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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

Piccadilly Line
Piccadilly line 1973 Tube Stock. . Inside Piccadilly line 1973 Tube Stock.
The Piccadilly line uses 1973 tube stock seen here (above left) from the road bridge close to North Ealing station.
Below / Above Ground

In the west of London in open air from just before Barons Court to Uxbridge / Hounslow Central, plus a short surface section near to Hatton Cross.

In the north of London in open air from Cockfosters to Arnos Grove, except for a short tunnelled section at Southgate station.

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

. Piccadilly line Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map modified by me, original source & license:
DavidCane / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
Gloucester Road station. . Bounds Green station.
Piccadilly line trains calling at Gloucester Road left and Bounds Green right.
At some stations the platforms are only just long enough for the passenger doors to be able to open with the train ends having to remain in the tunnel.

General Information

Old maps will probably show a branch between Holborn and Aldwych, however this closed on 30th September 1994.

Many central London Piccadilly line stations are amongst the over 40 stations which were designed by the architect Henry Green and built in the first decade of the 20th century by the Underground Electric Railways Group (UERG).

The platform and passageway wall tiling at each of these stations followed a different colour scheme, so as to aid identification by regular passengers travelling in passing trains. This is demonstrated in the two images below which show Hyde Park Corner and Gloucester Road stations.

Hyde Park Corner platform wall tiling. . Gloucester Road Piccadilly line platform wall tiling.
Platform detail at Hyde Park Corner.
The destinations of Hammersmith and Finsbury Park
on the cross-passageway wall reflect the length of
the line when this station was built.
. The Piccadilly line platforms at Gloucester Road station.

At some Henry Green stations the platforms (or even the entire station) have been refurbished in ways that give them a completely different identity.

Leicester Square platform wall mural. . Manor House station platform.
At Leicester Square the platform tiling is 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 blue on the Piccadilly line platforms
(as here) and black on the Northern line platforms.
. By way of contrast... platform detail at Manor House
which is an early 1930's Charles Holden station with biscuit coloured tiles lined with blue friezes. Other stations which were built at the same time have differently coloured friezes, this helps regular passengers identify their location.
Also seen here is a decorative ventilation grill.

The Piccadilly line also includes many stations that were brand new (or date from the steam train era but were significantly rebuilt) in the 1930's which are of architectural interest. Mostly these are in the suburbs, in zones 3 - 6. Typically these have Art Deco styled buildings and follow a core theme of tall block-like ticket halls that rise above low horizontal structures which contain offices and retail shops. The brick walls of the ticket halls are often punctuated with panels of clerestory windows and capped with a flat concrete slab roof.

Sights in north London: The stations Manor House - Cockfosters date from the 1930's. Manor House and Cockfosters have street buildings which are modest in scale, being primarily more like bus shelters. The rest of the stations feature Art Deco station buildings which are either square, octagonal or circular and also (sometimes) have ventilation towers. Manor House and Turnpike Lane stations were built with extra passageways that linked with tram platforms located in the middle of the road, however as with the trams these no longer exist.

Northbound trains approaching Arnos Grove are sometimes delayed a short whilst queueing to enter the station, which features 3 tracks and 4 platforms.

Art Deco uplighters Bounds Green station. . Southgate station platform.
Distinctive Art Deco bronze uplighters in the escalator lower landing circulating area (between the platforms) at Bounds Green station - also note the differently coloured (red) frieze. . Southgate is London's only subterranean station served by small profile ‘tube’ trains from where passengers standing on the platform can look through the tunnel and see daylight / a tunnel mouth in the distance.
Southgate station with Tesla Coil daytime. . Southgate station with Tesla Coil twilight.
The distinctive circular Southgate station building which features a Tesla Coil on its roof and is partially encircled by a bus interchange station.

Southgate station is famed for its circular shape and distinctive Tesla Coil on its roof. Because of the way the station‘s Art Deco features are illuminated during the hours of darkness this is said to be one of the most photogenic buildings on the London Transport network.

Born in 1856, Nikola Tesla was an electrical genius who invented many things including fluorescent lighting and the alternating current electrical system we use today. He designed his machines in his ‘minds eye’ in 3D and was even able to test them for weaknesses, zoom in on individual parts, and more - all without needing pens, paper, computers / 3D modelling softwares, etc. He was known to be developing a wireless energy transmission system which would have allowed everyone to source all the energy they need from a small box placed in an outhouse. It is assumed that this would have been similar (in theme) to a radio. However his main financier (J.P Morgan) had financial interests in copper mining and seeing the potential threat to his wealth posed by Tesla‘s wireless energy transmission system vowed to do all he could to stop Tesla. In addition, the electrical supply industry was alarmed by the inability of Tesla‘s planned system to levy charges for the energy used. In other words, the electricity would have been free! Tesla died in 1943 and everything he left behind was secreted away from the public domain by the US military. Information source: Prodigal Genius by John J. O'Neill;. Publishers include Granada and Neville Spearman Ltd. The 1980 Granada paperback edition has an ISBN number of 0 586 05000 0.

The rest of the route is in zones 5 & 6. There is a depot between Oakwood and Cockfosters.

Despite having very modest bus-shelter street buildings Cockfosters is a grand and very distinctive station with glass trainshed roofs and platform canopies that are supported by portal frames of narrow blade-like concrete columns and beams rising from the platforms and spanning across the tracks. There are three tracks, one of which has platforms on both sides - although the trains only open their doors on one side. The term concrete cathedral may sound unkind but it is not meant that way. Cockfosters is located at the outer edge of north London.

At the opposite end of the Piccadilly line (and at the outer edge of north-west London) is Uxbridge station. This features a near identical trainshed and platform arrangement but its main entrance is a pedestrian piazza and there is a proper bus station alongside it. These terminus stations are both located in zone 6.

South Harrow station. . Rayners Lane junction.
Looking down (from the street) upon Sudbury Hill station just as a London-bound train is about to depart. . Piccadilly line and Metropolitan line S Stock trains pass at the junction just outside Rayners Lane station.
Looking from the bridge outside South Ealing station. . westbound Piccadilly line next train information sign.
Looking down from South Ealing Road (opposite South Ealing stn)
On the far right is an approaching westbound train which will end its journey at Northfields.
Westbound trains also use the centre - right track.
The centre - left track is used by eastbound trains.
The furthest left track can also be used for eastbound trains but is more usually used as a bi-directional test track for special trains.
. Westbound destinations - passengers going to Heathrow Airport need to know their departure terminal so that they catch the correct train.

Trains routed via Terminal 4 may wait there 10+ minutes before departure!

Sights in west London: Piccadilly line trains started travelling west of Hammersmith in the early 1930's and eventually took over what had been District line services on the branches to Hounslow West and Rayners Lane / Uxbridge.

The section between Barons Court and Acton Town has four tracks and is shared with District line trains; this is looked at on the Shared Service Routes page.

The four track section extends beyond Acton Town station as far as Northfields, but the track on the north (former eastbound District line track) is mostly used as a test track and therefore rarely carries passenger trains. However both westbound tracks are used by trains carrying passengers. There is a large depot just after Northfields, and since this is a surface route it can also be accessed by the subsurface / large profile Underground trains.

The station building at Boston Manor features a narrow fin-like tower with a leading edge that used to be illuminated at night and roundel which rises high above the low structure and helps identify the station‘s location from a distance. Opposite the station it is possible to enjoy an excellent view of Northfields depot.

Boston Manor station illuminated tower. . Osterley station illuminated tower.
Distinctive station features - illuminated towers at Boston Manor (with descending aircraft!) left and Osterley right
BOAC Speedbird Hatton Cross station. . Heathrow Airport T5.
The roof support columns at Hatton Cross station include the Speedbird logo of the former British airline called BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). . Metal contraptions prevent luggage trolleys from accessing Piccadilly line trains at the Heathrow Airport terminal 5 station.

From Acton Town the route towards Rayners Lane and Uxbridge is shared with District line trains through Ealing Common station to where the District line diverges towards Ealing Broadway. Between Acton Town and Ealing Common the trains pass a large District line depot. Many of the stations on this route are also famed for their 1930‘s architecture, especially Sudbury Town. Between Sudbury Hill and Uxbridge the line is in zones 5 & 6. Trains sometimes queue to enter Rayners Lane, which is shared with the Metropolitan line - despite being where two routes join and some Piccadilly line trains terminate this station only has two platforms and trains which reverse here sometimes delay other trains whilst station staff ensure that all passengers have alighted before the empty train enters a siding.

Alperton used to have an up escalator from the ticket hall to the eastbound platform (ie: the platform used by trains travelling towards Central London) but to save money when this needed replacing it was switched off and a wall was built around it instead. This way passengers do not see it - and do not complain that it cannot be used!

Sudbury Town station. . North Ealing station.
Famed for its architectural style, the present-day Art Deco
Sudbury Town station dates from the early 1930's when it replaced the original station building. The forecourt is used by buses.
. Looking like it was designed for a small rural village,
North Ealing station was built by the (then)
Metropolitan District Railway in June 1903.
Piccadilly line 'tube' trains replaced District line trains in 1932.

Park Royal station first opened as a temporary timber structure in 1931 - this Art Deco/Streamline Moderne style Grade ll listed building dates from 1936. It was designed by Welch & Lander in a style influenced by the Underground's principal architect Charles Holden. At street level the station building is attached to several curved three-floor retail and office buildings which were built in the same style. The platform used by London-bound trains still retains its original 1931 wooden pagoda waiting shelter.

Park Royal station building as seen from platform level. Park Royal station passimeter window. inside Park Royal station ticket hall.
Above Left: A platform view showing the tower with UndergrounD symbols (illuminated at night)
on several sides, circular ticket hall, fully enclosed cascades of glazed steps down to the platforms
which lead into semi-open weather protected waiting areas that include wall-mounted seating.

Above Centre: A close-up of the passimeter's ticket sales window.

Above Right: Inside the circular ticket hall as seen in 2012 after refurbishment and fitting with
automated ticket gates. The free-standing booth is a passimeter - these were used at many
stations and at quieter times of the day allowed a single member of staff to sell tickets to departing passengers from one side and collect used tickets from arriving passengers on the other side.

Right: The platform for London-bound trains still retains its 1931 original wooden platform shelter.
wooden pagoda platform shelter.

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General Information .
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See caption for picture information.
Piccadilly Line 1973 Tube Stock trains comprise 3-car units - mostly Driving Motor [DM], Trailer [T] and Uncoupling Non-Driving Motor [UNDM] although there are also some DM-T-DM units. This image shows part of a 6 car train which has been separated into its two constituent parts. UNDM train 'ends' include very basic driving controls which are only used for low speed shunting within the depot.
This train was at Northfields depot, the photograph was taken from Boston Manor Road, opposite Boston Manor station.

projecture icon
In December 2012 I filmed a 3-car unit being driven from the UNDM, this can be seen on 'youtube' at this link: http://youtu.be/S8oJ3a78s_I

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This page last updated 8th March 2020
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