Posts Tagged ‘roads’

I noticed on Twitter that many people are not happy by the lack of trains from the south coast into Waterloo Station over Easter, and thought the pictures contained in this post might be of interest explaining why the rail service is so poor.

It turns out that in this case “rail replacement service” is literally apt. The bridge shown in the photos below might appear innocuous and no different from the dozens of similar railway bridges we drive and walk under every day, but this one is the source of this weekend’s disruption for the very simple reason that it’s not been there this weekend.

Here’s the current state of the bridge on Easter Sunday 2012, first from the Lovelace Road side of the bridge looking into Surbiton:

And these from the Surbiton side looking the other direction:

The bridge has been in a deteriorating state for some time and has been receiving increasingly frequent patch-up jobs in the last few years. Looking up at the underside of the bridge, it’s been disturbing to see big patches of sky showing through and parts of the rails literally suspended in mid-air. Finally it seems even patch-up work is no longer sufficient and a longer-term solution is needed, which is what this weekend’s work is about. As well as rail replacement, it’s a total bridge replacement service.

Here’s some pictures from the past of the bridge before this Easter’s work:

During previous restoration work in 2009:

Surbiton Railway Bridge closure - view into Surbiton

During the snowfall in December 2010:

Snow in Surbiton - December 2010

Condition of the underside of the bridge:

Surbiton Railway Bridge - underside

The position makes this a particularly awkward bridge to replace: it’s just outside of Surbiton Station, and is the only way for trains to continue travelling south. Take it out and trains can go no further (and because of the places where trains can be turned around, it means that Wimbledon is really the furthest out of London they can come, although local loop lines to Teddington Wick, Dorking and Dorking can still come out as far as Raynes Park and New Malden.)

A planned bridge replacement can be done (they hope!) in four days over the long Easter weekend, whereas an unscheduled closure for a structural failure could wipe out the service for a month or more, so rail commuters have much to thank National Rail for in this case. Whereas motorists come out of it particularly badly, with the road under the bridge closed for 3-4 weeks to allow for the preparation and follow-up work that needs to be done. It’s no minor road either: it’s the A243, the main link from the M25 through to Chessington, Surbiton and Kingston-upon-Thames.

Closing the road also means the buses are suspended, which is a genuine concern to the many elderly and handicapped residents in the area for whom the bus service is a literal lifeline. Some of the buses are diverted through sideroads in the area, but then there is the issue of (a) finding out where they go, and (b) persuading the bus drivers that they should actually stop while on diversion – some have contrary feelings on this point.

Here’s the nearest alternative route, under the railway bridge that runs over St Mary’s Road:

And then there is the issue of pedestrians: on the Upper Brighton Road side of the bridge, a five minute walk to the local Sainsbury’s becomes a 20-minute-plus detour even for a relatively able-bodied person. To their credit, National Rail have limited the closure of pedestrian access to just five days over Easter during the period when the bridge is literally being replaced and when the overhead work makes it genuinely impossible to allow anyone through.

[There’s a ‘bus service’ for pedestrians advertised, but it turned out to be one 13-seat mini-bus running an hourly service only. Considering you’d normally get a dozen people walking this way every 5 minutes, I think you can label this “the very least they could do” in every sense, and strictly for the most disabled groups – although how the disabled and elderly could stand around (no seats provided) for an hour waiting for the service is another question entirely.]

Even so, it’s an interesting psychological effect that the whole thing has as a result. The empty A243 – usually full of traffic at most hours of the day – has that unearthly silent feel that you associated with end-of-the-world scenes like the start of 28 Days Later… Similarly the lack of trains is rather spooky; and the inability to get to the local shops or into London without taking a long detour also has a peculiarly isolating effect.

That brings out the bloody-minded streak in me, and I’ve found myself going out of my way (literally!) to get to the other side of the railway tracks over Easter, more than I would likely have done over a similar period when the road was open on a normal weekend. Today’s excuse was to take the pictures to take here (which my brain insisted had to show both sides of the bridge for the sake of the public record.) And I threw in the purchase of a Sunday paper while I was round there, just to make it feel even more worthwhile.

Hopefully the railway line will be open on time on Tuesday morning for the resumption of the commuter peak time rush, and the pedestrian access along with it. Even so, it’s estimated to be another two weeks or so before the work completely finishes, the road itself reopens and life in the area around the bridge gets back to normal.

Walking home from the office one day, we couldn’t help but notice some strange markings had appeared on the streets of Lambeth.

Road markings

So is this the demented work of some surrealist mathematician relation of Banksy? Alas, no – just the contractors hired by Lambeth Council who go around using maps and detection tools, marking out the locations of the various power, water, telephone and cable lines under the tarmac. That’s so that when they come to dig up the road as part of the mammoth ongoing project to replace London’s decrepit sewage system, they don’t accidentally hit something else in the process.

And then it occurred to us: as useful as these markings were in avoiding accidentally drilling into London’s infrastructure … Didn’t that also make them just as useful for anyone who wanted to drill into them and cause damage, chaos and confusion? In these “times of increased security awareness” it’s rather surprising that key information about London’s vital utilities is not only not jealously guarded and restricted – but flaunted for all to see in highly visible, highly colourful street art.

Perhaps exploiting this type of opportunity isn’t as easy or as damaging as it appeared to our layperson’s perspective. But still, the chance of flooding streets, cutting communications, disrupting power supplies to thousands of people would seem like a reasonably tempting opportunity to the neighbourhood cell. And even if all this information is on file at the local council for all and sundry to come and ask to see – it’s quite another thing to actually splash it out at the feet of absolutely everyone and anyone walking by.

Or maybe we’re just getting too paranoid these days.

(With thanks to Seb, who spotted the markings and made the point in the first place.)

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