Goblins come out to save railway

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Passengers marking the centenary of one of only three orbital railways around London called yesterday on Railtrack and the Government to pay for urgent repairs to secure its future.

Campaigners in Victorian costume boarded a train to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Gospel Oak to Barking line. A 'Southend Special' ran the length of the line before continuing to the Essex holiday resort - the first for 30 years.

'This really is the Cinderella of the London railway system,' said Gina Harkell, a member of Goblin, the pressure group formed to fight for the line. 'We have already got 4,000 passengers using it every day and there would be many more if the station environment was improved and there were more frequent trains.'

The Southend Special was designed to pay homage to the line in its heydey, when it took crowds of Londoners to the seaside before the advent of coach parties and widespread car ownership.

However, its infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate. Campaigners fear dilapidated stations and decaying bridges threaten the line's existence and say action is needed to stop it being shut down.

Ms Harkell said: 'This line, from end to end, takes 34 minutes. There's no other way you can get round this bit of London so quickly.'

'But the bridges need a lot of repairs. There is one bridge over the Lea Valley which is seriously unstable. And the stations are in a terrible mess. They are unmanned and a lot of women are very scared about using them at night.'

The worst was the 'burnt-out shell' of Leytonstone High Road , which resembles 'something out of Bosnia'.

Goblin have submitted a bid to the Department of Transport for pounds 900,000 to fund station refurbishment during the next three years. It expects a decision in the autumn.

The group wants Railtrack to ensure the repair and safety of the 103 bridges along the route, 30 of which need immediate work which Goblin estimates will cost pounds 10m.

Much of the line is elevated through urban areas and it is feared many supporting arches are also in poor condition.

However, Railtrack is optimistic about the line and sees it as a possible site on which to construct a light rail system similar to Tramlink, under development in Croydon.

Richard Middleton, the director of Railtrack East Anglia, said the line stood a good chance of being rejuvenated as long as adequate funds were available.

The Goblin pressure group comprises the north London boroughs through which the track runs - Camden, Islington, Haringey, Waltham Forest, Newham, and Barking and Dagenham - transport groups and hundreds of rail users.

While concentrating on peaceful demonstrations such as yesterday's costumed journey, they do employ more direct action.

Ten members linked arms to encircle a signal box to save it from demolition earlier this year. Their protest was short-lived. Once the wrecking teams turned up they were outnumbered three-to-one.

'We didn't lock on in time. That's when you chain yourselves around something or to something and throw away the key - like the road protesters do,' Ms Harkell explained.

Such practices are more the style of opponents of the M11 link road which runs under the Gospel Oak to Barking Line in Leytonstone.

'What we are asking for in terms of money is one tenth of the cost of the link road which is being built right next to it.'

BIRTH OF A STATION

The first section of the line, between South Tottenham and Highgate Road along the Great Eastern Railways' Liverpool Street to Cambridge line, opened in 1868. The Tottenham and Hampstead Railway was owned by Great Eastern and the Midland Railway.

The second section from South Tottenham to Woodgrange Park - once it was joined to the Forest Gate to Barking section - opened 100 years ago yesterday as the Tottenham and Forest Gate Railway.

The line was built primarily as a freight route, linking the Midland Railway directly with London's docks. However, passengers soon followed. Royal trains bound for Sandringham often used it after pulling out of St Pancras, to avoid pomp and ceremony.

During the Second World War, stations at St Ann's Road and Hornsey Road closed, followed by Junction Road in 1949.

The service has continued to be integrated into British Rail's North London division with Gospel Oak being recognised as an important interchange.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)

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