The test trains are rumbling up and down the line, the bubblewrap on the signs is being popped. Ladies and gentlemen, the East London line is on its way…
Never mind going to Hoxton and Dalston – there’s also these throbbing palaces of fun to go to…
Brockley Central has a countdown and full coverage from an SE4 perspective, while London Reconnections has more photos of New Cross Gate, and details of how the line is due to open – from 4 April on the old Tube line and the new section up to Dalston Junction, with the connection to West Croydon and Crystal Palace following on 23 May. A further northern extension to Highbury & Islington is due next year.
It’ll certainly transform travelling around certain bits of south-east London, and it’ll have an effect on the Greenwich area too – direct trains into east and north London will be a short hop away by bus, although it’s unfortunate that most Southeastern trains to/from Woolwich and Charlton don’t call at New Cross any more. It’ll probably take some pressure off the Docklands Light Railway, and when gigs are chucking out at the O2, or in rush hour’s worst moments, I’ll probably find myself travelling home via New Cross rather than North Greenwich once again. The only downside to the new railway line will be the inclusion of Shoreditch High Street and Hoxton in zone 1, and its uncomfortable trains which make the newer Southeastern trains (upon which they are based) feel luxurious.
One thing did strike me, though. Another fresh public transport link north of the Thames is undoubtedly a good thing – not so long ago, it was only the East London Line, the foot tunnels, the Woolwich Ferry and the doughty 108 which linked us if you weren’t driving. Now politicans’ thoughts are turning – for better or for worse – to building more links, either road or new rail connections. Increasingly, the divide between here and there is becoming less of a barrier.
So, I wonder – is south-east London going to lose some of its distinctive identity in this? There’s no more guaranteed way to get me yelling abuse at the TV when areas south of the river get branded as “east London” (apparently it happened in Sky’s coverage of darts from the Dome last night, with Sid Waddell claiming its nearest football club was West Ham – whoops). And what makes south-east London so different from east London anyway? After all, head further out and the Kent suburbs aren’t much different from their Essex counterparts. Is it our pockets of affluence and generous helpings of green space? Is it their (percieved) proximity to the City? Our (relative) isolation from the rest of London? The different patterns of immigration over the years? West Ham v Millwall (or Charlton)?
There aren’t many examples in this country of communities so near, but so separate. When I took the photo of the old Charing Cross Pier at Millennium Mills last week, I couldn’t help gawping at the view of my home territory from the north bank of the river – particularly how Charlton was dominated by The Valley, which looks enormous from Thames Barrier Park. (It reminded me of being able to see the glow of West Ham’s floodlights from the Charlton riverside when I was a teenager, a glimpse of another world.) The stroppiness of south London always feels like the natural attitude for this area. I couldn’t ever imagine saying I’m from “east London” – trips through the Blackwall Tunnel or across the Woolwich Ferry still feel like crossing international frontiers – yet occasionally it does slip into politician-speak.
The thought struck me when I first heard of the admirable East London Lines journalism project at Goldsmiths, following news up and down the new railway. Yet will Deptford ever really feel a deep kinship with Dalston? These things can’t be forced. But habits change as transport changes. Getting shopping or even going for a night out at Canary Wharf wasn’t much of an option for south-east Londoners until the Jubilee Line and DLR extensions a decade ago. (Indeed, those connections have helped Canary Wharf grow hugely since then.) The East London Line will bring a lot of practical changes for many thousands of people. But the deeper changes may be a few years off yet.