A Look at Battersea Park Station

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At first sight, Battersea Park station appears to be a complete contradiction. It is not exactly pretty at platform level, but has a splendid façade and booking office. It has five platforms, but only one that is really both fit for purpose and useful. It is surprisingly busy despite the lack of any obvious reason for the high demand. It will also likely get much busier when construction begins on the Battersea Power station development or the Northern Line Extension.

That construction work makes Battersea Park a station that ought to have an important future, as it lies on the edge of the Battersea Power Station redevelopment area. We will look at what, if anything, is being done to take that into account and whether there is more that could be considered worthwhile to do.

Battersea Park Bench

Battersea Park Bench. Replaced as part of the latest heritage upgrade. It is double sided but there won’t be many people using it for a train from platform 2.

Battersea Park station is located on the line between Victoria and Clapham Junction in an area that nowadays would probably be referred to as Battersea. The station is to the east of the park that gives the station its name and is a short walk away.

Prepare to be confused

The history of the stations with “Battersea” in their title is, frankly, somewhat confusing. The first station to open bearing some variance of that name did so in 1860 and was originally called Battersea, but was not located in what then would be considered to be Battersea. This Battersea was almost located on the south bank of the River Thames just to the east of Chelsea Bridge and just to the south of Victoria Railway Bridge – the predecessor to Grosvenor Railway Bridge. The station can be clearly seen on this 1862 map. It is marked on the map as “Battersea Station” but it seems that shortly after opening its name was changed to the rather longer Battersea Park & Steamboat Pier.

The station then generally recognised as being Battersea station was opened in 1863 in what was then undoubtedly considered the heart of Battersea (indeed part of the station fronted Battersea High Street). It was located on the line from Clapham Junction to modern day Imperial Wharf. It closed in 1940 after bomb damage and no real evidence remains of it today. It is well-documented on the Disused stations website.

In 1867 two stations opened on what is today Battersea Park Road. We must presume that the road was then called York Road and that York Road (Battersea) was much longer than it is today. We must presume this because both stations were confusingly called “York Road”. They were also sometimes referred to as “York Road (Battersea)” which was presumably to distinguish them from Kings Cross York Road station. According to this map (scroll down the page), by 1872 the name of the road both stations were located in was called Battersea Road. A side note – despite the original Battersea Park & Steamboat Pier station being shown on the map (as just Battersea Park), this had in fact closed in 1870.

The more eastern of the two York Road stations was owned by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway and renamed Battersea Park Road station. It was one of many stations in London that temporarily closed at the end of 1916 as a wartime economy but never reopened. Evidence of its existence can be clearly seen both from the road and in the grounds of Battersea Dogs & Cats Home and details are available on the Abandoned Stations website. The western York Road station was owned by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and renamed Battersea Park in 1885.

Before we look in more detail at the current day Battersea Park station we must also briefly mention “the other Battersea Station”. This is Queenstown Road between Clapham Junction and Waterloo and, as seems mandatory for any station in this area, it was formerly known by a different name.

Not just a passenger station

As will likely be apparent from the maps linked to above, there was very little housing in the area surrounding the current Battersea Park station during its early days. In fact the only thing likely to have generated much passenger traffic was the railway itself as there was a goods depot, carriage sheds, engine shed and freight depot. It was the closure of the freight depot in 1980 that provided much of the land that made the redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station site possible.

Downstairs, upstairs

Booking Hall

Look up and admire the restored booking hall. Unfortunately, if you don’t, it is too easy to miss and very little at eye level alerts you to the splendours above.

Battersea Park station was clearly a splendid station on the outside when it opened. Both the façade and the booking hall were also sympathetically restored in 1986. The booking hall, in particular, photographs extremely well. In contrast the platforms for the most part appear distinctly unloved. Platform 1 (the former South London down) throughout its life was a cheap wooden platform. Platforms 2 (the former South London Up) and 3 (Victoria Slow down) are, by necessity, for the most part nice and wide but tapered to become quite narrow at the London (north) end. The island platform that makes up platforms 4 (Victoria Slow Up) and 5 (Victoria fast down) is really quite narrow and rather exposed since the substantial canopy once present was removed.

Escutcheon

The beautifully restored circular escutcheon of London Brighton & South Coast Railway. The date of 1865 predates the opening of the line by two years.

Another item of splendour is the rail bridge over Battersea Park Road. Repainting work highlights the features of the bridge. The historical nature of the bridge and the station building make it almost impossible to extend the platforms to the south which, as we shall see, causes problems.

You have been warned!

What is probably worse than the platforms is the steps leading to platforms 4 and 5. These must be just about the steepest and narrowest set of steps leading to any station platform in the country. Indeed it is a wonder that these ever got approval. The problem is that is difficult to see how anything could be done about these without a substantial redesign of the station. They cannot be made less steep without shortening the already inadequately long platform and they cannot be made wider as they are constrained by the tracks on either side.

The view complements the station at platform level

Gasholder from platforms 2 and 3

Taken about a year ago from platforms 2/3 looking north towards Victoria. This was some time after the South London Line service was withdrawn, but the shiny state of the tracks suggests it remained in use, presumably for empty stock movements, until physical disconnection.

Battersea Park Junction Today

Compare the above with the view today. The platform has been extended by just over two carriage lengths over the junction to allow 10-car trains to fully fit into the platform.

The station has never been overly blessed with external ambiance. For many years the prominent feature next to the station (apart from the power station) was a series of gas holders, of which the blue one still remains. And – literally – on top of it all, for many years there was a signal box straddling the slow lines that remained in operation until 1979. One book describes it as “rather splendid,” but “hideously ugly” would be an equally valid description depending on your point of view.

Battersea Park Junction signalbox

A 1961 shot showing the prominent signal box. Siting the box above the tracks saved space and gave the signalman a clear view of the lines under his control – important as when built (1906) there would have been no track circuits. Thanks to Ben Brooksbank for supplying and giving permission to use this photo.

The end of the South London Line service

Junction for London Overground

As platform 1 has been taken out of use the track layout has been simplified to the south of the station on the South London Line.

The biggest change to happen to Battersea Park station in its recent history is probably the end of the South London Line service and the opportunity taken to extend platform 3 over the junction which formerly enabled services to reach Victoria via Battersea Park. The extension of the platform was desirable for the 10 car trains that now call there. In fact it was desirable even for 8 car trains as Selective Door Operation (SDO) was already in operation. No such extension is possible at present for platform 4, so selective door operation is necessary. Platform 5 is very rarely used.

SDO 7 and SDO 10

Before and after the platform was extended. Clearly every inch of space is used with the stop marker located as far as it can be down the platform. SDO was necessary even for 8-car trains as the last door would not quite fit onto the platform.

The station secretly served by London Overground

As a result of the closure of the South London Line platform 1 is closed and cannot be accessed by the public. Quite recently the track has been removed. Platform 2 remains in use and is used by one London Overground morning departure and an evening arrival and departure on Mondays-Fridays. These are not widely advertised but do appear as a small footnote on the last page of the timetable. These journeys are run to keep drivers familiar with the route in case trains need to be diverted there instead of using Clapham Junction, and they also serve the added purpose of providing the necessary parliamentary service to avoid initiating formal closure procedures for the line between Wandsworth Road and Battersea Park.

London Overground Timetable

Possibly the only timetable in existence advertising the fact that Battersea Park station is served by London Overground trains. It is also only visible from platform 2.

For many years Battersea Park station felt like it was a neglected station and even the restoration work done in 1986 did nothing to improve the platform ambiance. Being so close to central London it probably did not feature prominently in railway managers’ minds for many years. In fact one could well imagine them hoping that they could just close the station or restrict its use to just the South London Line services. There does seem to be a more positive attitude nowadays. There was a bit of a spruce up in the booking hall a few years ago and further restoration of heritage features was carried out in 2013.

Decent access to the platform 4 at last?

The steep stairs

This photo probably does not do justice to the steepness of these stairs.

Battersea Park station has recently been selected to be included in the station “access for all” scheme. This means that it will have step free access to all platforms in use. Details are not yet available as to how this will be realised, but it will be a considerable challenge as the usual approach of providing a new footbridge would not work very well with the existing entrance.

Stairs from the top

Taken from the south end of platforms 4/5 looking south, this photo probably exaggerates the steepness of the stairs. Not exactly welcoming, nonetheless.

In the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea Opportunity Area Planning Framework it states that:

Battersea Park would see a doubling of boarding and alighting passengers in the preferred development scenario from the 2026 reference case. The concentration of operations on platforms 3 and 4 would increase pressure on the stairs to platform 4. This would be further worsened by the overall increase in passengers using the London bound platform and the higher proportion of boarders would worsen conflict with alighting passengers, especially at the stair-head where space is limited. Network Rail has considered improvements to the station including a possible second station entrance, but funding is not identified in its investment programme.

A second entrance would probably be much easier to build to the west of the station, but it would be considerably more useful to cater for future development if located to the east of the the station.

10 car train in 8 car platform

On top of all the other problems, platform 4 at Battersea Park cannot take 10 car trains. A new entrance to the platform would perhaps allow the steep entrance to be closed and the platform extended to the south.

All Change at Battersea Park

What will undoubtedly turn out to be a real game changer for the station is the Battersea development. This video gives an idea of what is planned. Clearly, if the development works out as planned, usage of Battersea Park station is going to increase substantially. One would expect most of that increase to come from the south via Clapham Junction. Visitors and other arrivals from the North may well prefer to take the proposed Northern Line extension instead.

Whilst on the subject of the Northern Line Extension to Battersea it is worth noting that the contract for this work has now been awarded to Ferrovial Agroman Laing O’Rourke, with the rolling stock order by Autumn 2016 and 31st December 2019 set as the deadline for opening.

There are no plans to do so but one does wonder if the Battersea development could prompt calls for a regular London Overground (or possibly even a Southern) service to terminate at Battersea Park at platform 2. It is notable that the London 2050 Transport Supporting Paper Appendix 2 refers to a possible “ATO on ELL core section: increase frequencies” stating “This could increase frequency as much as 24tph cf 16 tph currently”. If that were to happen then those 8tph extra trains have to terminate somewhere and there are not a lot of available options.

Finally, on the subject of new services, as a complete joker in the pack the Evening Standard recently reported on a proposal to have Crossrail 2 include a station at Battersea instead of Chelsea. This would effectively duplicate the service between Clapham Junction and Victoria and, if actually implemented, make it very difficult in future to put forward a case for extending the Northern Line to Clapham Junction, which currently has a tentative date of 2045.

One remaining issue is the question of future interchange between Battersea Park station and Battersea (Northern Line) station. The location of the underground station was not chosen with interchange in mind. In fact to provide decent interchange would have been very difficult. TfL’s policy is that they will not actively encourage it, so presumably it will not be shown as an interchange on maps. On the other hand they say that if people want to use it as an interchange they will likely be able to, suggesting that Battersea Park – Battersea will become a valid Out of Station Interconnection (OSI) at the very least.

On the fares issue it has already emerged that the new Battersea Underground station will be in zone 1. One suspects the developers would actually like this from a marketing point of view. Battersea Park station is currently in zone 2 and no suggestion has yet emerged that this will change in future.

All in all, it is clear that the area that is now considered to be Battersea will change dramatically in future. We can be fairly certain that there will be further major changes to Battersea Park station and its usage. We know that there are plans but we don’t know the details of them or whether they will, in fact, be implemented. Despite nowadays only having two platforms in regular use, Battersea Park will become an increasingly important station in future. Just how important we don’t yet know.

Reversible Line

Not mentioned in the text is the additional reversible line over Grosvenor Bridge to Victoria which starts midway along Battersea Park station. Note the trap points to protect the main line from a down train passing a signal at danger. At the time of the photograph being taken the speed restriction on the line was 20mph which must have severely restricted usefulness. It is one of the “fast” lines in name only.

Written by Pedantic of Purley