In part 2 of Uncircling the Circle we rather skipped over the issue of changing trains at Paddington. This issue was picked up by some readers who pointed out that, once Paddington (Hammersmith & City) station was improved, the situation with the revised Circle Line at Paddington would not be so bad. Although the station has undoubtedly improved, it was commonly felt that the signage still had a long way to go.
The picture above shows what is about the only initiative to direct people to the Hammersmith & City station if going to King’s Cross and beyond. It is a helpful route guide attached to the floor of the main station. The trouble is that unless you arrive at platforms 8 or 9 you are unlikely to spot this until you get to the main concourse. In any case in many places the wear and tear of people and trolleys means that it is not very readable. This is better than nothing but totally inadequate.
Which Paddington Station?
The issue at Paddington caused by the revised Circle Line was a complex one. The Subsurface Railway (SSR) lines have two stations at Paddington – both of which are called “Paddington”. The one which until recently served the just the Hammersmith & City Line is the original station, which for many years was referred to as Paddington (Bishops Road) – a name it retained long after Bishops Road itself had ceased to exist. It was in fact the original western terminus of the Metropolitan Railway which opened in 1863.
Subsequent to being suffixed (Bishops Road) it was often referred to as Paddington (Suburban). This is because the platforms are actually part of the main line station’s original suburban platforms and are effectively platforms 15 and 16 of the main line station. Then it was Paddington (Met) – as it was the Metropolitan Line station – to distinguish it from Paddington (District and Circle). When the Hammersmith & City Line was given its own identity it then became Paddington (Hammersmith & City). Strictly speaking nowadays it is Paddington (Hammersmith & City and Circle) but as both stations are served by the Circle Line, adding “Circle” doesn’t really add clarity.
The other Circle Line Paddington station is Paddington (Praed St) and is still commonly referred to as Paddington (District and Circle Lines). Unlike the Hammersmith & City station it is very conveniently located close to the main station concourse. It is also prominent on the main road. This station is, however, very cramped and it would not be easy to enlarge it. It is incapable of accepting the new S7 Stock without relying on Selective Door Operation (SDO). If the Circle Line had not have been “decircled” and passengers diverted to the Hammersmith & City station it may well have been the case that excessive crowding at this station would have caused its closure at certain times of day.
As a contrast to the District Line platforms, the Hammersmith & City station is only accessible from the new taxi rank (which itself has no pedestrian access from the street), the main line station and the pedestrian path beside the Grand Union Canal.
Not a Welcoming Station
The Hammersmith & City station, until very recently, was not popular for a number of very good reasons.
- The station was extremely unpleasant to wait at.
- It was not easily located and could only be accessed by a narrow staircase.
- It was located away from the centre of activity.
- The service was infrequent and if going east one was in any case better off using Praed St which was more convenient and had the same number of direct trains and the additional option of changing at Edgware Road.
Clearly in the old days prior to December 2009 passengers preferred the convenience of the Praed Street platforms and it would only be the occasional traveller who would venture to the rather rundown Hammersmith & City platforms for a journey eastwards.
Improved Service for Passengers by Removing Choice
In a rather cheeky bit of creative writing the proposal to terminate the Circle Line at Edgware Road was presented to the TfL board with this supposed benefit:
Customers travelling east from Paddington will no longer face the dilemma over whether to use the H&C line or District and Circle line station – all trains beyond Edgware Road will depart from the H&C line station, with a more frequent service.
Clearly this dilemma only existed in the mind of the person writing this text. Ignorant passengers headed for the obvious platforms and those in the know avoided an unnecessary walk to an unpleasant station for a train service which was no more frequent than the one from the platforms conveniently nearby.
The issue in December 2009 was that the Hammersmith & City station was not really in a fit state to handle all the additional passengers. This problem was recognised and the original intention was undoubtedly to introduce the T-cup service after Hammersmith had been upgraded. The upgrading could not really be sped up because Network Rail and Crossrail were both planning, or in the course of doing, major work at Paddington and all the work had to be coordinated (the Paddington Integrated Project).
The work at Paddington (Hammersmith & City) is still not complete, as the lifts are still not in service. The bulk of the work, however, has been done and the station is certainly fit for purpose and much more pleasant to use. There is still room for improvement, particularly with regards to signage in the main line station. At least now the station is signposted as prominently as the Praed Street one though. One potential problem is that, for long distance and Heathrow airport passengers, by the time a passenger gets to Paddington main line station it is really too late. Ideally passengers for the northern part of the Circle Line should be aware on boarding the train at the likes of Penzance or Heathrow that they would find interchange at Paddington more convenient if they occupied the rear carriages rather than the front ones.
The above sign on the westbound platform pointing you out of the station is technically correct, but it is also highly misleading and unhelpful. If you were already on the platform and wanted a Circle Line train southbound then the sensible thing to do would be to get the next eastbound train one stop to Edgware Road and walk to the other side of the platform where, in all probability, your train would be waiting for you. Instead this sign directs you on a nightmare journey through Paddington main line station to get to the Praed Street platforms. To make matters worse it is quite likely that that you will be travelling with a fair amount of luggage. In order to get to the correct platform at Praed Street, which would be on the far side from the entrance to the main line concourse, you would have to negotiate two sets of narrow steps. A real pity the station is let down by this elementary blunder in signage. Even if you wanted a District Line train you would still be better off catching a train to Edgware Road, only this time you would have to use the steps to cross to the other platform.
Is this it?
What appears to be lacking from the Paddington Intergrated Project, or any related list of projects, is a final “sweep up” plan for implementation after Crossrail opens at Paddington. One problem, as others have commented elsewhere, is that some interchanges at Paddington look as if they are going to be far more difficult and time-consuming than they need be. This particularly applies to those involving the Hammersmith & City Line platforms. A major issue would appear to be the lack of main line ticketing facilities – especially the old-fashioned variety where you deal with a person – at the western end. This results in people needlessly gravitating towards the eastern end of the platforms. Perhaps a few retail outlets at the western end on a widened overbridge would help make the passenger aware that the western end is open for business too.
Finally, of course, getting people to use the Hammersmith & City platforms is going to depend for a large part on the quality and quantity of signage – in case we haven’t mentioned it already, that is perhaps not quite as good as it could be.