(now updated with video! scroll down…)
It cost £25, but it was worth it just for the sheer pleasure of seeing the looks on people’s faces. Trust me, there’s many duller things to do on a Wednesday lunchtime than breeze through central London on a vintage Tube train, stopping off at somewhere that hasn’t been open to the public for nearly 10 years – the Jubilee line platforms at Charing Cross, closed when the line was extended in 1999.
I’ve done this before, actually – on a much quieter Sunday excursion which afforded only the briefest of glimpses at the abandoned platforms. But this trip was different. It started at Stratford, allowing people to witness the strangeness of seeing a train built in around 1938 rumble through the Tube’s newest section. We were able to have a wander around Charing Cross, and it was a Wednesday – meaning we were slotted into an already-packed daytime schedule of trains (at least 11 other services had to be slightly tweaked to fit it in). The midweek date was down to the signalling works which regularly take the Jubilee line out of service – and while it wasn’t the most worker-friendly of times to hold the event, it was noticeable that more than a few suits had crept off at lunchtime with compact cameras to hang around West End Tube stations.
But who comes along to these things? Well, apart from suave chaps about town like me and IanVisits, it was a refreshingly diverse crowd. Yes, there was the usual very large proportion of trainspottery types, with the usual minority that are a bit lacking in social skills. But there was a surprisingly high number of women, and plenty of kids too. And it seemed that a great chunk of London Underground’s top brass had made their way to Stratford to see their museum’s pride and joy off.
The train’s in immaculate condition – its red paintwork gleams and its wooden floors evoke a different age. The springy seats have a healthy bounce in them, and when the train gets up to speed you’re grateful for it. A jumble of vintage ads show the effort the London Transport Museum team put into this train – funded by fares from trips such as this.
First up was a non-stop ride from Stratford to West Hampstead. Very few tourists tried to get on, thank heavens, but it was a joy to watch other people’s reactions – from quizzical looks to one gentleman’s jaw visibly dropping. A crawl through Canary Wharf saw suits reach for camera phones, while teams of station staff lined up to watch the train run through. Children waved in the West End, while tourists just looked… confused.
Off at West Hampstead so the train could turn around, then back down to Green Park, and across the junction to Charing Cross – the speed of the journey reminding me just how quiet and quick the Jubilee Line used to be when it was a simpler, shorter line. Opened in 1979, Charing Cross Tube station brought together the then-new Jubilee Line together with the Bakerloo Line’s Trafalgar Square station and the Northern Line’s Strand station – a complex bit of work, but few these days will stop to wonder just why the passages down to those lines seem to go on forever.
Originally, the Jubilee was meant to head east from Charing Cross towards the City, then down to Lewisham, with another scheme taking it to Woolwich and Thamesmead. The tunnels extend as far as Aldwych, and some extra work took place in the City. But the second phase was cancelled, and when the line was finally extended, it was towards Waterloo, London Bridge and Canary Wharf – making the Charing Cross line redundant. It closed just before Christmas 1999. I remember that last day, seeing the platforms for the last time, stopping to chat with people at an information stand, and finally riding the escalator to the mainline station.
Nearly 10 years on, I was back. First impressions? The platforms are actually quite dimly-lit compared to the rest of the network – possibly because anyone who uses the area for filming will have their own lights. A clock still gives the time (trains still use the platforms to reverse in occasionally) and the walls still have ads on. But the ads are only props for film-makers and the like, so some are almost up to date (a couple of recent exhibitions, Bat For Lashes’ album), while others extol Skechers’ summer 2006 collection and the Independent’s new Monday media section (launched in 2004, axed four years later).
The passageway between the platforms was also open, allowing us to peer up the disused escalators. A few hundred feet away, thousands of people were passing through one of the West End’s busiest stations on a muggy summer’s day in 2009. Here we were, in a time capsule dating back to the last days of the 20th century. A decade ago, I’d have sprinted onto that escalator, desperate to catch the 6.35 or 6.50 home. Now I was looking at it like a museum piece.
Back onto the train, and a few intrepid souls took to the rear driving compartment to get the surreal view you get from there, making you appreciate the contours and bends in the route. Back to West Hampstead – journey over for me, but the train had one last ride back to Stratford. I snapped it at North Greenwich, and chatted with the station staff – typically, the Jubilee Line was being held up so this old red train stayed in the deep blue platform for three or four minutes.
One Jubilee driver was picked up for a lift to the depot at Stratford, and a couple of us got a quick chance to get the driver’s eye view from the cab. If there’s one thing that makes these events, it’s the enthusiasm and generosity of the volunteers and Tube staff – it’s only a train, after all, but as a living reminder of London’s history, and even of our own pasts (inside, the 1938 stock is similar to the 1959-built trains which ran on the Central and Northern Lines until the mid-1990s), it can’t be beat. And for that, the team of people who look after it deserve our thanks.
Ah yes, video.
Passing through Canary Wharf.
At London Bridge…
Coming into Charing Cross.
Joining the North Greenwich station staff.
A whistle and it’s off…