefore re-opening is now almost impossible. These links lead to information about the nature reserves:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copthall_Railway_Walk_and_Copthall_Old_Common .
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mill_Hill_Old_Railway_Nature_Reserve .
The original plans were that at Edgware the former steam railway would be diverted to the new UndergrounD station and then a new extension would be built further north. Remains of a part built viaduct still exist in the Brockley Hill area to the north of Edgware, and further north still some sections of tunnel still remain, although to prevent people using them the entrances have been covered over. Some of the route is now also part of the M1 motorway.
Despite almost finishing the electrification works the line to Alexandra Palace station continued to be served by steam trains, although war-time coal supply issues resulted in off-peak services being cancelled and passengers encouraged to travel by bus. With it having been decided not to complete the Northern Heights electrification works the line was closed instead. Nowadays this closure is realised to have been a *very* big mistake, as the area served by this route is densely populated and the roads are very congested. Much of this line is now a parkland walkway, although a school was been built on it at Muswell Hill. The parkland walkway is very popular in the local community and has a website at this link  http://parkland-walk.org.uk/ .
The Muswell Hill Metro group is campaigning for this line to be reopened as a railway again  http://muswellhillmetrogroup.atspace.com/ .
There was also a second railway to Alexandra Palace [Palace Gates station] but despite one-time proposals to join the two lines and operate through trains the 1950's saw it also falling victim to the crazy idea that diesel motor buses can provide an attractive alternative to an urban railway. Nowadays so much of this line has been lost - built over - that reopening is impossible.
Meanwhile in 1956 the Epping - Ongar section of the Central line was converted from steam to electric trains, even though it is in open country where few people live!!

See caption for picture information. . See caption for picture information.
Crouch End station in summer 2014. Instead of being served by Northern line trains this is now part of a Parkland Walkway.

The Parkland Walkway is split into two sections. Crouch End station is on the southern section between Finsbury Park and Highgate.

The northern section includes Muswell Hill viaduct which on a sunny day offers fine views of London and many famous landmarks.
. Whilst there always was a choice of buses as well, the cessation of rail services means that local people must either use them - or their cars.

The W7 is now one of London's most intense bus services and for much of its route it must fight for space on overcrowded roads which have very slow (20mph / 30km/h) speed limits and are too narrow for any useful bus priority measures.
This photo was taken outside where Muswell Hill station used to be.

Further reading (with many photographs):-
http://underground-history.co.uk/northernh.php .
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=anHLOwH2HWU .
http://www.abandonedstations.org.uk/Northern_Heights_1.html .

A station noted for its distinctive 1930‘s architecture is East Finchley. Despite having 4 platforms most trains only use the outer two. The middle tracks lead to a depot and the now disused above-ground route to Finsbury Park via Highgate (high level) station. The main station building includes a glass wall which at one time featured two railway logos - the lower logo (for the UndergrounD) is still extant whilst the former LNER [London & North Eastern Railway] ‘fisheye’ symbol above that has now been replaced with plain glass. LNER steam trains were withdrawn in 1941, as part of the wartime effort to save coal. Whilst here also look out for the ‘archer’ statue at the London end of the platforms towards Highgate.

East Finchley Archer. . Dollis Brook Viaduct.
East Finchley is one of London's 1930's Art Deco stations.
The Archer's arrow points towards central London. The glass wall on the station's front includes both the UndergrounD roundel and the former LNER fisheye symbol which nowadays features plain glass.
. The Dollis Brook viaduct between Mill Hill East and Finchley Central stations. See text below for more information.
Image & license: Grim23 at en.Wikipedia encyclopædia: CC BY-SA 3.0

Further north Finchley Central station dates from 1867, making it one of the oldest stations on the Underground. It was built by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway (EH&LR), although by the time it opened the EH&LR had been taken over by the the Great Northern Railway (GNR). The station was on a line that ran from Finsbury Park to Edgware via Highgate and Mill Hill. The Northern Heights plan for electric tube trains to take over this route in the early 1940's included the building of a modern Art Deco station with four platforms, but in the event this did not happen.

From Finchley Central the single track railway crosses the multi-arched Dollis Brook Viaduct which offers pleasant views over north London. Mill Hill East only has one platform and also dates from 1867. Tube trains started travelling here in 1941 to serve a nearby military barracks and the plan to convert the line to twin tracks was delayed until after the war. Because (nowadays) this line only consists of one station the train service is not very frequent. Sometimes trains only travel between here and Finchley Central, where passengers travelling to / from Central London must change to / from High Barnet trains.

The branch line from Finchley Central to High Barnet opened in 1872 and the stations§ still retain much of their original Victorian architectural character. Woodside Park is at the centre of a residential area and in accordance with the desires of local residents there are no retail stores around it. High Barnet is in zone 5; because of local geography access to the town of Barnet is via a steep pathway up Barnet Hill.

§(The LNER opened West Finchley in 1933 using various fixtures and fittings taken from other stations around Eastern England. This remains one of London's quieter stations).

East Finchley station platform. . Finchley Central station platform.
Platform 2 at East Finchley was intended for northbound trains which came from Moorgate via Finsbury Park and Highgate High Level. Instead it is only used by trains which are entering passenger service from the Highgate Woods sidings. . The southbound platform at Finchley Central which still retains its 1867 station building.
Woodside Park signalbox. . Woodside Park station.
A disused signal box at Woodside Park station as seen from the public footbridge over the tracks.

Next to the back of the train is the former station departure signal. It is located where the platform would have ended had the original plan to extend it for 9-car trains come to pass. As trains are now driven by computers the signal head has been covered over.
. Built by the Great Northern Railway, Woodside Park dates from 1872. Tube trains first served it in 1940 and the last LNER steam trains in 1941 - as a wartime fuel (coal) economy saving.

You will need to pass through a ticket barrier if walking
from one platform to the other platform.

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This page last updated 1st January 2022
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